By Edmund Connolly, on 7 March 2014
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Archive for the 'Science Collections' Category
By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 19 February 2014
After a few drinks last weekend, my sister, who is doing a Ph.D at a ‘different’ university, and I got in to a friendly ‘my horse is bigger than your horse’. I gloated that UCL has tentacles that reach around the world, is ranked within the top four universities within the UK, and most importantly (because this is how I measure university performance) we have several Nobel Prizes. Well as it turns out, so does her university, but the important thing is that we have more.
Although the conversation was entirely (ok, mostly) in jest, it made me curious as to how justified my claims of ‘having a bigger horse’ actually were and I set about some googling. As luck would have it, even after calibrating the data for variables such as my university is around 130 odd years older than hers, and also taking into consideration the fact that the Nobel Prize only began in 1901 whereas we were founded in 1827, UCL are still higher achievers. Mwah hah hah. According to the website www.nobelprize.org, there have been 487 Nobel Prizes given out worldwide since its inception. Well let me hear an ‘oooo’ for the fact that 21 of those belong to us. As in UCL, not my sister and myself. (more…)
By Nicholas J Booth, on 17 December 2013
One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I get to work with many different departments from across UCL. I meet people from a wide range of backgrounds and get to do some pretty interesting stuff with them. And of course being a curator I get to work with collections as well, which is in my opinion the best thing about working in museums.
In the last few months I have had the good fortune to visit the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL). A part of UCL that very few people get to see, staffed by people who are extremely passionate about their jobs, and housing a whole new collection of objects that I didn’t know existed.
The MSSL was opened in 1967, and is the largest university space research group in the UK. Not only that but its early date marks it as one of the earliest such centres in the world, and makes it an important part of the early history of the British Space Programme, now known as the UK Space Agency (yes we really do have one of those). The lab is located near (more…)
By Nicholas J Booth, on 25 October 2013
Sir William Ramsay was arguably one of the most famous scientists of his day. Between 1894 and 1898 he discovered five new elements – helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon; commonly known today as the noble gases. Not only was this impressive in itself, but these new elements did not fit onto the periodic table as it existed at that time. This led to Ramsay adding a whole new group to the periodic table. In 1904 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences chose to award Ramsay the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for his discovery of the noble gases. He was the first British person to win this prize.
2013 marks 100 years since the retirement of Sir William Ramsay from his post as Head of Chemistry at UCL. To mark this UCL Chemistry Collection will be taking part in a very special pop-up exhibition in the Rock Room, UCL’s Geology Museum.
Between 12.30 – 3pm on November 1st a range of objects relating to Ramsay and his work will be on display. I have picked out a few of my personal favourites…
By Nicholas J Booth, on 18 September 2013
People often ask me what it is I do for a job. “Well” I answer, “I’m a curator”.
“Yes, but what do you actually do?”
“I curate a collection, I help look after it”.
“Yes but what do you ACTUALLY do all day?”
It’s a good question, and one to which the answer is never really that simple. What I ‘actually do’ varies from week to week, and depends upon what I have to do, what I need to do, and what I have time to do. So I thought I would write a blog as a way of answering.
Last week I made a point of recording exactly what I was up to between Monday and Friday, and tried to take a few more photos that I would normally. I should say that I did not particularly plan for this week to be one I blogged about, and I resisted the urge to book in lots of important sounding meetings. I had planned to use a stepometer during the week, to see how far I walked, but sadly couldn’t get my hands on one in time.
So, my week…
By Nicholas J Booth, on 17 September 2013
On Wednesday 18th UCL Museums will be taking part in the Ask A Curator Day event on twitter. The original day was way back in 2010 and this year already has more museums signed up than ever before (525 in 34 countires at time of writing). We know that asking a question in a museum can sometimes feel intimidating , and that we curators can sometimes be hard to track down. There’s so much to do (all that cataloguing…gah!) that we aren’t always the most accessible group of people (though we really do try). We are taking part in the day as part of our commitment to make our collections as accessible as possible.
Ask A Curator works like this. Anyone in the world with a twitter account can tweet a question with the #AskACurator hashtag, and it will be answered by any of the institutions taking part. If you have a specific question for us you can tweet it directly to us @UCLMuseums and one of our staff will do their best to answer you. The Grant Museum is also taking part using @GrantMuseum.
In preparation for this I thought I would introduce you to our members of staff taking part… (more…)
By Nicholas J Booth, on 14 August 2013
In May 1863, five young Japanese men were disguised as British Sailors and smuggled on board a ship that would take them on the first leg of their journey to Britain. At the time it was illegal for any Japanese person to leave the country. It took them 135 days to make the journey.
Once they arrived in the UK the owner of the shipping line, Hugh Matheson, introduced them to Professor Alexander Williamson, who had been head of the Chemistry Department at UCL since 1855. Williamson and his wife took the five under their wing, inviting three of them to live with them. They apparently even moved to a bigger house to accommodate their guests.
Williamson isn’t very well known now, outside history of science circles, but perhaps he should be. He came up with the ‘Williamson Synthesis’, which showed that water has two Hydrogen atoms. Hence H2O, not HO as was previously thought.
By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 July 2013
This is the final installment of the excellent Conserve it! blog series, written by four conservation students from the Institute of Archaeology. In this post Leslie Stephens and Louise Stewart describe the last stages of the process.
To read the full series please click on the ‘Engineering Collections’ or ‘Science Collections’ category tabs on the left hand side of this page.
Conservation doesn’t end when all the pieces are back together. Once researched, cleaned and reassembled, the x-ray tubes will need further work. Filling gaps and preparing the tubes for storage are the final stages in the process.
Why do conservators fill gaps in objects? Fills are usually undertaken for two reasons: aesthetics and support. When an object has most of its pieces remaining, it is frequently the job of the conservator to make an object look as complete as possible so that visitors are aided in its visual interpretation. When the object’s original material is fragmentary, it is often difficult for visitors to understand what it would have looked like before damage. The more material is missing, the harder this job is for the conservator. There is a fine line between aiding interpretation for the visitor, and presenting an object that is too much ‘interpretation’ and not enough original material. If the conservator is not certain what the missing fragments would have looked like, they are less likely to fill that area with a ‘guess’. When there is very little original material left, however, fills sometimes hold fragments in place. This happens especially when there is not enough original material left for the object to hold its own weight; these types of fills are considered support fills.
By Nicholas J Booth, on 6 June 2013
Most of last week I was busy installing the new Octagon Gallery Exhibition, ‘Digital Frontiers: Smart, Connected and Participatory’, curated by Claire Ross from the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. The exhibition features a huge range of objects, from a tweeting doorstop (the ‘sheep-pig’) to a drawer of pinned beetles, however most of the objects have come from the UCL Engineering Collections. This is one of the collections I look after, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about what goes into the process of putting together one of UCL’s Octagon exhibitions.
The exhibition opened on Wednesday 5th June. However the first meeting happened back in September when all the curators and collections managers from the different UCL Museums and Collections get together with Claire to hear about her plans for the exhibition, and to initially brain storm about what we have in our collections that fit with the exhibition subject. This was harder for some collections than others, but happily was relatively easy for me.
After this initial meeting Claire met all the curators individually to discuss the exhibition and view possible objects, before going away and coming up with a long list of what she wants. In the case of the Engineering Collections it was a very long list…which is great! However this also means that there was a lot of work for me, and others, to do.
By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 May 2013
This is the third installment of the Conserve it! blog series, written by a team of UCL conservation students who are working on four damaged objects from the Medical Physics Collection. Here Louise Stewart explains how they have gone about reconstructing the smashed tubes.
Now that our background research is done and we’ve considered the various significances the objects, we come to the most time-consuming step of conservation: the actual treatment! In this case, the main portion of treatment for all four of us is the reconstruction of the glass bulbs of the various x-ray tubes.