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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Gay in the Life: Gracen Brilmyer
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-10-15

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Gracen Brilmyer has spent five years at The Field Museum of Natural History, working on a wide array of projects—from taking high-resolution images of marine snail shells to dissecting two-millimeter-long beetles.

She currently manages a team of interns to database the museum's ant collection, which is about a million specimens strong.

"My main interest is in the use of collections through digitization, and I am using this historic collection to show changes in ant distribution over time to infer what that might tell us about climate change," Brilmyer said. "Day to day, I can be checking my interns' work, doing bulk data imports, taking images of specimens or mounting specimens for our collection, among other things.

"I have always had an interest in the sciences, but I decided to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I majored in printmaking and animation. Working with film/video and print collections started my interest in the use of archives, and when I had an internship opportunity at the Field Museum, I was excited about combining the two interests. This internship led to a part-time position dissecting and imaging beetles and eventually to a full-time job. I have since worked for a number of curators in different departments and have also volunteered in my free time."

Ants, she said, "can tell us a lot about a particular environment and can occupy totally different niches." She is now looking at how ant distribution has changed in the past to try to predict where they might be in the future since they are sensitive to climate changes.

Brilmyer is a former art teacher, ant imager, database manager, skeleton numberer, beetle disarticulator, collection organizer—many of her past jobs fall under the title, research assistant.

"My interest [in ants] lies in the utilization of collections and up until my boss, curator Dr. Corrie Moreau, arrived at the museum, the ant collection had yet to be digitized," Brilmyer said. "When she proposed the project, I jumped at the opportunity to work with such a large and historic collection. Plus ants are pretty amazing creatures."

Brilmyer recently returned from a month-long trip to Australia where she was collecting ants and presenting at a conference. "My co-workers have such a wealth of knowledge and are always happy to chat about their research—just the other day I learned how to skin a chipmunk," she said.

Brilmyer also is involved in the Out Fielders, the LGBTQ group at the museum, and is on the steering committee for the Field Museum Women in Science group, where, through internships, seminars and outreach, "we focus on increasing diversity in the sciences," she said.

THE STATS

Age: 28

Neighborhood: Wrigleyville

Hobbies: Drawing, animating, running, yoga and bicycle riding

Relationship status: Single

Job title: Research Assistant for Dr. Corrie Moreau at The Field Museum of Natural History

Favorite TV show: Treme

Favorite movie: Let the Fire Burn

Favorite pizza topping: "Almost anything"

Preferred drink at a bar: Old Fashioned

Little-known fact: "I am conversational in Swedish and American Sign Language."

Little-known fact about ants: "Most ants you see are female."


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