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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for May, 2013

Mammalian megafauna

Dean WVeall31 May 2013

Mammoth hair

Mammoth hair

Megafauna, what a great word, it will feature prominently throughout this blog. By far the most popular extinct megafauna with the public are the megafauna of the reptilian variety, dinosaurs, pterosaurs and marine reptiles like icthyosaurs. But coming a close second in the megafauna popularity stakes are the mammalian megafauna in fact I would go as far as to say they are even the second most popular extinct fauna (sorry all those lovers of underwhelming fossil fish).  The mammalian megafauna are the stars of a new BBC2 natural history documentary Ice Age Giants fronted by Dr. Alice Roberts. (more…)

Science Research in a Science Museum?

MarkCarnall30 May 2013

As chance would have it at the same time as we received research interest from the Royal College of Art, colleague Dr Zerina Johanson, researcher in the Earth Sciences Department at the Natural History Museum, had also contacted me about our paddlefish specimens. We have less than a dozen paddlefish specimens in the Grant Museum (fish is the family Polyodontidae, represented today by only two species the American paddlefish Polyodon spathula and the possibly-extinct Chinese paddlefish Psephurus gladius) and fortunately, one of these specimens, matched the specifications for research (in this article I wrote about how ‘usable’ specimens dwindle to tens from thousands depending on the type of research).

So for the second time in May I was on bodyguard duty to escort one of our specimens down to South Kensington for some scanning, this time for SCIENCE!


Supporting conservation as an individual with no money

Emma-LouiseNicholls29 May 2013

In today’s world I find we are surrounded by charity adverts ready to make us feel bad for not immediately delving into our wallets for our credit cards. I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of people would make the world a better place (in the traditional sense) if they could, but in today’s economic climate (man that phrase is getting old), the weight of the world’s problems can feel like too much to bear but are all too easy to ignore. Fear not, I have a plan…

Let’s say that after you have budgeted for the essentials each month; rent, electricity, dinosaur lego, wifi, food; you decide that you can commit £2 a month to saving the world one species at a time. How and where will you spend said precious mound of pennies? (more…)

Working [in Museums] Wednesdays #2

EdmundConnolly29 May 2013

The Vexation of Volunteering

Volunteering in museums has being a bit maligned, are budding young enthusiasts being taken advantage of ? (such as this MJ article). Unfortunately, there may appear  an unfair element to volunteering, and they are essential in the running of many, if not all, museums. However, where the Petrie flys in the face of the nay-sayers is our commitment to offering our volunteers as holistic an experience as possible when they join our team.

From Bastet to Bodybuilders, our volunteers see it all. Copyright Marilyn Luscombe.

From Bastet to Bodybuilders, our volunteers see it all. Copyright Marilyn Luscombe.


Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: May

MarkCarnall28 May 2013

It was inevitable I guess. A mere six months into this wonderful voyage through the underwhelming fossil fish of the Grant Museum I’m throwing in the grass roots, voice-of-the-internet, fighting for the underdog, black and white film with a subtitles nature of these posts. In short, this month is when underwhelming fossil fish of the month is selling out.

I want to apologise to the loyal fans of this series and thank you for your support but pressure from the sponsors has meant that my hand has been forced and I’ve no alternative but to go for the mass appeal fossil fish. The fossil fish that sell ideas. The fossil fish that make it into TIME magazine and all those rich lists. You’ve got to have chops to cut it in this hyper competitive ruthless world of blogs about fossil fish. So with a heavy heart let’s have a look at this lovely large specimen of a shark, no less, Cladoselache. I know, I know, you’ve all heard of it. Just cherish the memories of when the fossil fish were underwhelming and not as Hollywood as this genus of Devonian chondrichthyan. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Five

Emma-LouiseNicholls27 May 2013

Whenever we have a school visit I tend to start with the question “What is Zoology?” Obviously, I put it in a way more thought-provoking and dynamic format than that. But it essentially comes down to comparing the Grant Museum with other types of museum in London to ascertain what you would find here. For example, as we are a zoology museum you wouldn’t (sadly) find a Spitfire Mk IX or an HMS this that or the other. Those are obvious examples, sometimes what causes a little debate is plants. They are living things, but do they belong in a museum of zoology? This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


Conserve It! Part III – Reconstruction

Nicholas JBooth24 May 2013

This is the third installment of the Conserve it! blog series, written by a team of UCL conservation students who are working on four damaged objects from the Medical Physics Collection. Here Louise Stewart explains how they have gone about reconstructing the smashed tubes.

Now that our background research is done and we’ve considered the various significances the objects, we come to the most time-consuming step of conservation: the actual treatment! In this case, the main portion of treatment for all four of us is the reconstruction of the glass bulbs of the various x-ray tubes.

All of us working on reconstruction of the x-ray tubes!

All of us working on reconstruction of the x-ray tubes!


Can museums improve your health and wellbeing?

JackAshby23 May 2013

Patients at University College Hospital enjoying an object handling session

Patients at University College Hospital enjoying an object handling session

For several years a team of researchers in UCL Museums have been investigating the role of touch and object handling in health and wellbeing. A three year research project, Heritage in Hospitals, showed that museum object handling had significant benefits on patients’ wellbeing by improving mental and physical functioning, providing a positive experience during the hospital stay, and improving patient-doctor/carer communication.

Taking it forward they are investigating the therapeutic value of handling museum objects. They’ve posted an article over on the London Museums Group blog. It begins…

Can museums improve your health and wellbeing?

This is a question we have been tackling here at UCL Museums. We’ve been interested in museums’ role in health and wellbeing for a while, so when we were awarded a 3-year research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council we set about trying to answering the question: what is the therapeutic value of handling museum objects? We focused this research around hospitals and care homes, as traditionally museums have not worked particularly closely with these organisations.

Approach (more…)

Working [in Museums] Wednesdays #1

EdmundConnolly22 May 2013

Students and aspiring museum workers frequently ask about employment in the arts, so popular is this topic, I have now spoken about this at my old school and universities  (to varying levels of success). I am in no way a specialist, nor even a veteran, of this discipline, in fact the only reason I seem to get asked to do these things is because I am one of the most recent employees, thus, in theory, can recant what it was like for me.  A few visitng A-level students asked if I had any opinions on the merits of a single vs. a joint honours degree for working in museums; I may as well answer them here.

I have 2 degrees, only the BA is a joint hons. proper (English and Classics) my Masters was multi-disciplinary (Comparative Art and Archaeology), so you can probably guess my opinion on the matter. I like joint honours. Arguably not such a ‘traditional’ degree, but they are a fantastic way to get more for your money (quantitatively speaking) and a unique take on both of the accredited disciplines.

Advantage of joint honours: double graduation

Advantage of joint honours: double graduation = double funny hat and Harry Potter robes


Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Four

Emma-LouiseNicholls20 May 2013

Scary MonkeyI am SO excited. I moved into a new flat last week and it has a balcony. That isn’t even the exciting part. Whilst I was flat hunting I narrowed the list down from 1230 to four by using a list of non-negotiable criteria (it’s good to know what you want in life), and then crossed off everything that didn’t stand up to the requirements. On viewing day, I was waiting for the estate agent outside property number one, staring up at the balcony when an eagle landed on the railing. In an ‘if it’s good enough for the eagle to sit on, it’s good enough for me to live in’ mindset, I took the flat. Almost there and then. After moving in, I took my first balcony outing and as I stepped out the self-same eagle erupted out of the corner and flew off. It was only then that I realised I in fact have a nest on my balcony, right there- on MY balcony, with three medium sized white eggs in it. WOW! I vowed never to step foot on the balcony again in order not to disturb the eagle and her future offspring and now check on her every evening using a mirror stuck to a spatula, very slowly and quietly inserted out of a window. She’s doing very well and I expect her baby eagles to hatch within the the next week or so. Now completely obsessed with baby animals in general, I thought I’d tell you about one we have at the Museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)