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  • Angels, fairies and dragons revisited: Did putti fly like bumblebees?

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 April 2014

    In 2011 our 15th Annual Robert Grant Lecture was given by UCL’s Professor Roger Wotton. It was called Zoology and mythology: looking at angels, fairies and dragons and explored the biological plausibility of these creatures based on their representations in art. Prof Wotton dissected (not literally, obviously) the anatomy that would be required for angels, fairies and dragons to fly. The lecture was amusing and illuminating – and we wrote about it at the time.

    Now, on his blog, Roger has returned to the subject to investigate something he couldn’t fit into the lecture – putti. Putti are the porky little naked boys with tiny wings. Many people might (inaccurately) call them cherubs. In his whimsical yet biological account, Wotton says…

    It is only possible to speculate on how putti fly, although their naked, often chubby bodies indicate that the generation of sufficient temperature is not a problem. (more…)

    Darwin (or) Bust opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2014

    Charles Darwin would be 205 today. Happy birthday to him. To mark the occasion our Darwin (or) Bust exhibition opens today, showing Darwin as you are unlikely to have seen him before. Darwins have been created out of ants, light, crochet, DNA, his own writings, chocolate and other unusual media, all imagined and made by members of UCL’s Institute of Making.

    The Museum’s historic plaster bust of Darwin was moved from UCL’s Darwin Building when our collection was relocated in 2011. The remaining inhabitants of the Darwin Building were sorry to lose him, and so asked the Institute of Making to help them make a new one, from 3D laser scanning. We already had the 3D data as our very own Mona Hess had scanned him for her PhD on scanning in museums, and an idea blossomed…

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    Rather than just print off a new Darwin bust for the departments of Structural and Molecular Biology and Genetics, Evolution and Environment in the Darwin Building, we all decided to see what happened if we tapped the minds around us at UCL; asking the members of the Institute of Making how they would reinterpret the 3D data to make a new Darwin for the 21st Century. This multi-venue exhibition is the result. A previous post explains the origins of the exhibition more fully.

    The project somewhat snowballed. (more…)

    Riding on the crest of a ware

    By Rachael Sparks, on 6 August 2013

    Felixstowe Crested WareI’m quite partial to memorabilia, and I have a passionate interest in the life and work of Flinders Petrie, not just because he’s a an impressively beardy archaeologist and legend, but also because for some years now I’ve been responsible for looking after his collection of Palestinian antiquities at the UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections. So I was quite chuffed when I did a search on Ebay a few years ago, and came across this inspiring item. (more…)

    Book Worm… Kangaroo by John Simons: A Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 April 2013

    Book Worm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    I’m writing this second review in the predictably punned “Book Worm” occasional series whilst in the desert town of Alice Springs. As I like to match my reading with my surroundings, I’m reviewing Kangaroo by John Simons, published in December as part of Reaktion’s Animal Series.

    What this book seems to attempt to do is tackle the kangaroo from a variety of angles – biological, ecolgical, historical and anthropological. It is extremely generously illustrated (on nearly every page). There is sometimes, however, no obvious connection between the image and the neighbouring text which can make things a bit confusing, particularly when he is describing a specific visual scene without providing the appropriate image. (more…)

    Remember remember, the marine colonial tunicate Pyrosoma

    By Simon J Jackson, on 5 November 2012

    Firework night is upon us again and, as a multitude of rockets explode into a symphony of bangs, whistles and screams and shower cascades of light across the night sky, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a particular ‘fire-body’ in our collection. (more…)

    So when is natural history art?

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 September 2012

    Bisected chimp head

    Very obviously science.

    Before I start, just to be clear, I’m not one of those scientists who hates art, or is snobbish about the semi-defined/awe-and-wonder/expressive/cheeky-subversion/I-don’t-care-if-the-viewer-doesn’t-understand kind of thing that some artists get up to. Not at all. I think it’s great. In fact, I work hard to incorporate a lot of art into programmes at the Grant Museum.

    Over the last couple of weeks two of the city’s biggest block-busters finished – Animal Inside Out at the Natural History Museum and Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern. They were both excellent.

    Much has been written about the cross-over between art and natural history, particularly when traditional scientific museum practices are replicated in art. What makes one art and one science?
    The obvious answers relate to the intentions of the artist and the interpretations of the viewer. (more…)

    Russell Brand, The UCL Pathology Collections, and the Fickle Finger of Fame

    By Subhadra Das, on 24 August 2012

    In the run-up to being interviewed for the role of Curator of the UCL Pathology Collections, I picked up the first volume of Russell Brand’s biography (My Booky Wook, Hodder and Stoughton, 2007) for some light reading.

    More fool me.Bedtime reading
    (more…)

    Jaws for Thought

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 1 August 2012

    Epaulette sharkWorking at the Grant Museum I get asked a lot of questions about animals, most of which I can answer, some of which (normally from 5-6 year olds) I have to look up. A member of the public knows whether they’ve hit an information goldmine, or else should make excuses and leave immediately, when they say the s-word and see my eyes light up. The s-word brings excitement to some (such as myself) and abject horror to others- mostly those who were of a cinema-going age in the 70’s. For yes- the s-word of which I speak is ‘shark’. What hacking did for the News of the World, the film Jaws did for sharks. Generations of people left cinemas with a new found phobia, virulent enough to replace heights, the dark, and spiders. ‘Man-eater’, ‘blood lust’, ‘crazed feeding frenzy’… I’ve seen them all, and worse, in media from cheap-tat-newspapers to otherwise-decent-television-channel documentaries. As soon as people discover that I am a shark specialist, they either display a mutual appreciation of them through a spouting of random shark trivia (my favourite) or they respond by immediately telling me of their fear of sharks as ‘ruthless killing machines’. Some even make the mistake of using the nails-on-a-blackboard phrase ‘man-eaters’. These people find themselves unable to leave the museum without a conversation with me about why that is in fact, a very unfair thing to say. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Nine

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 30 April 2012

    Scary Monkey: Week Twenty-NineA favourite in my household when I was growing up, these South-Pacific mammals are pleasant once you get to known them despite their bad reputation, only really fight when it comes to women or food, and don’t reach maturity until they are almost middle aged. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Walking with Dragons

    By Mark Carnall, on 21 February 2012

    Sometimes* it feels like I have the best job. You may recall my previous musings on whether or not Planet Dinosaur was a documentary or not. This musing did not come from the blue, in fact I have spent more time than most contemplating digital dinosaurs. Today I’m pleased to announce that a book chapter I wrote a loooong time ago has finally been published.

    Image of the Grant Museum Quagga skeleton versus a plastic Tyrannosaurus
    The full reference is

    Carnall, M.A (2012) Walking with Dragons: CGIs in Wildlife Documentaries. In Bentowska-Kafel, A., Denard, H. and Baker, D (eds) Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage, Pages 81-95 ISBN 9780754675839

    Getting back to why I think my job is the best job (more…)