The Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (NPL) is known for its rare and important specimens with a type and figured collection of over 22,000 specimens, and for its innovative approaches to the management of an unconventional collection. The NPL was founded in 1999 to provide a unified hub for the development of this vast repository of over 4 million specimens drawn from a wide array of geological research. It is the fifth largest collection in the United States. The focus of the NPL is invertebrate and paleobotanical fossils but these are complemented by a wealth of recent marine, freshwater and terrestrial specimens, and an extensive rock, mineral and impact-related collection.
Specimens primarily derive from the research projects of UT faculty, research scientists, and students, but have been supplemented with donations from other institutions, both by choice and as orphaned collections. Unique historic collections stem from the early Geological Surveys of the State of Texas. Additional specimens have been donated by industry and by individuals who wish their collections to be available in perpetuity for research and education. Current accessions encompass sizable contributions from the ongoing studies of NPL research fellows, who are formally attached to several institutions or organizations outside of Texas.
The repository includes specimens ranging in age from the Precambrian to the recent (Holocene) with strong Paleozoic, Cretaceous and Paleogene/Neogene components. Taxonomic emphasis includes, echinoderms, brachiopods, molluscs, corals and sponges. Geographic spread is global with about 60% of the collection deriving from Texas. Substantial holdings come from Mexico, Europe and Australia
Remarkable specimens are on display at the Texas Memorial Museum, the Bullock Museum of Texas History, and the Corpus Christi Museum. Specimens are also used within various university classes and outreach venues around the state. Recent developments stress the accessibility of specimens and related data from a robust relational database. There is an online database for the type specimens, which incorporates extensive imagery and mapping of collection localities. Applications for mobile platforms have been developed and future plans include a complete virtual repository available for study online to extend the present GIS management system used at NPL.
Sponsorship of research and development at NPL has been provided by the National Science Foundation, the Geology Foundation of The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, the Seashore Fund of the College of Natural Sciences, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Susan Vaughan Foundation.