UCL Museums & Collections Blog
  •  
  •  
  • Categories

  •  
  • Tags

  •  
  • Archives

  • Finding meaning in the Thermionic valve

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 26 May 2015

    This guest blog has been written by Kelsey Svaren, a placement student who has been working with us over the past few months. 

    Hi, my name is Kelsey and I am current MA Museum Studies student here at UCL. As part of my program, I am required to undergo a placement where I work on a museum related project. I have spent the last month working closely with Nick Booth, curator of the Electrical Engineering Collections at UCL. I have spent this time researching the numerous thermionic valves in the collection.

    Before I started my placement, I had a vague idea of what a thermionic valve is. I knew that it could be used in technologies, such as radios and telephones, to receive and amplify radio signals. Other than that, I was pretty clueless. Since I have started my placement, I have learned more about thermionic valves than I ever thought I would!

    One of Flemings original experimental valves.

    One of Flemings original experimental valves.

    The thermionic valve is especially important to UCL, because it’s inventor, John Ambrose Fleming was a professor at UCL and helped to develop the Electrical Engineering Department that we see today.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 189: Actinia equina

    By Rachel H Bray, on 26 May 2015

    Image of a marine specimen represented in glass

    LDUCZ – C373 – All seems peaceful in this bell jar…

     

     

    We have had both an ethics and an art angle during the last week at the Grant Museum which you might have noticed if you attended some of our events. The Strange Creatures Late featured live, ethical taxidermy with Jazmine Miles-Long and the Great Grant Knit-A-Thon included talks from History of Art PhD student and Strange Creatures c0-curator Sarah Wade about craftivism, poaching and habitat destruction. And so, it seemed particularly appropriate to have an aesthetically pleasing, ethically sensitive representation of a specimen this week!

     

     

     

     

    This week’s specimen of the week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 188: Spirorbis worms

    By Mark Carnall, on 18 May 2015

    Close up of LDUCZ G105 Spirorbis preserved in fluid

    LDUCZ-G105 Care to guess what it is. A sea pen, barnacles?

    If you check our specimen of the week widget, where you can see all past specimens of the weeks the vertebrates, in particular mammals, still dominate despite being a comparatively small group of animals. This week I’m going to focus attention on a far less furry or ferocious invertebrate animal because let’s face it they just don’t get the PR the Hollywood Animals do.

    If you ever whiled away an afternoon at the beach rockpooling, you’ve undoubtedly come across these animals but may not have noticed or recognised them.

    This week’s specimen of the week is… Read the rest of this entry »

    Fish printing and reanimating the dead

    By Eleanor Morgan, on 14 May 2015

    IMG_1779

    Inking the fish

    How do you reanimate things that are dead? Since beginning my role as Artist in Residence at the Grant Museum I’ve been worrying at this question. My focus is on the Museum’s collection of glass sponges, but over the past six months these extraordinary animals have pushed me down other paths to explore. Some of these have led to very productive failures.

    I’m thinking in particular of my attempts at waterless lithography, which is printing technique that uses silicone (in the form of bathroom sealant) to repel ink. You draw an image on a piece of metal, cover it in bathroom sealant and then once it is dried you wash the metal and the sealant will come off the areas on which you drew your picture. You now have a negative of your picture, which you can ink up and put through a printing press. I thought this was an ideal technique and material with which to explore glass sponges, which are themselves formed of silica. However, the problem came when I looked closer at the bottle of silicone remover that I was using – printed on the back of the label was a drawing of a dead fish. These chemicals are deadly to sea creatures if they enter their ecosystem. It seemed particularly grim for me to pursue a method of making images that could potentially kill its subject.

     

    I’ve recently been exploring another fishy route. I had been told about an old Japanese technique called Gyotaku, which translates as ‘fish rubbing’. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 187: The Tamandua Hand

    By Will J Richard, on 11 May 2015

    LDUCZ-Z2745 Tamandua manus

    LDUCZ-Z2745 Tamandua manus

    Hello! Will Richard here, bringing you another Specimen of the Week.

    This month I’ve decided to start with a reading from one of my poems.

    I call this “Specimen”.

    Ahem ahem.

    The hand is in the jar.

    The hand of a tamandua?

    It might seem quite bleak as my choice for this week

    but read on and you might just say “ahhh!”

    Or you might not.

    Either way, this week’s specimen of the week is…

     

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Rock Room Slade School Takeover – Part 3

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 May 2015

    One of the art works from the  Slade event in the Rock Room.

    One of the works from a previous Rock Room Slade event.

    This Friday (May 8th) between 1 – 5pm the Rock Room will host its annual Slade School takeover. This is the third instalment of the joint UCL Museums and Slade School of Fine Art project (see a blog on the last one here) which has seen staff and students from the Slade install art works that include sculpture, painting and various mixed media (including cheese, fish and other foodstuffs) into the Rock Room.

    As with past years I have no idea what the artists will be bringing to display in the Museum. Read the rest of this entry »

    The earliest Strange Creatures: Europe’s first meetings with marsupials

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 May 2015

    There is a popular British colonial narrative in which Captain James Cook “discovered” Australia in 1770, as demonstrated by this Google autofill:

    Evidence that James Cook discovered Australia

    Evidence that James Cook indeed discovered Australia

    In reality, not even Cook thought this was true. Australia had been known by the French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch (hence its original European name “New Holland”, which Cook himself used) for at least two hundred years before Cook landed in the southeast of the country on his ship HMS Endeavour. Obviously Indigenous Australians and their neighbours also had been there for around 50,000 years.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs (1772). ZBA5754 (L6685-001). National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London*

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs (1772). ZBA5754 (L6685-001). National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

    Our current exhibition Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals explores how newly discovered animals are communicated to the public back home. It is is centred around a painting that resulted from that voyage of Cook’s – a kangaroo by George Stubbs. This is the first painting of an Australian animal in Western art. As I wrote in the exhibition text:

    This painting helped begin Europe’s relationship with Australian wildlife. Commissioned by legendary naturalist Joseph Banks, painted by celebrated animal artist George Stubbs, and based on findings from Captain Cook’s famous voyage, this kangaroo truly captured the country’s imagination.

    Stubbs’ image became the archetype for representations of kangaroos for decades – reproduced and refigured prolifically. It may not be anatomically perfect, but this is how Britain came to know the kangaroo.

    It is an emblem of the age of exploration at the historical threshold of the European occupation of Australia. Nothing was ever the same again.

    Here I’d like to explore some of the meetings between Europeans and Australiasian marsupials that preceded Cook’s visit. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 186

    By Tannis Davidson, on 4 May 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-NineSometimes a specimen can tell you a little. Sometimes it can tell you a lot. There has been much written on this blog about the perils and pitfalls of museum documentation. Sometimes there is no information with a specimen – no accession record, no acquisition information, no species name and (occasionally) no specimen. Objects get lost and misplaced. Historical records are incomplete or indecipherable. Specimen labels become separated from their object.

    Alternatively, some specimens may have (dare I say it) too much information which may include multiple numbers, several differing records, erroneous taxonomic information or questionable identifications.

    Caring for a collection entails many things but first and foremost is to identify the collection itself – through all possible means including the consolidation of any (and all) associated information. When luck prevails, one may find a scrap (literally) of information which ties it all together – a word or two which allows a specimen to be given a name, a record, a life!

    Recently while going through the bird drawers, I came across an unaccessioned skull and mandible together with its associated information (unclear object number, outdated taxonomic name) including a  small piece of paper with two words: “El Turco”. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    The world’s rarest skeleton returns to the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 May 2015

    Can you spot the difference between these two photos?

    The quagga before conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581

    The quagga before conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581

    The quagga  after conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581. Courtesy of Nigel Larkin

    The quagga after conservation and remounting. LDUCZ-Z581. Courtesy of Nigel Larkin

    They both depict the world’s rarest skeleton – that of the quagga, an extinct not very stripy kind of zebra – the UK’s only articulated quagga lives here at the Grant. There are only six (or possibly five) other skeletons in existence. The top picture was taken in February, on the day that she left the Museum to undergo major treatment for the ills that resulted from over a hundred years of grime and questionable mounting. The second was taken on Tuesday, when she returned to us. The quagga (and our rhino) were the biggest single tasks for our massive conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, working to save 39 of our biggest and most significant specimens for the long term future.

    Hopefully you’ve spotted eveything that specialist bone preparator Nigel Larkin has done to prolong the “shelf life” of the quagga… Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: April 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 April 2015

    As we know from the documentary The Devil Wears Prada, fashion is really important because the styles we see on the catwalk today are ridiculous things that nobody in their right mind would wear but then Anne Hathaway dresses nicely and that helps her write Harry Potter and get a boyfriend. How is this relevant to this month’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month, our monthly journey through the museum drawers of uninspiring fossil fish? Well, I’m going to let you into a little secret, a lot* of fashion designers are also keen palaeontologists and if you pay close attention you’ll see a lot of styles from deep time come back into fashion time and time again.

    /Cue segue.

    This month’s fossil fish is no exception. Some scholars** speculate that this month’s fossil fish inspired the more over-compensatory codpiece design of the 15th and 16th centuries so if you’re prone to tittering or fainting then do brace yourself for disappointment in 5- 4- 3- 2- 1.

    Read the rest of this entry »