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  • Specimen of the Week 149

    By Dean W Veall, on 18 August 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week Two Dean Veall here. Here I am again presenting my choice of the 68,000 specimens here in the collection. My previous choices have included the tiger beetle and the box jellyfish, so what have I gone for this week? Well, here are the teasers, this week I have chosen what I believe to be one of the showiest animals in the UK, was collected close to my Valleys home of Bargoed in Brecon and is a specimen that I came across whilst rummaging through the drawers of the Museum, which means it is not usually on display. This week Specimen of the Week is… Read the rest of this entry »

    The Not So Beautiful Birds

    By Mark Carnall, on 13 August 2014

    Image of Grant Museum sparrow skeleton

    Grant Museum sparrow skeleton. Specimen LDUCZ-Y1595

    Recently this specimen and a number of other bird skeletons came back from our conservation lab. When I first started at UCL these nine skeletons were in the dreaded “curator’s cabinet” a cabinet of broken and miscellaneous specimens that  were presumably the bane of previous curator’s lives. These skeletons were fragmented, partially disarticulated and all the fragments mixed together. I gave these specimens to Gemma Aboe who was undertaking some conservation work for us and she managed to piece together a number of half skeletons from this mixed box. These specimens aren’t the kind of thing you normally encounter in a public natural history museum display as they aren’t ‘perfect’ but I couldn’t resist taking a few extra shots of these whilst documenting them as although they are incomplete and not ‘worthy’ of a spot on display they are still quite hauntingly beautiful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 148

    By Rowan J J Tinker, on 11 August 2014

    Scary MonkeyZombies aren’t real… or are they? In the world of nature, pretty much anything you come up with already exists: What’s that, a lizard that shoots blood out of its eyes? Yup, that’s been done. What about a toad with babies that burst out its back? Nah, you have to be more creative than that!

    But zombies? Practically anything along the subject makes me prance around like a toddler, combine them with one of my other most favourite things in the world – insects -  and I’m a giddy puddle.

    Boy, this is a treat for you guys! It’s our first non-zoological specimen of the week. That is, if you don’t count the fact that there’s a dirty great big caterpillar stuck to it, and no, this isn’t a case of the mysterious battery-stuffing opossum maniac up to their usual museum antics again with the Pritt-Stick; the two are fused in a macabre display of harmony, mutual love and zombification.

    This specimen of the week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    We’ve Added 600 New Labels, But Can we Label Everything?

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 August 2014

    The answer to that question is no, we can’t label everything. We’ve just installed 600 new labels in the Museum, as a result of visitor feedback. But have we got the balance right?

    Some of the 600 new labels being unpacked

    Some of the 600 new
    labels being unpacked

    There are about 6000 animal specimens on display in the Grant Museum (which, incidentally, is more than is on display at the Natural History Museum), including about 2300 in the Micrarium. The room is only about 250m², and this means our displays are very densely packed. We are hugely keen on specimens at the Grant – providing close access to real objects is one of our biggest selling points. For this reason (and also because we don’t have a lot of storage space), we put as much out on display as is logistically possible.

    Drawbacks of dense displays

    As much as people tell us they think of the Grant Museum as a room crammed with amazing rare things creating with an atmosphere that promotes exploration, filling every spare gap with objects does have its downsides. Some people think that displays should give each object its own space to breathe, allowing people to concentrate on them, but we’ve made the decision to go in a different direction. Plenty of other museums use this sparse display philosophy – but if you want to be immersed in a real and different celebration of objects, come to the Grant Museum.

    The major drawback of jam-packed cabinets is that there isn’t a lot of room for labeling. Read the rest of this entry »

    The Petrie Geeks Out (Again)

    By Debbie J Challis, on 5 August 2014

    Next week the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is exhibiting at LonCon3 - the largest science fiction (SF) convention in the world. We’ll be there alongside exhibits on Doctor Who, Iain M Banks, academic posters on SF and English Heritage. But why is a museum of Egyptian Archaeology going to this mahosive SF convention? Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 147

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 August 2014

    Scary monkeyMuseums are full of mysteries (particularly when you are as cursed with historically challenging documentation, as many university museums are). For example, why do we have a plum in a jar? Why does our dugong only have seven neck vertebrae (it is one of the few mammal species that should have eight)? Why don’t we have a wolf, one of the world’s most widespread mammals? Who ate our Galapagos tortoise? Why do we only have the heart and rectum of a dwarf cassowary? Why is scary monkey (pictured) so scary?

    Not to mention, why did we put all those moles in that jar?

    After ten years of working here, I am confident that there is no greater mystery in the Grant Museum than this one: why would you stick a battery in a dead animal?

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

    Re-packing UCL´s Magic Lantern Slides

    By Margaux Bricteux, on 29 July 2014

    As my time working with UCL’s lantern slides draws to a close, I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I’ve discovered over the past few weeks. (To learn what lantern slides are, and why UCL has accumulated thousands of them, click here).

    Scan of slide EE703, showing a diagram of a Vreeland oscillator

    Slide EE703 – A Vreeland oscillator, 
    or just another electric circuit
    to the unaccustomed eye.

    The majority of  the slides in the UCL Science and Engineering collection are, unsurprisingly enough, about Engineering. Electrical Engineering to be precise. I must say that, having not had a single Physics lesson in the past six years, the prospect of cataloguing slide after slide of what looked like identical electric circuits was not exactly my cup of academic tea. But I soon learnt that there is a lot more to ElecEng (as it is apparently abbreviated) than alternators, resonators, oscillators and commutators. In particular, I became interested in UCL’s very own Sir John  Ambrose Fleming, founder of England’s first University Department of Electrical Technology, inventor of the thermionic valve and Pender Professor at UCL for three decades.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 146

    By Dean W Veall, on 28 July 2014

    Scary Monkey

    Dean Veall here. This week it is I who am bringing you specimen of the week and I have the great pleasure of bringing you specimen 146! Huzzah. But can it really have been seven whole weeks since I last shared a specimen with you?  In my role of Learning and Access Officer I have several hats I wear, (these hats pale in comparison to the hats worn by Joe Cain during our Film Nights) so more like caps then. Naturally they are of the flat variety, or as we call them back home Dai Caps, reflecting my heritage, politics and social status as a ‘working class hero’ (who works in the arts and cultural sector!?). When I take off my more showy Dai Cap I wear for our evening events for adults that showcase UCL research I put my more hardier Dai Cap I wear during the day for our Schools learning programme. This week’s specimen of the week is one that I use heavily in our sessions we run for primary schools here in the Museum. It is one that inspires a myriad of questions from the pupils, most frequent being that old favourite “Is it alive?”  and a new kid on the block “But why is it moving?”. To find out the answers to these questions and more read on. This week’s specimen of the week is……….

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: July 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 25 July 2014

    I’ll be honest with you reader, I’m totally phoning in this month’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month. When I pulled last month’s underwhelming fossil fish out of the drawer it looked to me like a small but slender mandible which I lazily attributed to the fish Saurichthys. I then wrote what I can only describe as the greatest underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog post in the world. Confidently, I scheduled it to be published and then actually looked at the specimen and re identified it as the now infamous caudal  fulcrum of Chondrosteus. In a fit of shame, the dark side of science we don’t often talk about, I printed out the blog post, then shredded it and then burnt the shreds. I sent the ashes to the four corners of Earth and then deleted the original blog and rewrote one for Chondrosteus. So this month I am writing about Saurichthys but, as is always the case, the rewrite was nowhere near as interesting, engaging or downright life changing as the original lost version. Suffice to say, this is not the greatest underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog post in the world. This is just a tribute.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    What remains to talk about? Human bodies on display

    By Alice E Stevenson, on 24 July 2014

    I’ve recently returned from holiday in Cascais, near Lisbon in Portugal, which was for the most part a fairly relaxing break. For the most part. There was the small matter of a rather lengthy complaint furiously scribbled into a comments book at one particular museum we visited and my husband being subjected to an in-depth critique of ethical museum display practice – for several hours. So what got me so agitated? The display of three mummies: two Peruvian and one Egyptian in the Museu Aqueológico do Carmo, Lisbon.

    All blue skies?

    All blue skies? Outside the Museu Aqueológico do Carmo, Lisbon.

    Read the rest of this entry »