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Meet our Volunteers!

Lisa Randisi15 May 2020

In today’s blog, we’d like to introduce you to some people without whom a visit to our museums simply wouldn’t be the same: meet some of our wonderful team of Front of House volunteers! Here they tell all about their favourite artefacts, valuable life lessons, and what they’d do if they got to spend a night at the museum…

Please introduce yourself in a few words:

“I’m Chris, a Welsh Egypt fanatic who’s lived in France and East Africa and has dabbled in Innovation, linguistics, history and the Civil Service!”

Hello, I’m Margaret and I did biology at UCL (which is how I start volunteering). I’m normally in the Grant as it’s my favourite of the museums and just a very cool space to be in. In my spare time, I’m normally playing the cello or reading – I love a good murder mystery! I’ve been volunteering for over three years now and each time I come in, I’ve always had a different experience.”

“Hello! J My name is Sian & hopefully you might have seen me around and about the Petrie Museum as I have been here for over 2 decades now. I’m the one who uses any opportunity to arrive in fancy dress! I’m a full-time self-employed Aromatherapist, Clinical and Holistic Massage Therapist.”

“Hi! My name is Tonia and I am a final year Undergraduate studying Archaeology and Anthropology here at UCL. I’ve been volunteering for just under two years.”

“Hello, I’m April – and before you ask, I was not born in April, it was actually October. I am also 31 and I live in Hertfordshire. I have loved Ancient Egypt since I was quite small: I remember my Granny showing me a travel book written by a painter called R. Talbot Kelly. Apparently he was also her great uncle! The book fascinated me and unfortunately for my parents, I wanted to learn more about the country he went to and painted and that’s where it all began. Since then I have accumulated quite the collection of books and other Egyptian stuff, I have also managed to get myself a degree in Egyptology with the future hope of maybe getting a Masters and PhD. I also have an obsession with dragons, books, video games and Heavy Metal music.”

Why did you decide to volunteer?

“I’ve always been fascinated by Egyptology and love museums. The Petrie has an amazing collection and I wanted to learn more about it. I also wanted to do something that involved working with the public (you never know who’s going to walk through the door next!)” – Chris

“I wanted to volunteer because of a class practical I had in the Grant during my first year. I realised it was such a great place with some very awesome specimens so I wanted an opportunity to come back and spend more time in here.” – Margaret

“My Degree was in Archaeology and History, and Masters degree was in Archaeological Research so when I was a working archaeologist after leaving University I decided to volunteer at the British Museum. About 6 months later I attended an Egyptian Mummy Study Day at the Bloomsbury Summer School (with Professor Joann Fletcher) & they suggested we visit the Petrie Museum in our lunch hour – just trying to find the Museum was an adventure. Back then you had to go through the Science Library and the back door was the front – it was like stepping into a hidden world…” – Sian

“Museums have been a source of fascination for me since I was a child and are what inspired me to study the degree I do. When I saw the opportunity to volunteer with UCL Culture I jumped at the chance! It also gives me a welcome break from university work as well…” – Tonia

Favourite object or specimen?

“My favourite specimen is the humble yet mighty hedgehog! It looks very prickly but has such a soft belly which is something most people don’t think of when they look at it. So it’s nice to have been able to see and touch the secret underside of this adorable animal.” – Margaret

“A steatite seal-amulet depicting the form of a cat carrying a kitten. Aesthetically, I love the detail on such a small object. On a more intellectual basis, the concept of magical or ritual protection against unseen forces has long been a source of interest – especially for the anthropologist in me.” – Tonia

“The board games in the Petrie. I love the way things brings out the “fun” side of day-to-day life in Ancient Egypt. They help bring a civilisation to life, to connect as human beings with people who lived back at that time and remember history isn’t all just about king-lists and dates.” – Chris

“Anyone who has spoken to me knows – the Socks! 🙂 Again as an archaeologist I get way more excited about the preservation of materials that we don’t normally see far more than gold and treasure (which survive well). So first, I simply love that wool has survived. Secondly, I had absolutely no idea that Ancient Egyptians knitted or wore woollen socks; it was really surprising, although in retrospect desert temperatures do drop very low at night.” – Sian

Papyrus with hieratic inscription labelled "Will of Antef Meri"

“Say what, just one? Let me think. I really enjoy looking at the Hieroglyphs, the way they are carved or written so much better than my feeble attempts at drawing them. But I think my favourite object is the Will of Antef Meri, in the Main Gallery on the left of the big table. It is written in the dreaded Hieratic script but what I love about it is that it gives us a glimpse into someone’s life and what he was planning to do with his estate when he died. To actually have a nearly intact will, similar to one that would be drawn up today, is quite surprising. I wonder how many more there are out there.” – April

If you were locked inside the Petrie or Grant museum overnight, what would you do?

“Do my happy dance all around the Petrie museum and finally be able to look at and read every single thing! I have always dreamed of a sleepover to be honest, but I don’t think I’d sleep all night – it’s way too exciting!” – Sian

“I’d devise a new trail / treasure hunt through the collection to entertain myself and future visitors. I’d probably also play a lot of the board games in the Petrie!” – Chris

“If I were stuck in the Grant, I would explore the gallery upstairs first as there’s some very cool specimens up there that we don’t normally get to see. Secondly, I would also go around the museum sketching/photographing as many specimens as I could to compile into my very own personal museum catalogue. “ – Margaret

“I would study up on as many of the objects as possible – it would be nice to have the time to do so!” – Tonia

“Wait – do I get snacks? Because I might have to break out and buy snacks, I’m terrible for buying snacks. And don’t worry, I wouldn’t eat in the galleries! With my parents and I having to stay in all the time at the moment, the noise and constant talking can get a bit irritating, so having an overnight stay in the museum wold be wonderful. Have some snacks, a screen somewhere to watch some Ancient Egypt documentaries and slouch in a sleeping bag or blankets and pillows. It would be a wonderfully quiet night, nothing too exciting.” – April

What do you like most about volunteering in museums?

“The people! Such a variety of personalities with different interests come through museum doors that I genuinely learn something new every day.” – Tonia

“I love working with people, but as an ex-archaeologist I have to say it’s the privilege of working with all those artefacts and seeing behind-the-scenes. I’m as happy as a pig in muck just being in the Museum to be honest!” – Sian

“I think, strangely enough since I am not usually a people person, it is meeting all different kinds of people and having the chance to chat to them around a topic I know about. You get to meet people from all over the world and you get to see a small glimpse into their lives.” – April

“The best part is seeing how enthusiastic visitors are when they come in. In particular, the enthusiasm of some of our younger visitors is very contagious and such a joy to see.
It’s also really great to hear the feedback from people as they leave – they always leave full of awe and wonder which is fantastic to see.” – Margaret

What’s a valuable life lesson that museums have taught you?

“Learning isn’t just about locking yourself away in a study. It’s about getting out and interacting with people who share your sense of curiosity.” – Chris

“Not to assume anything and that people in ancient times usually have a lot more in common with us than we realise.” – Sian

“The museums have shown me that every single person has something they don’t know but can learn about. This shouldn’t be seen as a flaw necessarily but it makes all of us a little bit more human. It means that there’s always opportunities for us to be inquisitive about the world around us and improve our knowledge of it.” – Margaret

“No society or individual has any more or less value than another.” – Tonia

Bonus question: What are you going to spend time doing while on lockdown?

“I’m spending a lot of time reading about Ancient Egypt and about Twin Peaks (I’m afraid I also love that classic early 90s David Lynch melodrama and would recommend as escapism to anyone to help get through this crisis!). I’m also using the opportunity to get back into learning Chinese (along with hieroglyphics I always seem to pick the “easiest” languages!) and into international cuisine (with varying degrees of success).” – Chris

“I am currently unable to work as all my work is people-facing and hands-on. Also most of my clients are in the vulnerable category. I am currently doing what I usually do but for longer – so 3 hours meditation, practise and study instead of 1.5 hours; Tibetan energy healing practice and study; walking 2-6 miles a day; PE with Joe Wicks; gardening; blogging for my business website; advising and providing support for my clients; cooking and reading.” – Sian

“I’m lucky I’m a bit of a homebody anyway, although I am missing my friends and volunteering at the Petrie. Mostly I will be reading my many, many, many books; I’m so behind it’s hilarious. I also plan on continuing with my revision of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I learned tham at university and it has been a while since I’ve translated anything, so I’m re-reading J.P. Allen’s book. I’m also keeping alive my newly sprouted bonsai tree – and coming from a person who killed off a cactus, that is quite an achievement so far.” – April

“I have a mountain of books I have never read and a slightly smaller one of films I have never seen, hopefully I can start to make a dent 😉” – Tonia

“I have two very difficult jigsaws that I want to attempt. I’m currently still at the beginning of the first one so I think the two of them will keep me quite busy for the next month or so. I’m also thinking of tidying up the garden a bit but that might be just some wishful thinking on my part…” – Margaret

Specimen of the Week 391: The Domestic Cat Skeleton

Katie Davenport-Mackey17 January 2020

This blog was written by UCL Culture volunteer Jingyuan Zou.

The Grant Museum not only has many fascinating specimens in its collection such as the subfossils of extinct giant deer and dodo bones, skeletons of lions and dugongs, but also many common domestic animals that we may see in everyday life. Many people may be familiar with the appearance of an extinct animal such as saber-toothed cat, however often the skeletons of more common animals are the most unfamiliar specimens viewed from a museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week features one such ‘common’ animal that looks quite different in its Grant Museum guise…

**The Domestic Cat Skeleton**

 

LDUCZ-Z2602 Felis silvestris catus Domestic cat skeleton

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Specimen of the Week 377: The Lobster Claw

Graham Isted15 March 2019

Hello and welcome to the next instalment of Specimen of the Week. This week’s specimen is a mighty claw (LDUCZ-H671) from the lobster species Homarus gammarus, also known as the European or common lobster. Lobsters are great, whether you like them to be freely going about their lives at the bottom of the sea or perhaps prepared by a chef on a dish with some butter. Either way, I am fairly certain there are aspects of their lives you are unaware of and this blog will hopefully either make you hungry for more knowledge or perhaps just dinner.

Lobster claw LDUCZ-H671 Homarus gammarus

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New Grant Museum exhibition ‘Agonism/Antagonism’ is open

Tannis Davidson21 September 2018

The Grant Museum is delighted to announce the opening of  Agonism/Antagonism, a new exhibition exploring evolution and genetics through the stunning artworks of multidisciplinary artist Neus Torres Tamarit and computer scientist Ben Murray – the art and science duo known as Phenotypica.

Acrylic Sculpture. Neus Torres Tamarit

Acrylic Sculpture. © Neus Torres Tamarit.

The exhibition is the result of Neus’ residency with the Max Reuter laboratory at UCL Department of Genetics, Evolution & Environment, where she has been immersed in the research, techniques and tools used to study the genetic evolution of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Dr. Max Reuter and his team use fruit flies to conduct research into the evolution of sexual dimorphism. In sexually reproducing species, the genetic needs of the two genders are often in direct conflict; a phenomenon known as sexual antagonism. The tension between the genders is eventually broken by mutations that decouple the traits in males and females, resulting in new differences (dimorphisms) between them.

Acrylic Sculpture. Neus Torres Tamarit

Acrylic Sculpture. © Neus Torres Tamarit.

Reflecting the aesthetic environment of the laboratory and exploring the uneasy alliance that exists between males and females of a species, Agonism/Antagonism is the intersection between art, science and technology. Artworks include bioplastic sculptures which float among the skeletons, digital art and projections, animated explorations of genetic antagonism in virtual reality and CT scans of fruit flies.

Gender A - Gender B. Neus Torres Tamarit.

‘Gender A – Gender B’. Neus Torres Tamarit. 2018.

Neus and Ben are interested in how artworks about genetics interact with the subject and with the audience, and how accurately such artworks present their scientific concepts. The aim of their work is to remove the boundaries that often separate science from the rest of human activity and reveal the creativity and beauty in scientific research and discovery.

Agonism/Antagonism runs until 22nd December 2018. Full details on the exhibition’s website.

The Grant Museum of Zoology is open from 1–5pm Monday to Saturday. Admission is free and there is no need to book.

Tannis Davidson is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology

 

 

Specimen of the Week 254 : Tailless Whip Scorpion

zcbtgwg26 August 2016

Hello again all! This Friday I present to you the spectacular and highly misunderstood tailless whip scorpion as my Specimen of the Week. I hope not only to describe some of its most interesting features, but also to slightly alleviate the concerns of any aspiring rain forest explorers out there who may be of an arachnophobic disposition: this one’s harmless. (more…)

Specimen of the Week 247: the pickled dissected monkey head

ucwepwv8 July 2016

Happy Friday, Grant aficionados! Welcome back to the high-point of the week, where Saturday is almost within reach and we get to share a gem from the collection for your delectation.

This week that particular gem is the…

LDUCZ-Z445 pickled dissected monkey head

LDUCZ-Z445 Sapajus sp.

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Specimen of the Week 244: The historic wax flatworm

Tannis Davidson17 June 2016

LDUCZ-D44 Fasciola hepatica

LDUCZ-D44 Fasciola hepatica

Since its inception in 1828, the Grant Museum of Zoology collections have always been used for teaching. This continues in the present day and the Museum welcomes students from across UCL for a wide variety of specimen-based practicals, course work and research projects.

Today we maintain detailed lists of specimens which are used in classes but I’ve often wondered what the early object-based teaching practicals looked like and which specimens were used.

Fortunately, the Museum has some relevant archives which have identified an extraordinary specimen that had been used in teaching at UCL 130 years ago. It is not only one of the oldest specimens in the collection, but also one of the most beautiful.

Take a journey back in time with this week’s Specimen of the Week…

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Specimen of the Week 243 – Dolphin Foetus

tcrnrh110 June 2016

1. Unpredictable as usual

The Grant Museum is a haven for the unexpected. As is often the case with the collection (at least, for me anyway), just when you’re expecting to see an animal that you feel fairly au fait with… the museum presents you with specimens that are: dissected, bisected, exploded, stained, crammed with others in a jar or injected with alizarin. So as a case in point, here is the rinsed skeleton of a dolphin foetus.

LDUCZ-Z3092 - Dolphin Foetus Image

LDUCZ-Z3092 – Dolphin Foetus

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Specimen of the Week 239: Bohemian fossil amphibian cast

Tannis Davidson13 May 2016

LDUCZ-W385 with overlay of illustration

LDUCZ-W385 Cochleosaurus sp. with overlay of original illustration from Fauna der Gaskohle und der Kalksteine der Permformation Bohmens 1879-1901

Try to imagine life 310 million years ago. It is the Carboniferous period – a time when the Earth experienced its highest levels of atmospheric oxygen leading to the growth of vast forests which would eventually be laid down and become the coal beds characteristic of this period.

Primitive amphibians were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates including the Temnospondyls which were mostly semi-aquatic and typically larger than most modern amphibians. Superificially, most resembled crocodiles with broad, flat heads and had scales, claws and bony body plates.

This week’s Specimen of the Week celebrates these early amphibians with a lovely example cast from the famous fossil gas-coal of the Czech Republic… (more…)

Specimen of the Week 237: The Common Starling

tcrnrh129 April 2016

1. A Familiar Sight

(… and long may that remain so!)

You may recognise this week’s sociable and rowdy Specimen of the Week: the Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Starlings are familiar to many Brits, and SOTW blog readers from Europe, Asia, Africa and even those in northern Australia may also recognise this tenacious bird. Despite declining numbers in recent years they remain one of the UK’s most common garden birds. Starlings are especially profuse in southern England, often being sighted in towns and city centres as well as more rural areas.

Close up of the head of the starling

A Common Starling – Sturnus vulgaris LDUCZ-Y1547. … The star of the show or in this case the Specimen of the Week Blog.

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