Share this project


Share this project

Billions of years of life, science and history in the palm of your hand!  Curated, handcrafted, and artfully arranged for display and wonder!
Billions of years of life, science and history in the palm of your hand! Curated, handcrafted, and artfully arranged for display and wonder!
Created by
5,030 backers pledged $1,226,811 to help bring this project to life.

Production Delay, California Casting, and Neanderthal Coprolite

Posted by Hans Fex (Creator)

Hello, everyone!

This week I've been working to wrap up specimens I started in California. As promised, there are more details about the trip below, but as the subject of this update indicates, I need to announce a delay in final production.  I am very sorry, but the process of specimen preparation is just taking longer than I anticipated.

At the moment, the delay could run as long as 90 days, but this estimate could change.  I've outlined some of the technical challenges in past updates, but the main sticking point is the difference between preparing a few prototype-worthy specimens versus the thousands needed for production.  Where possible, I am sharing tasks with members of the team, but much of the work is quite delicate and the specimens so rare that I really feel I have to do most of this phase personally.

While this delay is unfortunate, I do have a positive announcement to make regarding production: I have decided to work with a facility I have partnered with in the past to handle the majority of final production run. The expense will not be trivial, but I think it's well worth the investment.  Not only I will have the opportunity to work with highly-skilled technicians, but together we should complete all mini museums in a single run. This should speed up the schedule for those backers with later shipping dates while improving quality for everyone.

If my current 90-day estimate holds, all mini museums should ship near the end of September. I would like to provide a firm commitment, but I do have some tricky specimens ahead.  I don't want to set an expectation that may not be met. Please know that my focus in every decision revolves around quality and the goal of producing the best mini museum possible.

California Casting

With respect to quality and specimen preparation, I'd like to tell you about my trip to California.

A number of specimens in the mini museum are comprised of mixtures of fine particulate matter (ex. Waikiki Sand, Oldest Matter, etc). Prior to inclusion, such specimens must be encased in resin to minimize the possibility of stray particles floating about during production. (Just imagine trying to place a pinch of sand from a tray without dropping a single grain in the wrong place!)

As one never knows how a specimen might interact with different resin formulas, I travelled to southern California to work at a specialized resin casting facility with 6,000 formulas on hand:

I have to admit that from the outside it is a mysterious looking place, but inside I found myself working alongside exceptional engineers like Lawrence pictured below:

This trip was well worth the time. I completed several specimens in record time, and the results are beautiful. Here is a close-up of Waikiki sand. These are actual specimens that will be in the mini museum:

 After working out the formulas and doing a number of castings, I headed back across the country to finish up the specimens. When I arrived, I discovered that a few mini museum elves had crept into my lab and organized everything in spectacular fashion.

There are some new additions to the lab that will feature in future updates, but I thought I'd share a picture of me working with K-Pg Boundary Layer.

Here you will see that I've already cast a large, black sheet of K-Pg Boundary Layer. The torch is used to soften up the cast so that I can score the material.  Scoring produces very sharp lines which results in cleaner edges.

Neanderthal Coprolite

I was going to end this update with the details about the California trip mentioned above, but I couldn't resist including a callout for a study published this week in PLOS ONE. In this study, researchers at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain revealed details about the oldest confirmed Neanderthal coprolite.

The composition of 50,000 year-old poop also backs up recent studies of Neanderthal dental microfossils, which suggest Neanderthals ate both meat and cooked vegetation. The analysis of the remains pictured above leaves little doubt about these findings.

What I found equally fascinating is the process by which the researchers extracted and prepared the specimens. Here is an example:

Samples were collected by hand during surface excavation of El Salt Neanderthal site. About 10 g of sediment were scooped out using metal tools rinsed in methanol (MeOH) and dichloromethane (DCM), wrapped in aluminium foil, inserted in plastic bags and stored in a freeze room. In the laboratory, a half of the samples were pulverized to a fine powder using an agate mortar and pestle. All laboratory equipment was rinsed with high-purity acetone, MeOH and DCM in between samples to avoid cross contamination. We also analyzed fresh primate stool as control samples for biomarker identification. All glassware, aluminium foil, silica, quartz wool and quartz sand were combusted at 500°C for at least 12 hours to remove organic contamination, whereas metal tools were rinsed in MeOH and DCM. About 5 g of homogenized sediment samples were freeze dried and ultrasonically extracted 4 times with DCM/MeOH (3:1 v/v) at 40°C for 20 minutes to obtain a total lipid extract (TLE).

While I'm not quite going to these lengths to prepare mini museum specimens, I do feel a sense of connectedness to such a complicated process, and I think it would be easy to get frustrated when things do not go as planned.

Personally, I am not frustrated.  Disappointed?  Of course, I don't want to let anyone down.  Yet, when I see how far the project has come and how amazing the pieces of the final production look, I am filled with excitement and energy. I hope you are still excited too.

I will have more production details to share next week, but now it's time to get back to work!

- Hans

Jamie Grove, Nicole Weigand, and 36 more people like this update.


Only backers can post comments. Log In
    1. Tan Ing Siang on

      Take your time. You're not producing a tech toy (ref. a lot of KS projects), you're producing a timeless piece.

    2. Michael on

      I am totally ok with delays. I would rather wait for a better final product than have you compromise the quality level in order to meet an arbitrary deadline.

    3. Missing avatar

      Shawn Zimmerman on

      Don't worry about the delay - take as long as you need to get this right.

    4. Patrick Brice on

      No worries mate!
      Take you're time and do it right.
      All your hard work is much appreciated.

    5. Missing avatar

      Ratan Kongara on

      Hey Hans,

      Thanks for the honest update, it helps us have an involvement in the project and gives us a sense of connection. Always good to hear from you!

    6. Penni Walker on

      Yep, thank you so much for the update. Not to concerned about the delay either. Was hoping to get for my husbands birthday in July, but it's all good. :) These will be FANTASTIC when they do get to us.

    7. Missing avatar

      Earl Kinsley on

      Hans, I really enjoy your updates, as well as your sciency additions. We are all geek brothers (and sisters) who eagerly await our very own natural history museums.

    8. Tim Folkins on

      Great update, Hans! Not concerned about the delay at all. Thank you for continuing the excitement!!!

    9. Missing avatar

      Markus Armstrong on

      I have faith in you, Hans! It took millions of years to form some of your included specimens. What's another 90 days?

    10. Teresa Koch on

      Wish I had been able to purchase one of these during the KS project - just wasn't in the budget. Hope you will be doing this again, because I will start saving up my pennies now....

    11. Nine

      Thanks for the update. I always assumed that it will take more time and now by seeing how much you value quality, so that we will get a awesome and clean museum to display, I understand and totally agree with you taking more time. This is a unique work and therefor the result will show your full commitment.

    12. Keith Jackson

      For the Mini Museum, Quality is much more important than On Time Delivery. I like your approach!

    13. Missing avatar

      Lauren L Corbin on

      Enjoy your updates and science lessons. It's exciting to see you learning along the way to ensure we have the most precious museum to share with our family and friends. Thank you for truly going above and beyond. Can't wait! Actually happy to wait to receive my piece. Thank you Hans. And thank you elves, the lab looks great!

    14. Fred Peñaloza

      This feels weird since I was thinking it will arrive around the winter holidays. Like the others said, we would prefer you take the time for quality, don't worry about it. I do want to see how the guide/manual looks in the future, inside pages I mean.

    15. Nick Miller on

      Well, I for one wouldn't want you to incur any extra cost. What you're doing is amazing and, after all, quality takes time.

    16. Joey Natividad on

      Great informational update as always Hans! Thanks for keeping us all up to date on the process, and I dig the extra tidbits of news outside the mini museum in each update! Keep Rockin n Rollin!

    17. Charity on

      Thanks so much for the update! I can't say I'm disappointed because even with the delay it sounds like I'll be getting my mm earlier than expected! But I can still appreciate your honest an candid manner! Keep up the good work!

    18. Hans Fex 4-time creator

      @Citoibacter You're welcome. Batches will still be numbered as previously described. Final assembly of packages will also be checked against orders to make sure the right mini museums are going to the right backers.

      Ok, now I really do need to get back to the lab. :)

    19. Missing avatar

      Citrobacter on

      Thank you for the update; I appreciate the transparency and honesty found in your posts. As an early backer, I hope you will still honour your commitment to providing the first numbered editions to those that bought in before the additional tiers appeared. Keep up the high quality work!

    20. Hans Fex 4-time creator

      @Kurt and Carlos Thank you. As Ian noted, I was probably just too optimistic given the volume. The pace has improved quite a bit though, mostly due to practicing new techniques. The key thing for me of course is keeping in mind that each specimen will be going into someone's collection. I really do think about this all the time!

      Ok, I need to get back to lab!

    21. Chiknhed on

      Keep On Keepin On...Without Integrity & Quality at the forefront there is no Mini Museum, just plastic & rocks.

    22. Hans Fex 4-time creator

      @Zulema Thank you!

      @Ian You're welcome, Ian. I'm planning to do a single production run and then send out all mini museums at once. They will be sent in sequential order, but the delays between batches will be eliminated by this change in the production process.

      As for authenticity, I know exactly what you mean. What I should have added in the update is that I will be on site working right alongside the technicians in the facility. and reviewing the placement of specimens. I'm not worried about the loss of specimens but I do want to be sure that specimens are placed properly in each and every mini museum.

    23. Missing avatar

      Kurt Heinecke on

      Thanks for the updates! Always interesting to hear the background. Don't sweat the delay- you're fulfilling your life-long dream and it needs to be done right for you to sleep well at the end of this. What's another couple months? Just makes us salivate longer for our mini-museums!

    24. Ian Hennes on

      Thanks for the honest update. I thought there were too many museums purchased to have them all done that soon. I was excited for Aug, but knew winter was more realistic. I can't wait to see the finished product. Are you planning to finish and send all MM out at once in Sept instead of in chunks as indicated in the pledge levels? Another question, on a sceptical note. While working with this other team and facility, what ensures specimens are not being pocketed and rocks dropped in the MM. Your Kickstarter pitch made it sound like you were hand making these ensuring quality and most importantly, AUTHENTICITY. PLease comment and put these concerns at ease. Thanks. Ian

    25. Zulema Ortiz on

      It's wonderful to see your commitment to quality! I'm looking forward to seeing the final piece! :)