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  • Archive for the 'Teaching and Research Collections' Category

    Event – Staring at the Sky – Astronomy at the UCL Observatory

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 25 September 2015

    The Whirlpool Galaxy lies 30 million light-years away.   It was the first galaxy in which spiral structure was discovered in 1845.

    The Whirlpool Galaxy lies 30 million light-years away.
    It was the first galaxy in which spiral structure was discovered in 1845.

    UCL’s astronomical observatory was inaugurated in 1929, and it has been conducting research and teaching students ever since. On Friday 2nd October the Observatory and UCL Public and Cultural Engagement department will host a pop-up event which will feature staff and research students from the Observatory, and hopefully (if the weather behaves) give visitors the chance to make some solar observations with a specialised telescope.

    Astronomy was originally taught on the main UCL site, using equipment in the two domes in the front quad (built 1905-07) together with one on the roof of the Wilkins Building (destroyed during World War 2). However, the light pollution of central London began to cause issues and a new site was required.  A suburban site in Mill Hill site was chosen, in part because it was far away enough from London that the night sky could be observed without excessive pollution. Since then, London has grown, and the Observatory now sits well inside the M25; however it continues to be a great asset for teaching Physics and Astronomy students.

    The Observatory currently houses five telescopes: in order of when they were acquired, the Fry 8-inch refractor telescope (acquired 1930 but originally built in 1862), the Radcliffe telescope (acquired 1938, built 1901), the Allen 24-inch reflecting telescope (1974/75) and two modern, computer-controlled C14 telescopes (acquired 2006 and 2010).

    The 8-inch refractor Fry telescope.

    The 8-inch refractor Fry telescope.

    The Observatory made news recently when a team of students, being trained by Dr Steve Fossey, spotted a supernova (exploding star) in nearby galaxy Messier 82 (also known as the Cigar Galaxy). Images of the galaxy (with supernova) will be available on the day; they will also form part of an accompanying exhibition in the South Cloisters, of images taken at the Observatory, running from late September.

    The pop-up event will be open (rain or shine) between 11.30am – 4.30pm on Friday 2nd October, in the Wilkins North Observatory (in the front quad on campus).

    Nick Booth is curator of Teaching and Research Collections. 

    Robert Noel and the ‘Science’ of Phrenology

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 9 September 2015

    This is a guest blog written by Dana Kovarik, a UCL student who has been volunteering with UCL Teaching and Research Collections over the summer holiday. 

    1. A contemporary phrenological journal -  'Phrenology Made Easy'. Photo by author.

    1. A contemporary phrenological journal –
    ‘Phrenology Made Easy’.
    Photo by author.

    Having been introduced to UCL’s collection of Robert Noel’s phrenological busts during a literature seminar on Victorian crime (e.g., The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde), I found there was still much work to be done in unravelling the mysteries of the collection.  While the heads have been catalogued and a book by Noel outlining the biographies of each specimen was found at the British Library, details about his life and career were slim.  Upon volunteering, I was tasked by Nick Booth of UCL Museums with conducting a literature review.  This involved finding articles by Noel and writings that reference his work throughout his career (roughly 1834-1880), in addition to mapping the developments of phrenology in Continental Europe during this time.


    A Conservation inspection of Jeremy Bentham’s Mummified head

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 6 September 2015

    I’ve wanted to write blog specifically about Jeremy Bentham’s head for a while now. ‘Can I see the head?’ is one of the most common questions I get asked. I’m not sure why it has such fascination for people – perhaps as our manager of the Grant Museum recently tweeted when he met him, ‘Face to face with one of the world’s greatest philosophers’, how often do you get to say that? Is it that we want to be able to look someone famous in the face, even if they’re dead? Or is it just that a mummified head is unusual?

    Side view of the head of Jeremy Bentham.

    Side view of the head of Jeremy Bentham.

    Last week Bentham’s head came out from the safe it is usually stored in for a full inspection by one of our conservators, Emilia Kingham. We regularly inspect the head, to ensure it remains stable. It’s survival for the future is our main concern! The inspection (and Buzzfeed story) generated a lot of interest and questions. For the story Emilia and I were sent a list of questions, which I thought were all very interesting and worth posting on our blog. The answers are from us both.

    Enjoy! (more…)

    Behind the Mask – Research into the Noel Collection

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 2 September 2015

    This is a guest blog written by Bryony Swain, a UCL Student Volunteer who spent most of the last academic year (2014/15) cataloguing the Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks.

    Hello, I’ve been volunteering with the UCL Museums and Collections department and loving it!

    Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.  Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.
    Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    I have been cataloguing the excellent Robert Noel phrenological collection, which contains a large selection of plaster life and death masks from the mid 19th century. Phrenology studies the theory that skull configurations can determine character traits, and Noel made his collection to test and demonstrate the validity of this theory and wrote a book with measurements and biographical summaries to accompany them. Today, phrenology is considered a discredited pseudoscience, but in the 19th and early 20th century it was taken very seriously. Noel ordered the masks into different categories to prove that intellectual and moral individuals had a different skull shape to criminals and suicides.


    Please can I see the Fossil Lady?

    By Celine West, on 19 August 2015

    This is a guest blog written by Alison South, volunteer for UCL Museums.

    The dayroom on Ward 12 at UCH (University College Hospital) is bright and spacious with views west along the busy Euston Road. Here patients at the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit relax with their families and friends, putting aside illness, treatments, sickness and drugs for a while, chatting or enjoying a game or other activity. Over the last year I’ve become a regular visitor, bringing with me a bag of museum objects from the Touching Heritage handling collection at UCL Museums.

    I vary my choice of 8-10 objects each week, but always include some fossils and rocks from the Geology collections, natural history specimens and Ancient Egyptian artefacts. Some on the ward refer to me as the ‘fossil lady’ or the ‘museum lady’ – I prefer to think of myself as a sort of therapeutic ‘bag lady’ holding tight my precious possessions. (more…)

    JA Fleming – Discoveries From The Archive.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 July 2015

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

    A few weeks ago I spent some time in UCL Special Collections working my way through the 24 boxes of material that John Ambrose Fleming left to UCL. I was able to look at these boxes in the span of four days, and let me tell you that is not an easy feat! Although I spent more time on certain boxes and documents than others, I feel I got a good overall view of what Fleming wanted UCL to have in its possession and can understand how the University’s history is interwoven with that of Fleming’s. During this time, I have been able to make some generalised conclusions about this man; the one who gave us the technology for so many inventions that people find themselves dependent upon today.

    JA Fleming receiving the Kelvin medal. (Image provided by UCL Special Collections Library).

    JA Fleming receiving the Kelvin medal. (Image provided by UCL Special Collections Library).


    Some favourite PanoptiCam views

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 10 June 2015

    Several months ago saw the launch of the Panopticam Project, a joint UCL Centre for Digital HumanitiesUCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Bentham Project and UCL Museums project.

    The Panopticam (see what we did there?) involved the installation of a webcam on top of the auto-icons box to give us a Bentham eyed view of the world. The camera takes a photo every 5 seconds (shown whenever the red light flashes on the camera) which updates the photo on the website here. At the end of each day all the photos are joined together to form a time-lapse recording of the days events, which are made available on YouTube, check out this one from 6 minutes in to see UCL Dance Soc is action. Finally every hour (at 1 minute past) the view is tweeted by @Panopticam.

    It’s been going for about 3 months now, and recently the project blog decided to show some choice images from the project so far – I thought I’d follow suit and share some of my favourites with you too.


    UCL PACE Marketing Manager Meg and I hard at work.

    UCL PACE Marketing Manager Meg Dobson and I hard at work.


    Student engagement.


    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.


    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. (more…)

    The Museum is Where the People Are – vote for us now

    By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 29 April 2015

    PURE EVIL - Roberto Rossellini's Nighmare

    Roberto Rossellini’s Nightmare, Pure Evil


    Old master prints, drawings of flayed bodies, mysterious things in glass jars, extinct animal skeletons, glittery minerals and rocks, amulets and charms from ancient Egypt: UCL Museums and Collections are a treasure trove of the awe inspiring and unusual. But we don’t just think of ourselves as being a collection of objects fixed to one space and place, we believe that the Museum is where the people are and we want to take the spirit of our collections off site for the Museums at Night event on 30 and 31 October. (more…)