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Lynn Margulis saved half of the NSF-funded Reel Life films that she considered of irreplaceable importance to now and future science.
Lynn Margulis saved half of the NSF-funded Reel Life films that she considered of irreplaceable importance to now and future science.
124 backers pledged $17,480 to help bring this project to life.

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OBTAINIUM - Digitizing the Reel Life films of Lynn Margulis                               The late Lynn Margulis was a controversial visionary biologist and geoscientist. She saw the Earth as a symbiotic planet populated by chimeras (organisms composed of other organisms). Her ideas form the core of the new Symbiotic Biology. In medicine, the Human Microbiome Project verifies that we are “holobionts” made up of 10% animal cells and 90% symbiotic microbes that are necessary for our health and survival. All organisms live in communities that nest inside still larger communities that scale up from niches to ecosystems to biomes to the Biosphere as predicted by the Gaia Theory, a collaboration of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. In sum, these innovative ideas--part of what is being called The Third Way--place Lynn Margulis beside Charles Darwin as an evolutionary theorist. 

Half Down                                                                                                                   Lynn Margulis was an active Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst at the time of her sudden and unexpected death by a stroke. She had just completed half of a project about which she stated, “I consider the rescue and preservation of this national heritage to be the most important contribution I have made to science in my lifetime.” Margulis was referring to a remarkable collection of 70 Developmental Biology Films made in the early 1970s and funded by the National Science Foundation for the equivalent of $8 million today.

Half to Go                                                                                                                     This Kickstarter project will raise the funds to complete the rescue and preservation of the remainder of the Developmental Biology Films. The preserved films that have been out-of-circulation since the 1980s will once again be available to science educators. 

National Treasures                                                                                                      How important did Lynn Margulis consider these films? She wrote, “Because I recognize their irreplaceable importance to now-and-future science, I have spent 35 years attempting as best I could to track down and secure these films which I used in my course Environmental Evolution. My original copies of the films wore out and turned red, and I wondered if the originals were lost as well. The living phenomena filmed contributed to R. Levy-Montalcini's Nobel Prize in Medicine in ways that have had crucial influence on neurosurgery. Certain basic science behind child development phenomena, agricultural productivity and the early evolution of life, etc. are revealed.” 

Where Great Ideas Come From                                                                                      As a young professor at Boston University, Lynn Margulis spent time at the film studio in Boston where the Developmental Biology Films were being made.  She discussed the diverse phenomena being recorded with each film’s science expert. Some of her groundbreaking ideas developed as the result of these experiences and it sparked her own lifelong love of moving pictures to capture nature. Her own research film library numbers over 500 video tapes. Each of these Reel Life films was overseen by an expert scientist who had to recreate her or his laboratory inside the film studio and control the conditions precisely to coax the desired phenomena from what might be a finicky, microscopic “star”. At the same time, the scientist had to work with a film crew to invent the techniques used to capture what could be a fleeting moment or a process that might take days. Many novel techniques were employed such as extensive use of micro-cinematography and time-lapse recording. 

Timeless Lessons Running Out of Time                                                                       The phenomena documented in these films will never go out-of-date. They will always be valuable in teaching developmental biology. But motion picture film stock is a different story: color film deteriorates within decades. These films must be preserved now before they are lost. In the 40 years since these films were made, most of the experts have died and, in many cases, there is no one with their expertise alive today. This means that these films, once lost, are irreplaceable. 

Reel Life: The Natural World in Moving Pictures                                                         In the summers of 2010 and 2011, Lynn Margulis taught a course, Reel Life: The Natural World in Moving Pictures, which made use of the first half of this series of films. Margulis was a communicator of science to the public and her Reel Life course and its “moving images of geobiological phenomena” were wondrous to science students and non-science majors alike because they revealed the incredible history, breadth and ingenuity of life on Earth. The description of the Reel Life course reflects Lynn Margulis’ deep desire to educate the public, “Beyond curiosity and an interest in science and nature, there are no prerequisites.”  

Join Lynn Margulis in Her Most Important Contribution to Science                      We offer selections from the Developmental Biology Film Series to the scientifically-interested public, science students, science teachers, science departments and libraries in return for contributions to the OBTAINIUM project. Our plan is to transfer the remaining films to digital video and store the digital masters of these films at the Library of Congress to be housed along side the first 37 films that Lynn Margulis rescued. All the films will be edited and authored into DVDs and downloadable electronic files. All of the 63 films that have existing masters will be available from the ScholarWorks program at the W. E. B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. We give Lynn Margulis the last word. “By helping us recover the NSF-funded developmental biology films from the early 1970's you are participating in one of the most important cultural contributions of the 20th century. Thanks to you these national treasures will finally become part of the Library of Congress film collection and be made available to scientists and science teachers.” 

Notes on our project's name and image                                               We have rebranded to the name OBTAINIUM. “Unobtainium” is science slang for a result that is just out-of-reach. It is also the name of the ore mined on the planet Pandora in James Cameron’s 2009 hit science-fiction movie, Avatar. In the movie, Pandora is a symbiotic planet inhabited by chimeric creatures that may have been inspired by the ideas of Lynn Margulis about our own Earth. 

Sample film, The Life Cycle of a Parasitic Flatworm (Cryptocotyle lingua)

The Reel Life films. Note that the first 37 titles have been digitized.   

1.  Contact Inhibition of Movement in Fibroblasts - biologist: Albert Harris, Strangeways Laboratory

2.  Epibiology in the Killifish: Fundulus heteroclitus - biologist: J. P. Trinkaus,  Yale University

3.  The Effects of Temperature on the Axopods of Echinosphaerum nucleofilum - biologists: Lewis Tilney, University of Pennsylvania and Lionel Rebhun, University of Virginia

4.  Feeding and Reproduction in Echinosphaerum nucleofilum - biologist: Lewis Tilney, University of Pennsylvania

5.  Microtubules in Echinosphaerum nucleofilum - biologist: Lewis Tilney, University of Pennsylvania

6.  Morphogenesis in a Marine Alga: Caulerpa - biologist: James C. W. Chen, Rutgers University

7.  Pigment Transfer in Skin Cells - George Szabó, Harvard School of Dental Medicine

8.  Response of Cells to Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) -  Rita Levi-Montalcini, Washington University - awarded a Nobel Prize

9.  An Introduction to the Marine Slime Mold [Slime Net]: Labyrinthula marina - biologist: David Porter, University of Geogia

10. Naegleria Transformation - biologist: Chandler M. Fulton, Brandeis University

11. Growth and Morphogenesis of a Plant Cell: Nitella axillaris - biologist: Paul B. Green, Stanford University

12. Ööplasmic Segregation During Ascidian Development - biologist: James Lash, University of Pennsylvania

13. Induced Twining in the Sea Urchin (Arabacia punctulata) - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

14. Pollination and Fertilization in a Flowering Plant: Amaryllis and Tradescantia paludosa - biologist: John G. Torrey, Harvard University

15. Life Cycle of a Parasitic Flatworm: Cryptocotyle lingua - biologist: Paul Krupa, City College of New York

16. An Analysis of Plant Cell Growth: Turgor Pressure (Nitella axillaris) - biologist: Paul B. Green, University of Pennsylvania

17. An Analysis of Plant Cell Growth: Cell Shape (Nitella axillaris) - biologist: Paul B. Green, University of Pennsylvania

18. An Analysis of Plant Cell Growth: Internode Cell: Origin and Elongation (Nitella axillaris) - biologist: Paul B. Green, University of Pennsylvania

19. Species-specific Aggregation of Dissociated Sponge Cells (Microciona prolifer and Halclona acculata) - biologist: Tom Humphreys, University of California La Jolla

20. Echinoderm Development: Fertilization and Cleavage (Dendraster eccentrius)- biologist: Richard A. Cloney, University of Washington

21. Echinoderm Development: Gastrulation  (Dendraster eccentricus) - biologist: Richard A. Cloney, University of Washington

22Auto-Inhibition in Glomerella cingulata - biologist: B. T. Lingappa, College of the Holy Cross

23. Colony Formation in Pediastrum boryanum - biologist:  W. F. Millington, Marquette University

24. Determination of Egg Polarity by the Environment in Fucus vesiculus, a Brown Alga - biologist: Lionel Jaffe, Purdue University

25. Ascidian Metamorphosis: The Role of Contractile Epidermis in Tail Resorption - biologists: Richard A. Cloney, University of Washington, Jay Lash University of Pennsylvania

26. Myogenesis - biologists: Irwin R. Konigsberg, University of Virginia and John W. Saunders, Jr. State University of New York Albany

27. Down Feather Development: Gallus domesticus - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

28. Cleavage: Rana pipiens - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

29. Fertilization: Rana pipiens - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

30. Experiments on the Chick Embryo: Tools and Techniques - biologists: Mary Gasseling Lange and John W. Saunders, Jr., State University of New York Albany

31. Sickling of Erythrocytes - T. Hale Ham, M.D., Case Western Reserve University and  Charles P. Emerson M.D., Boston University

32. The Life Cycle of a Parasitic Flatworm (Cryptocotyle lingua) - biologist: Paul L. Krupa, City College of New York

33. Pollen Germination and Tube Growth (Tradescantia paludosa) - biologist: Joseph P. Mascarenhas, State University of New York Albany

34. Sexual Reproduction in Ferns (Pteridium aquilinum, Anemia phyllitidis) - biologist: Bruce Voeller, Rockefeller University 

35. The Development and Metamorphosis of the Leopard Frog, Rana pippiens  - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

36. Experiments on the Chick Embryo: Grafting Limb Buds - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

37. Heart Production in the Chick Embryo - biologist: Eugene Bell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

 The 26 titles we will digitize.

38. . Euglena 

39. Paramecium

40Rhizopus

41. Rotifer

42. Stentor

43. Stylonychia

44. Volvox

45. Vorticella

46. Amoeba

47. Comparative Sizes of Microscopic Animals

48. Black Swallowtail Butterfly: Egg Laying, Hatching and Larvae

49. Black Swallowtail Butterfly: Emergence

50. Black Swallowtail Butterfly: Larval Molt

51. Black Swallowtail Butterfly: Preparation For Pupation I

52. Black Swallowtail Butterfly: Preparation For Pupation II

53. Black Swallowtail Butterfly: Pupal Molt

54. Blepharisma

55. Brine Shrimp I

56. Brine Shrimp Ii

57. Budding of Yeast Cells

58. Artificial Fertilization of Frog Eggs

59. Frog Egg I: First Cell Division to Early Neural Fold

60. Frog Egg II: Development of the Body Regions

61. Frog Egg III: Continued Development to Hatching

62. Frogs: Pairing And Egg Laying

63. Frogs: Pituitary Preparation

The masters of these films have not been located.

64. Cell Behavior In Insect Blood

65. Development of Cellular Slime Molds, Dictyostelium discoideum, D. Purpureum & D. Minutum

66. Developmental Pathways of the Water Mold, Blastocladiella emersonii

67Extra-Embryonic Circulation In the Chick

68Mushroom Growth And Reaction

69. Rotting Pear

70. Trichoderma Growth Rings

Risks and challenges

We have completed the first step in our rescue, we have done a complete inventory of the remaining film cans to determine what materials are in storage. We have taken a first look at the condition of the Ektachrome masters and the color should be able to be digitally color corrected. A few scenes are missing from a few of the films and will be replaced with new footage. We have prints of most of the films which retain the image. These show us what the scene in the original looked like, so we can match shots. It is possible that there may be some parts of the original films that are damaged, but the films appeared to be in good physical condition on our first pass through them for the inventory. There shouldnt be any surprises in these transfers. We wish to thank the New England Museum of Broadcast Technology and Paul Beck for technical assistance. Paul worked on saving the first half of the films with Lynn. He is recently retired from the management of technology at Emerson College, but he remains an active member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Contributions in this range will be rewarded with two electronic downloads. The first will be a high resolution file for the Reel Life course poster used as the Unobtainium project image signed by Jim MacAllister. The second download will be a delightful video by Alex Marlow called "Looking through the Microscope with Lynn” that captures the fun and excitement of observing the microcosm with Lynn Margulis. The film was made to promote Hummingbird Films new feature documentary film, "Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution". Learn more at <http://hummingbirdfilms.com/margulis-revolution/>. Instructions for downloading these two files will be delivered to contributors within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Delivered as electronic download only.

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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 50 or more About US$ 50

    This contribution will be rewarded with an individual license and a selection of 2 films from the complete set of approximately 73 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series). Films selected from the already saved 38 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.

    Delivered as electronic download only.

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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 100 or more About US$ 100

    This contribution will be rewarded with an individual license and a selection of 4 films from the complete set of approximately 73 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series). Films selected from the already saved 38 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.

    Delivered as electronic download only.

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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 150 or more About US$ 150

    This contribution will be rewarded with an institutional license and a selection of 2 films from the complete set of approximately 73 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series). Films selected from the already saved 38 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.

    Delivered as electronic download only.

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    This contribution will be rewarded with a single user license and a selection of 10 films on DVD from the complete set of approximately 70 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series) and a screen credit as a funder on the films to be digitized with Unobtainium funds. Films selected from the already saved 35 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.
    Estimated delivery no later than Sep 2015.

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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 300 or more About US$ 300

    This contribution will be rewarded with an institutional license and a selection of 4 films from the complete set of approximately 73 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series) and a screen credit as a funder on the films to be digitized with Unobtainium funds. Films selected from the already saved 38 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.

    Delivered as electronic download only.

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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $750 or more About $750

    This contribution will be rewarded with an institutional license and a selection of 10 films on DVD from the complete set of approximately 73 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series) and a screen credit as a funder on the films to be digitized with Unobtainium funds. Films selected from the already saved 38 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.

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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $750 or more About $750

    This contribution will be rewarded with an institutional license and a selection of 10 films on DVD from the complete set of approximately 73 Reel Life films (NSF-funded Developmental Biology film series)and a screen credit as a funder on the films to be digitized with Unobtainium funds. Films selected from the already saved 38 films will be delivered within 90 days of the the Unobtainium project successful funding. Selections from the films to be transferred with Unobtainium funds will be available as they are completed.

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Funding period

- (30 days)