X Close

Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for March, 2013

Spring Invocation 1: Birds

EdmundConnolly28 March 2013

Given that we are enduring a slightly tepid spring, I figured it’d be nice to pretend we are in the middle of the whirl of new life, joy and bouncing lambs that spring promises to bring. In this series of 5 blogs I am going to attempt to dust the cobwebs off my English degree[1] and evoke sounds, smells, tastes, touch and sights of what spring should be, mixed with an Ancient Egyptian garnish, just because, right now, the thought of 25+ degrees is the only thing keeping me from embracing this eternal winter and bunkering down to a Game of Thrones type existence.


Chaffinch, courtesy of: www.rspb.org.uk

Chaffinch, courtesy of: www.rspb.org.uk


Volunteer call out for Touching Heritage project

BetsyLewis-Homes27 March 2013

Object Handling in the community

Object Handling in the community

If you are someone who is passionate about heritage, interested in health and wellbeing, and keen to volunteer in an innovative heritage-in-health project – we want to hear from you!

UCL Museums and Public Engagement is looking for a group of volunteers to take part in the Touching Heritage project, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The programme aims to widen participation in cultural activities by taking museum objects out to healthcare communities that would otherwise be excluded from museum activities. One-to-one and group sessions led by facilitators will focus on the cultural, social and natural diversity of the objects in relation to participants’ own health and wellbeing. The experience will be enhanced by touching and handling objects traditionally associated with health and wellbeing, and by discussing how the objects feel, what they are made of or whether they resonate in other ways with participants. (more…)

How to Find and Research Biological Specimens in UK Museums

MarkCarnall27 March 2013

We interrupt this normal service to bring a special PSA. This post is intended as a how-to for the global community of researchers who are looking for biological specimens in the UK to study.

Recently I went to the Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) annual conference and with cuts to heritage and museums many of the talks were about how we make the most of natural history collections in the UK. Biological research is seen as one of the most important drivers and reasons for keeping and using natural history collections, however, in my opinion we do a relatively poor job at matching researchers to specimens and a certain portion of the research community can be forgiven for struggling to find material for research despite the wealth of resources we put out there supposedly designed to help them.

So if you work in a natural history museum, supervise Phd students or teach on a biological/geological course please pass a link to this article on and see if we can’t create more research opportunities that I suspect we currently miss. (more…)

Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month: March

MarkCarnall26 March 2013

March is nearly gone but there’s still time to squeeze in an Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month (UFFotM). Since last time I’ve been receiving some emails:

My Dear Beloved in Christ, Greetings to you and your family. I am Mrs. Lerien Namani” A widow to late ” Mr Martins Namani of Ivory Coast” I am 58 years old, my late Husband was a Director with the Construction Company here before his Sudden Death in this Country’s present political Crisis 2010, but before his death, he Deposited the Sum of¨$4.Million US dollars with one of the Bank here in Ivory Coast with my name and i am suffering from pancreatic cancer, My condition is really bad and it is quite obvious that I won’t live more than two months according to my doctors….[This carries on for quite a while]

I’ve also received an email about this month’s installment of UFFotM:

To Whom It May Concern

Joe Bloggs

Well it’s here now Joe! It’s not easy digging out underwhelming fossil fish you know. The collection is full of perfectly preserved internationally renowned, indeed celebrity, fossil fish that have been instrumental in changing the world we live in today. It’s getting harder to find a rough amongst all the diamonds. But I’ve done it. I’ve managed to find yet another fossil fish that’s bound to put a dampener on your day. Dare you go beyond the jump to find out more? (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Seventy-Six

Emma-LouiseNicholls25 March 2013

Scary MonkeyOkay okay so this coming Sunday it will have officially been two months since the Chinese New Year. However, as part of my ongoing quest to become a god, I have chosen to give myself the ability to bend man’s two most treacherous enemies to my will; time, and money. Ergo, I can write a blog about the animal that is the focus of this year’s Chinese New Year, despite it officially having been on the 31st January, and when today is the 25th March. So there. The animal group chosen by the Chinese calendar is a broad one so I have narrowed it down to one species. My favourite species. Well what better way is there to choose? It is my favourite for good reason after all. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Considering our History – the Good Times

JackAshby24 March 2013

Students taught in the Museum by E Ray Lankester in 1887

Students taught in the Museum by E Ray Lankester in 1887

Last week we launched six new permanent displays telling the story of the history of the Grant Museum, focusing on the story of how the teaching of zoology has evolved over the past 185 years of our existence. Like the life cycle of many species, there have been times of rapid diversification and broad niche occupancy, as well as population bottle-necks when extinction looms, before adaptations to changing climates result in a new lease of life.

Today I’ll focus on our first century or so, when times were pretty darn good. The new displays combine some truly beautiful specimens from our stores – in typically Grant Museumy specimen-rich displays – combined with images from our archives and intricate anatomical drawings from early twentieth century student notebooks.

Why are we here?
Robert Grant (1793-1874), one of UCL’s founding professors, established the Museum in 1828 as a resource for students taking his Zoology and Comparative Anatomy lectures. Many of these students would have been medics as comparative anatomy was seen as a crucial element of medical theory. (more…)

University Challenge: exploring university and museum relationships in the ‘Share Academy’ project

LeonieHannan21 March 2013

Museum of Brands, QRator Project

Museum of Brands, QRator Project

Museums and universities teaming up to score shared rewards

In the autumn of 2012, Arts Council England funded University College London [UCL], the University of Arts London [UAL], and the London Museums Group [LMG] to investigate how those working in museums and universities could effectively team up in order to reap the rewards of collaborative partnership. With just six months to find out what kinds of collaborative work was already taking place across the sectors, identify new projects to launch, and provide practical guidance on our findings – we got off to a prompt start. From the outset the project team were aware of the big issues that affect grassroots work, such as the scarcity of funding across the cultural sector and higher education, the perceived inequalities in status, power and resources between museums and universities, and punishing schedules that make forging new working relationships a luxury rather than common practice. However, in a climate of funding cuts and demoralisation amongst the arts and culture, pooling resources and expertise seemed not only desirable but vital, and as far as our project was concerned, the opportunity to help bridge the divide between these two different but deeply connected sectors was hugely exciting.


Impact! – A Pop-up Exhibition

Nicholas JBooth21 March 2013

On Friday 1st March the UCL Geology Collections hosted a special Pop-up exhibition, called Impact!, curated by two PhD studnets from the Centre for Planetery Sciences (CPS), a ‘virtual’ research centre that comprises of staff and research students from both UCL and Birkbeck.

The aim of the Pop-up was simple. We wanted to advertise the opening hours of the Rock Room (1-3pm every Friday); we wanted to advertise the existence of the Regional

View of a Meteorite down a microscope

View of a Meteorite down a microscope
(Photo: Andrew Freeland)

Planetary Image Facility (RPIF) at UCL; and we wanted to showcase some of the amazing research carried out by PhD students at the CPS.

The process started when I emailed the data manager of the RPIF to see if he knew of any research students or staff who might be interested in putting on an event in the Rock Room. Luckily for us there were two who were. These were Amy Edgington, a UCL PhD student studying the interior of the planet Mercury, and Louise Alexander, a PhD student from Birkbeck, whose work focuses on Basaltic samples from the Apollo 12 landing site and what they can tell us about the magmatic evolution of the Moon.


Artist at the Grant Museum

Sarah RCameron18 March 2013

Viewpoint - Sarah Cameron (2013)

Viewpoint – Sarah Cameron (2013)

For the past month I have been working on a large mural for the foyer of the Grant Museum. The artwork, titled Viewpoint officially “opens” today.

I arrive at the Museum at a strangely early hour of the morning, with my over-flowing bag of art materials and an array of tools. I ensconce myself in the foyer, surrounding myself with tubes of paint, mediums, cloths, sandpaper and sandwiches and then set to work in the quiet time before the museum opens.

Much of my mural painting has been made in situ, which is a new and exciting way for me to work and through this I have found an energy in the way I handle paint that I have been striving for.

It has been a fantastic privilege to be allowed access to the museum outside it’s normal opening hours and to have a ‘behind the scenes’ insight into a world of scientific investigation and recording that has often been elusive to me. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Seventy-Five

Emma-LouiseNicholls18 March 2013

Being a zoologist, wildlife photographer and world traveller, I spend a lot of my time tramping through forests and rummaging around in undergrowth, searching for this mammal, that insect or the other reptile. Sometimes this subsequently requires a first aid kit, sometimes it does not. But either way it nearly always ends in an image that at the very least documents the presence of a species in the area, and at best goes in my folder marked ‘To win Wildlife Photographer of the Year’. You may feel that there aren’t many opportunities for this sort of shenanigan in the middle of the big smoke, but London has some amazing wildlife watching spots. One of my favourite is the underground. Standing on the edge (not too close) of the platform, peering (carefully) down the dark tunnels- if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of a small mammal. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)