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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for December, 2011

Specimen of the Week: Week Eleven

Emma-Louise Nicholls26 December 2011

Scary MonkeyWelcome to the final specimen of the week of the year 2011! I hope you that you had a fantastically wonderful weekend, whether it was full of Christmassy activities or alternate entertainment. I for one ate too much Christmas pudding (as I do every year) and spent the afternoon playing with my hamster’s new toys. It was his first Christmas and he was very excited to open his own presents. Whether Christmas is celebrated in your household or not, this time of year is certainly one thing for everybody (at least in this country) and that- is COLD! So this week’s specimen of the week is a creature from a cold climate and one that is as at home on land as it is in the sea. This week’s Specimen of the Week is: (more…)

The price of the pouch

Jack Ashby20 December 2011

I went to an absolutely excellent UCL Lunch Hour Lecture by a good friend of the Museum, Dr Anjali Goswami about how the way marsupials reproduce has impacted on their evolution. In any case, it’s my professional opinion that they are the best group of animals to have ever lived (take that dinosaurs).

The write-up of what she said, and the video of the whole lecture is on the UCL Events blog. It begins…

Every zoologist has their own favourite group of animals, and mine is marsupials. However, this group sometimes suffer a lot of stick from the more common type of zoologist who studies placental mammals. They say marsupials are boring, stupid, primitive, too few in number and are altogether inferior to “normal” mammals. I was hoping that the lunch hour lecture by Anjali Goswami (UCL Genetics, Evolution and the Environment and UCL Earth Sciences) would set some of these accusations straight.

Whenever I go to Australia to undertake ecological fieldwork I am struck with the diversity of the mammals there. You can travel 200km and find a different species of marsupial mouse doing a similar thing to the one you saw the day before, only in a slightly different environment. Go another 200km and you could find a third. However, the three species do look pretty similar. One of the major downsides of marsupials, from a biodiversity point of view, is that they haven’t evolved the range of forms that placental mammals have. While there is a semi-aquatic species of marsupial – the yapok – it could hardly be compared with a whale or a seal; there are gliding marsupials too, but they can’t do what bats can do. Marsupials and placentals have both been evolving for the same length of time – 125 million years – why did flying, swimming or event galloping never arise in marsupials? Anjali put it down to methods of reproduction.

Read all of it here

Specimen of the Week: Week Ten

Emma-Louise Nicholls19 December 2011

Scary MonkeyFreshly back from abroad (got in last night), and not just a little jet-lagged, I bring to you on this quite frankly-freezing-compared-to-Mexico morning a mammalian specimen of the week that was inspired by the beautiful jungles through which I have been trotting for the last two weeks. I hope you are already trying to guess what it is based upon the two surreptitious pieces of information I have just given you; geographical location and habitat. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

It crawls…it creeps…it eats you alive

Jack Ashby16 December 2011

Last week we finished off Natural Mystery Season with a screening of what must be the gooiest monster movie of all time: The Blob (1958). These classic film screenings have become one of the highlights of our ever growing public events programme. The masterful Dr Joe Cain has now introduced 21 of these films, from The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933) to Inherit the Wind (1960).

It must be admitted that with our two films this term, The Blob and War of the Worlds (1953) we may have strayed a little far from natural history – we hope our visitors don’t mind. It’s definitely science, and mainly life science, so I suspect few people noticed. Next term we’ll be back to our roots with two very different must-sees: Under the Caribbean (1954) which I’ve described as a serious ground-breaking documentary that is very hard to take seriously (the ridiculous 1950s English dubbing, and the pretense that they try and make us believe they can talk to each other underwater reminds me of a cross between Eurotrash and Monty Python); and we finish the Humanimals Season with the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). These and all of next term’s events can be seen on our what’s on page.

Back to The Blob: the UCL Events blog gave us a jolly review. It begins:

Without a doubt, Film Night at the Grant Museum was the most entertaining event that I’ve attended at UCL. On December 6, they screened the 1958 sci-fi/horror cult classic, The Blob.

Dr Joe Cain holds court. A senior lecturer at UCL by day, he is an avid film fan by night. And possibly by day at weekends.

This is the first ‘On The Big Screen’ event at UCL that I’ve attended, despite this being the 21st showing. However, it’s clear that the event attracts a regular following, and by the time I arrive the large Darwin lecture theatre is almost full. All ages are represented in the crowd, and the mood is both jovial and excited.

Read the rest here.

Fake-umentary? BBC and Frozen World

Mark Carnall15 December 2011

Another quick post, many of you may have seen the news coverage about a sequence showing polar bear cubs in the BBC’s excellent Frozen Planet documentary that was filmed in a zoo, not in the wild. The footage has been called out as being misleading and the authenticity of some snow has also been called into question. It’s hard to pick out whether this is grabbing media attention because the Beeb has its fair share of enemies in the press or whether viewers are genuinely outraged. The BBC has posted this video showing BBC bosses defending the sequence. The Telegraph has this to say about it, posted here for balance. (more…)

Ecology or exploitation?

Jack Ashby15 December 2011

Ecology or exploitation?Is ecotourism an answer to local environmental and biodiversity conservation?

That’s the latest question on our iPads for the QRator project. Have you ever done any ecotourism? How did it feel – was there an element of exploitation or did you feel it was doing good? (more…)

Conservation in China? It’s hard to be hopeful

Jack Ashby14 December 2011

Last night I went to one of the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) excellent Wildlife Conservation Series. It was a series of short talks from conservation scientists working in China, under the heading “Conservation in China: Unique Challenges or Global Lessons?

Simply mentioning conservation and China in the same breath regularly causes people with an interest in the environment to raise their hackles. China is a land of staggering numbers; 1.3 billion people; 10 million square kilometres (and yet one of the highest population densities of any country); and only 23 Hainan gibbons. In a place where national parks are managed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Construction, the human population is a huge sink for traded wildlife, however rare (for pets, food and Traditional Chinese Medicines) and with natural resources under so much stress from development, how can wildlife be expected to survive? Last night we were told that in the Great Leap Forward 10% of the country’s trees were felled in a month. (more…)


Mark Carnall14 December 2011

Number 2 in an occasional series highlighting objects from the stores. The first one is here. Hmmmm, I  may need to rethink the title for these posts as after IT STILL COMES FROM THE STORES and IT DIDN’T NOT COME FROM THE STORES it might be hard to come up with the next title.

Just a quick one today reflecting on the kinds of questions that objects provoke curators to ask of the collections they look after. I’ve been working with our documentation assistant on the spirit collection and  I found this curious unidentified object:

Now I'm no Professor but you need some stones to preserve one of these

Should we only be conserving things that have a potential human benefit?

Jack Ashby13 December 2011

conserving cures displayI think we know what our visitors will think about this latest QRator question on the iPads, but maybe some non-natural history fans will have different opinions…

Conserving cures?

Should we only be conserving things that have a potential human benefit? (more…)

Really rare? Making British decisions in conservation

Jack Ashby12 December 2011

Really rare? display Should species like red squirrels be protected in England when they are common in Europe?

This is the newest question we are asking in our QRator iPad displays.

There is a limited amount of money available for conservation. Not everything can be protected. How important is it if an animal goes extinct in one country if they still exist elsewhere? Some species, like red squirrels are common in Europe but declining in the UK – should they be protected here? Do local extinctions affect global biodiversity? (more…)