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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The Great Darwin BUST UP

By Jack Ashby, on 27 November 2013

There are lots of good things about working in a university museum. The best is that there are thousands of people around us whose job it is to have ideas and then come up with a way of realising these ideas. In the museums we know a lot of academics from different fields who we can put in touch with each other when we spot complementary ideas to combine into exciting cross-disciplinary projects.

A few weeks ago some of our colleagues from UCL’s Institute of Making arrived with someone from Structural and Molecular Biology saying that they wanted to 3D scan our plaster bust of Charles Darwin to create a copy to go in the Darwin Building where UCL’s biologists live (and where the Grant Museum used to be housed). From there a project spiraled into something very exciting.

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)

The bust has a bit of history – it is part of the Grant Museum’s collection, and as such when we moved into our current home in 2011 we took him with us (you might have spotted him peeking out a window on Gower Street). The biologists in the Darwin Building were very sorry to see him go. This project will create a new Darwin for them, and will also result in an unusual exhibition, through a competition.

We have laid down a challenge to the talented Members at the Institute of Making to recreate the Darwin bust in any way they like. The winning result will be displayed in the empty window of the Darwin Building – on the site where he lived on returning from The Beagle voyage – bringing Darwin back home.

The reimagined Darwins will then be displayed in a dual-location exhibition opening on Darwin’s birthday, mingled among the skeletons, skulls and jars in the Grant Museum, as well as in the Darwin Building windows.

Mona Hess from UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering/UCL Museums had previously 3D laser scanned the sculpture for her PhD in 3D scanning in museums, and we are making this data available to any member with a great idea.

The foam milled Darwin - somehow more "digital"

The foam milled Darwin – somehow more “digital”

We’ve also teamed up with the CAD CAM Workshop at The Bartlett School of The Built Environment; using “LaToyah” – their new massive 8-axis Robotic System (robot arm) – to carve a full-size Darwin bust from modelling foam, for members to use. This is quite a sight to see – we went and collected the milled Darwin yesterday. It’s a fantastic copy, but not identical to the original – he looks smoother and somehow digital – a much more 21st Century Darwin.

The milled Darwin bust with LaToyah the robot in the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture

The milled Darwin bust with LaToyah the robot in the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture

Using only the data from this scan, or based on the foam Darwin, members are invited to get creative, get technical, get messy and get involved with reimagining, and replicating the man. Will they mould him from jelly? Cast a hologram? Mill him from wood? It’s a great way to learn and integrate digital making methods without necessarily requiring any Computer Aided Design experience.

 There are cash prizes of up to £300 donated by the Faculty of Life Sciences for the winning Darwin, and we’ll display as many entries as we can.

Interested makers should email members@instituteofmaking.org.uk with an initial idea, and they’ll hand over the data file – or go in and talk to them about what you’d like to do. The final submission deadline is 17 January 2014, and the exhibition will open on 12th February – Darwin’s birthday.

Any UCL staff or student can join the Institute of Making, but the exhibition will of course be open to all.

Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.

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