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  • How to make a diamond

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 October 2015

    This is a guest post from our artist in residence Eleanor Morgan. It is part of a series exploring the exhibition Glass Delusions at the Grant Museum of  Zoology.

    Diamonds made from the dead creatures of the River Thames (c) David Dobson

    Diamonds made from the dead creatures of the River Thames (c) David Dobson

    This year, on Thursday the 30th of July, I made a diamond. Only a few weeks before, this diamond had been floating around the River Thames in the form of dead plants and animals. It had taken a few hours, high pressure and temperature and most importantly a lot of help from UCL chemists and geologists to transform the dead creatures of the River Thames into tiny diamonds. These can now be seen at the Grant Museum as part of my exhibition Glass Delusions, along with a booklet ‘How to make a diamond’ which describes the process. (more…)

    All hands on deck: the Petrie team welcome term

    By Alice E Stevenson, on 9 October 2015

    The rhythm of life in a University museum like the Petrie is set by the academic year. As of 28 September, with the return of large numbers of students, the tempo shifted up a notch. Several notches in fact. Needless to say it is all hands on deck.

    There are lots of new faces to meet in the Petrie at the start of term.

    There are lots of new faces to meet in the Petrie at the start of term.


    Glass Delusions opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 October 2015

    Photogram #2 by Eleanor Morgan

    A photogram created by exposing photo-sensitive paper with the Grant Museum’s glass sponge specimens sat directly on it. (C) Eleanor Morgan

    Glass Delusions is a new exhibition at the Grant Museum featuring works by the Museum’s Artist in Residence, Eleanor Morgan. Using prints, drawings, videos and objects Eleanor explores the slippery boundary between living and non-living materials.

    Over the past year, Eleanor has been drawing inspiration from our collection of glass sponges. These are intricately formed deep-sea animals that naturally build themselves out of glass – the are 90% silica, which they draw out of the sand in their environment.


    Specimen of the Week 207: Threetoothed pufferfish

    By Dean W Veall, on 28 September 2015

    LDUCZ-V1552 Triodon macropterus

    LDUCZ-V1552 Triodon macropterus

    Hello Specimen of the Week readers. Dean Veall here. I’ve chosen a specimen that’s often caught my eye but I was never too sure about what type of fish it actually was. It is possibly the specimen in the Museum with the least representative name. I give you this week’s Specimen of the Week …. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 185

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 April 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-NineThis week I’m honouring a mammal that we can link to two significant factors in my life recently. First, it’s an Australian hopping marsupial, as are kangaroos. Our current Strange Creatures exhibition centres around Europe’s first painting of a roo – by George Stubbs. Secondly, I’ve been in Australia for the last few weeks doing fieldwork with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, and my first task was to help test a mechanism for surveying this Critically Endangered mammal.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is…. (more…)

    The Return of the Rhino: Conserving our biggest skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 February 2015

    In November, we announced that Reg the (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino skeleton was being dismantled and taken away for an extreme make-over (read Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps). Now he has returned in much better shape (specifically, rhino-shaped), prepared for a long and prosperous future in the Museum.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you'lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you’lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    Reg, a Bone Idol

    The rhino was among the first specimens included in our huge conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, which will secure the long-term future of 39 of our biggest, rarest and most significant specimens. Some will be cleaned of 180 years of particulate pollutants, some will be repaired, some have new cases built, and some, like the rhino, will be completely remounted.

    What was wrong with the rhino?


    Stunning prints for sale from Subnature Exhibition: Prices reduced

    By Jack Ashby, on 29 October 2014

    ALTED Hydrozoa by Lan Lan, 2014. From Subnature exhibition

    ALTED Hydrozoa by Lan Lan, 2014.
    From Subnature exhibition

    Back in May this year we opened the exhibition Subnature by the UCL Slade School of Fine Art’s Lan Lan. The highlight of the exhibition were a series of extremely high quality prints, generated by digitally manipulating photographs of sculptures the artist had created from fish bone.

    The resulting images resembled at once both marine creatures and galaxies.

    At the end of the exhibition the prints were offered for sale. We are now very pleased to announce that the artist has kindly allowed us to significantly reduce the prices to assist with our raising funds for our major conservation project to preserve 39 of our large skeletons, including the world’s rarest skeleton, the quagga.

    Details of the sale, and images of the stunning prints can be seen on the Subnature sale website.

    The prints are available for a limited time only, until 23rd December 2014.

    Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology


    Culture Vulture: Digital Revolution at the Barbican

    By Mark Carnall, on 28 August 2014

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    It’s been a while since we had a culture vulture review on the blog. For the uninitiated we share our thoughts on recent museum exhibitions and displays to demonstrate that we don’t all get put into a cupboard at the end of the day. Last weekend I made my way down to the Barbican Centre to see the tantalisingly titled Digital Revolution: An immersive exhibition of art, design, film, music and videogames. As you may have gathered, I’m a bit of a geek (is there even a need to use the label anymore? We’re all geeks now) and I’m always interested to see how ‘digital’ translates into museum exhibitions. A number of exhibitions I’ve been to in the past about digital art, design and video games always manage to make what should be exciting, schizophrenic and contemporary seem sterile and uninspiring through the lense of a museum display. How did Digital Revolution fare in my eyes?


    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. (more…)

    Figure of the Moment

    By Alice E Stevenson, on 4 June 2014

    Predynastic Egyptian figurine UC9601 is very much in demand right now. She has just finished a stint as the poster girl for the Petrie Museum’s A Fusion of Worlds exhibition. Now this petite, 6.6 cm-high pottery statuette is on her way to the Centre Pompidou-Metz, France where she will feature in the international exhibition Simple Shapes, alongside works by Barbara Hepworth, Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore.

    UC9601, Egyptian figurine dating to c.3600 BC. Excavated from the surface of cemetery 100 at Qau in the early 1920s.

    UC9601, Egyptian figurine dating to c.3600 BC. Excavated from the surface of cemetery 100 at Qau in the early 1920s.

    Design etched onto the back of UC9601. Representation of a tattoo, a garment or a basket?

    Design etched onto the back of UC9601. Representation of a tattoo, a garment or a basket?