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  • Specimen of the Week 208 (Four years!): The four-eyed opossum

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 October 2015

    Preserved four-eyed opossum.  LDUCZ-Z1596

    Preserved four-eyed opossum.

    As those of you who can divide 208 by four – or have read this post’s title – will have realised, four years ago this week Specimen of the Week was born.

    The main aim of this series is to shed light on parts of the collection that you might not spot among the thousands of specimens in our dense displays. Occassionally we do want to give extra attention to a “hero” specimen, but by and large it’s the also-rans that get featured.

    Some might think that this honour should be reserved for animals at the lower end of the human-centred pecking order (fish and invertebrates, for instance), but there are many mammals that go unloved too. This one is no exception. It is so unloved that its Wikipedia page comprises of only five lines.

    This week I’m featuring the first animal that came to mind when I tried to think of something related to the blog’s age: Four.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… Read the rest of this entry »

    Spotlight on the Slade – October update

    By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 1 October 2015

    Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stooping Nude Child, 1900, Black Chalk, UCL 6003 (The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis.  By permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a Registered Charity)

    Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stooping Nude Child, 1900, Black Chalk, UCL 6003 (The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis. By permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a Registered Charity)

    Blog post by Helen Downes, Paul Mellon Centre Research Curator, UCL Art Museum

    UCL Art Museum’s Spotlight on the Slade project is well underway with the first phase of the project: Full cataloguing of the collection of some 1,700 drawings.  Dating from the 1890s to the present day, this collection of largely prize-winning drawings offers a unique insight into student work and teaching methods at the Slade.  Current focus is on the late 19th, early 20th Century and is yielding some interesting findings. Read the rest of this entry »

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: September 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 September 2015

    I’M BACK! Last month’s rumours of the end were nought but a dramatic device! I may have left UCL and although it was easy to turn my back and walk away from colleagues I’d worked with over the last decade, I couldn’t leave the underwhelming fossil fish behind so this communiqué comes from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

    For first time readers, the mission of this blog series is to turn our attentions to the spectacularly unspectacular fossil fish in the Grant Museum each month. These fish, like so many others in museum collections, are uncelebratable, unrelatable and originally collected for research no longer referenced or cared about. Every museum has specimens like these. Are they useless? Why do we have them? Why should you care? None of these questions will be answered here, instead I ask that you clear your mind, read on, and one by one we’ll improve global fishteracy, one underwhelming fish fossil at a time.

    This month, in order to celebrate the return of the series I’ve been sent images and a description of personally hand-picked out something particularly unspecial in time honoured tradition for this series. Extra points for you if you stay awake/alive til the end of this one, it’s a slog.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    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 …. Read the rest of this entry »

    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. 

    Specimen of the Week 206: The leopard skull

    By Will J Richard, on 21 September 2015

    LDUCZ-Z334 leopard (Panthera pardus) skull

    LDUCZ-Z334 leopard (Panthera pardus) skull

    Hello! Will Richard here. Taking my turn to bring you another specimen of the week. And what can I say about this week’s specimen?

    Very little… on with the blog!

    This week’s specimen is…

    **the leopard skull**

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week 205: The Plesiosaur

    By Tannis Davidson, on 14 September 2015

    LDUCZ-X227 Thalassiodracon hawkinsi  Copyright UCL Photo by Colin Dunn of Scriptura

    LDUCZ-X227 Thalassiodracon hawkinsi (C)UCL. Photo by Colin Dunn of Scriptura

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is one of the largest single objects in the Grant Museum, but it is one which is often overlooked. Tucked away along the wall behind the large elephant skull, many who visit the Museum miss it as they are drawn to the illuminated cave which is the Micrarium. The warm glow of over 2300 backlit microscope slides attracts the eye, but also diverts attention from the dim end-of-corridor/rope-barrier/back-entrance-to-the-office area which is home to the specimen of which I speak.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Happy 79th Thylacine Day: What they knew in 1896

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2015

    79 years ago today , on the night of 7th of September 1936, the last known thylacine died of exposure, locked out of the indoor part of its enclosure in a Tasmanian zoo. This followed a government-sponsored cull based on pressure from the farming lobby, who incorrectly blamed the thylacine for the failure of the sheep industry. Happy Thylacine Day.

    Thylacine as depicted in Wood's Illustrated History (1872?). Engraved by W. Coleman, after Robert Kretschmer (1865)

    Thylacine as depicted in J.G. Wood’s The Illustrated Natural History (1872?). Engraved by W. Coleman, after Robert Kretschmer (1865)

    Here at the Grant Museum, as holders of a significant collection of specimens, we like to commemorate Thylacine Day. Here you can read how we have commemorated previous Thylacine Days – including the story of their extinction, and how it’s being echoed today in the UK’s unscientific badger cull (which restarted last Friday).

    I recently bought book from 1894* – A Handbook to the Marsupialia and Monotremata – a species by species account of what was then known about those groups by Richard Lydekker. Lydekker was a significant figure at the Natural History Museum, London, and incidentally was born about 100m from us here at UCL. Here is what he had to say about thylacines: Read the rest of this entry »