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  • 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.

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    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.

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    Unpacking UCL’s Magic Lantern Slide Collections

    By Margaux Bricteux, on 9 July 2014

    Grant Museum magic lantern slide LDUCZ 299 showing craters on the lunar surface

    Grant Museum magic lantern slide LDUCZ-299 showing craters on the lunar surface

    The UCL Grant Museum and the Science and Engineering Collections currently have several thousand magic lantern slides that relate to subjects as diverse as telegraphy, astronomy or Australian coral reefs; but which for the most part have been consigned to gathering dust in splintering wooden boxes. I, however, have spent the last few weeks sorting, auditing and cleaning hundreds of these slides, and I am now rather well acquainted with these little glass squares.

    Example of a 19th century magic lantern slide projector from the UCL physics collection. This example was used as a sort of overhead projector but others were designed to project across a lecture theatre or hall

    Example of a 19th century magic lantern slide projector from the UCL physics collection. This example was used as a sort of overhead projector but others were designed to project across a lecture theatre or hall

    Magic lanterns were first developed in the 17th century as one of the earliest image projectors. While the device itself has evolved, the concept has remained the same: A combination of lenses and a light source are used to enlarge the images found on glass slides (each about the size of a Post-it) and project them onto a wall or screen. Magic lantern slides, hence, can be described as a kind of ancestor to the Kodachrome slides used in slide projectors, or even present-day PowerPoint slides. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: June 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 June 2014

    It’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month again. That wonderful time of the month where we take a look at one of the underwhelming fossil fish specimens in the Grant Museum collection. By staring at and reading about unloved, unspectacular fossil fish specimens I hope to increase global fishteracy as well as explore the question, why do we have material like this in museums? What is the point? What is the value? Maybe we also learn something important about ourselves. Something like, ‘I don’t find bad fish fossils particularly fascinating’. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s the journey not the destination that matters right?

    That’s enough my-little-pocket-book-of-zen. It’s time to unveil this month’s specimen. The sound of anticipation is absolute silence (is it still a sound?). Some of the recent entries have been labelled in the national press* as ‘slightly whelming’ and ‘not as bad as I’d imagined’ so I dug deeper into the fossil fish drawers to bring you something particularly unspecial. No thanks needed, I thank YOU.

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: May 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 May 2014

    It’s been a full year since this monthly blog series, exploring the uninspiring and underwhelming fossil fish in the Grant Museum’s collection, featured what scientists call a ‘pretty boy’ specimen. Back in April last year, I featured this astonishingly handsome specimen that kicked up a media storm. The museum was inundated with flowers and fan mail being sent in (please don’t send live flowers to the museum they are an integrated pest management nightmare). I anticipate that this month’s fossil fish will also set hearts a fluttering. I recommend that those of you susceptible to swooning and screaming uncontrollably at a beautiful fossil prepare yourselves accordingly. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: April 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 April 2014

    Underwhelming fossil fish: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the monthly underwhelming fossil fish blog. Its mission: to explore strange forgotten fossils, to seek out the uninteresting and the frankly plain, to boldly go where no palaeontologist has gone for hundreds of years.

    DO DO DOO DOO DO DO DOOOOOOO. DO DO DO DO DO DO DOOOOOOOO. Etc.

    This month’s underwhelming fossil fish has nothing to do with Star Trek at all. I just always wanted to open a blog like that. This month’s fossil fish, umm fished out of the fossil fish drawers at the Grant Museum, is distinctly uninteresting if I say so myself. It’s only my commitment to the mission of shining the spotlight on underwhelming fossil fish specimens that got me through writing this one. I cried a single glistening tear for the fossil that time and everybody, probably quite rightly, forgot. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: March 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 March 2014

    I’ve sectioned the otoliths of 2014 and determined that it is March and there’s just enough time for this month’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month.

    For those of you new to the series, all of which can be found in this link, here’s how I’d introduce the TV series, walking slowly through a museum storeroom, gesticulating wildly and oddly emphasizing words (in caps below) in the way that you only see in science documentaries.

    “Join me, MarK CArnall as I eXplore the aMazing WOrld of fossil fish. IN this SERIES we look at the AMAZING, comPLEX worLd of the unsung, unINspiring fossil fIsh that FILL the storeROOMs of the WORLD’s aMazing museums. We’ll look at the WEIrd, the WONderful and the aMazing fossil fish to dRive up the wOrld’s gLObal fishteracy. ONE fossil fish at a time.”

    CUT TO SHOT OF MARK PEERING AT A FOSSIL FISH THEN LOOKING OFF TO THE HORIZON.

    I’ve got a real doozy of a fish for you this month. Prepare to be disappointed. Steel yourself for disdain. Turn that apathy up to 11. (more…)

    Underwhelming fossil fish of the month: February 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 28 February 2014

    It’s often said that seasons come and seasons go but fossil fish are forever*. However, sadly this isn’t as robust as it is commonly believed. Fossil fish, like Hollywood stars and small children need attention and that’s what this entire series is about, turning the spotlight on the nearly-made-its, the also-rans and the generally undistinctive. The mediocre, normal shaped and average sized. The fossil fish consigned to museum drawers and storerooms, their ‘heyday’ 100-odd years ago, consisting of a dry description in an obscure journal by a palaeontologist. Shed no tears for them for they are but rock. They shall go on to the end. You can find them in France, you can find them under the seas and oceans. You can find them on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets,  in the hills; they shall never surrender. Here is yet another, especially underwhelming fossil fish of the month.
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    Collecting: Knowledge in Motion

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 February 2014

    Guest post by Claire Dwyer one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    What do crocodile skin handbags, ‘Agatha Christie’s picnic basket’, an overstuffed Bosc’s monitor lizard, a fourteenth century Jewish prayer book and a cabinet of keys have in common? All can be found in the latest exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, which opened on January 21st 2014. Collecting: Knowledge in Motion is the outcome of a collaboration by a group of UCL academics who responded to a call to curate an exhibition which reflected the theme of ‘movement’. As one of the academics who curated the exhibition in this guest blog post I offer some personal reflections. Other members of the team will offer their own comments in subsequent posts.

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    Underwhelming fossil fish of the month: January 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 January 2014

    It’s the first underwhelming fossil fish of the month for 2014 and in order to usher in the new year I’ve picked a particularly unspecial fossil fish for your eyes only. If you want to be underwhelmed even more then all the UFFoTM posts can be found under this handy tag. First up though, what does this look like to you?

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-BFvhevMmi1Q/TPr116uuHQI/AAAAAAAAAOI/wg6S_ZMH444/s1600/rorschach-test-dog.jpg

    A pretty butterfly?

    Wow. Well from your response I can tell you have some serious psychological issues that need dealing with. The above image isn’t actually a fossilised Rorschach inkblot (named after the comic book character with the same name in the Watchmen). The keen eyed amongst you will have spotted that it’s actually this month’s fossil fish of the ahem month albeit digitally tweaked. You know you’re in for a treat when the most interesting aspect of it is that it resembles an amorphous splodge and tenuously at that. Read on in the vain hope that it gets better than this. (more…)