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  • Happy Second Birthday Grant Museum – A Year in Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 March 2013

    Grant Museum version 2.0* opened in the Rockefeller two years ago today. Time sure flies and we are still calling it our “new home” (but then since we’ve been going for about 185 years I guess it’s all relative). I remember telling myself that after the trauma of the relocation things would quieten down, but actually our diaries are ever fuller and we’re proud to look back on another whopping great year in our fabulous little museum. Here are some highlights of the last twelve months…

    The year in numbers
    16151 visitors during normal opening hours
    10148 participants in our events
    6031 school and FE students in museum classes
    3223 university students in museum classes
    578 objects photographed
    357 objects accessioned
    118 objects acquired
    104 blog posts
    52 specimens of the week
    20 loans
    3 two-headed fresh livestock turned down
    1 fewer anaconda than we started with. (more…)

    Heck that’s cool

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 13 February 2013

    Whilst you and I both work as hard as an ant running uphill carrying a dead fly three times its size at our jobs all day every day (right?), sometimes you can’t help but feel a little less Gandalf the Grey and a little more Freena the elf (remember him? Exactly.), than you may otherwise desire.

     

    I get a lot of satisfaction out of a day at work, partly because I am easily amused by… myself, and partly because my job rocks. Not every day of course, some days I want to dart people with porcupine quills from the balcony, but that’s very rare (have no fear). However, more often than not I look at a project or piece of work, or reflect on a school visit, and I think “Yeah, that was super, I’m really pleased”. Getting nice feedback on my Specimen of the Week blog is one of my favourites for example (*cough*hint*cough*). One such moment of self admiration came due to a new project called the Micrarium.

     

    Don’t overestimate my involvement in this project, I have merely spent several (thousand) hours pouring my liquified eyeballs over billions of microscope slides, selecting the sexiest ones and accessioning more thin sections than I have had individual days in my 31 years of life. I did not conceive the idea nor design, sadly did not carry out the building work (I like DIY), thankfully did not insert every slide into the nails-on-a-blackboard-infuriatingly-fiddly grooves on the walls, nor (even more thankfully) did I gain as many grey hairs as the curator. I did however, upon first looking at the completed Micrarium, like an actor seeing a completed film they’d spent months working on in disarticulated portions for the first time, subconsciously breathe aloud “Heck that’s cool.”

    A Review, of sorts, of Treasures at the Natural History Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 January 2013

    Treasures is the new permanent exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM) which “displays 22 of the most extraordinary specimens that have ever been on show at the Museum”. I’d been excited about it since I first heard about it a couple of years ago.

    As we all know, the best side of most museums isn’t the one that faces the public, and that is definitely true of the NHM, which for obvious reasons can’t display all 70 million objects in its care, or indeed all of the brilliant scientific research it undertakes. I’ve been critical before of the NHM missing opportunities to display real objects in its exhibitions, and so a gallery dedicated to showing what everyone actually comes to museums to see is exactly what I want them to be doing.

    Being lucky enough to do the job I do means that I’m privileged in knowing quite a lot about what the NHM has behind the scenes. Before visiting, I made a list of what I thought the NHM’s treasures are, and ticked it off as I went around: (more…)

    The Saddest Microscope Slide Ever(?)

    By Mark Carnall, on 23 January 2013

    We’ve been sifting through slides like a slick slide sifter for an exciting project the Grant Museum team have been working on and I discovered this leech slide which caused me to pause for a moment of deep reflection and sadness. I think it’s the word ‘clinging’ that adds some poetic tragedy to this scene.

    Grant Museum Helobdella  microscope slide labelled Helobdella stagnalis with young, which were in life carried clinging to the Underside. When I saw this my allergies kicked in and I started to cry. My fake allergies.

    Why does this get to me more than the Africa Elephant sequence?


    (more…)

    When Ain’t An Anaconda An Anaconda?

    By Mark Carnall, on 3 January 2013

    Image of the Grant Museum 'Anaconda skeleton'Apologies for the use of the awful contraction ‘ain’t’ but the International Standards for Science Communication (ISSC) demand awful alliteration at almost all opportunities.

    If you are reading this post then it is possible that you know of the Grant Museum and if you’ve visited then you’ve no doubt been impressed by our rather lovely articulated anaconda skeleton pictured here on the left. It’s a beautiful skeleton that grabs the attention and brings to mind questions like “How many ribs?” and “Who had the job of putting together what is surely one of the world’s most difficult jigsaws?”. It’s one of the specimens we list in our top ten objects you must see on a fleeting visit, it features in Kingdom in A Cabinet our guide to the Grant Museum and an image of this specimen was chosen for our postcard selection (available now from the Grant Museum).

    Also, it umm, isn’t actually an anaconda… (more…)

    How not to do public engagement

    By Rachael Sparks, on 22 December 2012

    A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in the artefact store, staring down the barrel of a film camera while the cameraman and director stared expectantly back at me. I was supposed to say something bright, pithy, and appealing about our collections, and I was supposed to say it now.

    Pointing at old stuff for dramatic effect

    Pointing at old stuff for dramatic effect

    (more…)

    There’s no such thing as bad press?

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 December 2012

    This is a short post about the surprise appearance of the Grant Museum in a story that was completely unrelated.

    Before I start, there are some things you should bear in mind:

    • We count the number of times the Grant Museum appears in the press as a measure of our performance.
    • Unless it’s a press story promoting the Museum, we charge for use of our images by publishers, but we have allowed a couple of stock photo libraries to photograph the Museum in the hope that it will spread the word of our existence.
    • For obvious reasons we try and keep track of journalists and photographers who come and visit.
    • We have no control over the internet.

     

    Every month I go to a meeting with all the other people involved with communications at UCL to look over major events and stories involving the University over the past month, and to highlight what’s about to come up. At the last meeting a story in the press concerning the possibility of UCL changing a statute which at present effectively offers academic staff permanent tenure – something the Unions are concerned about, was brought up. This didn’t appear to have much to do with the Grant Museum, until they opened the link on the projector… (more…)

    A Tale of A Whale

    By Simon J Jackson, on 19 October 2012

    Earlier this year Mark Carnall, the Grant Museum Curator, and I uncovered a whale in our collection — well, actually the ‘long-dead’ skeleton of a whale. Initially, we were confronted with boxes of huge vertebrae mixed with ribs — specimens several times the size we are used to dealing with. After putting our detective caps on, we ascertained that most of these bones belong to the same animal as does the huge skull we have in our balcony collection area in the Museum. Going back to the historical records, there is an interesting story behind this specimen, which I thought would be nice to share with you … (more…)

    I found this… Mexican Plateau Horned Lizard

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 17 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    Mexican Plateau Horned LizardMexican Plateau Horned Lizard

    Part of my role involves looking after the adoption scheme, which means that I get to research the specimens in order to prepare their adoption certificates. Just today I used some of my adoption knowledge when a visitor asked about the pink fairy armadillo.

    I enjoy the opportunity this gives to learn more about each specimen, especially when I come across the most bizarre facts that I could never have imagined. Take the Mexican Plateau Horned Lizard, it may appear cute and feeble, but it has the ability to squirt foul-tasting blood from its eyes forcing its canine and feline predators to drop it. Facts like these are guaranteed to make it into an adoption certificate!

    I found this…. Beaver stick

    By Dean W Veall, on 16 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    Beaver StickBEAVER STICK! At the back of one of our cupboards I found this botanical specimen and it immediately caught my interest. Why a piece of wood in a zoological collection? Closer inspection revealed it was  covered in long thin bite marks and been chewed to points at both ends. There was only one conclusion, BEAVER STICK! But which species of beaver had carved this wood? Was it the Eurasian or the American beaver? Having only been here for about a month I was keen to prove myself, so I was determined to find out the species of beaver had made this. There are two ways to find this out; identify the species of tree the specimen came from and work out if the range of the tree overlaps with either species of beaver. Or, use some of our beaver skull specimens and identify the teeth marks and match it to the species.

    Well that was the plan. (more…)