X Close

UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


From the Micrarium: Isoparorchis, a parasite of an Australian catfish species locally endangered in the Murray-Darling Basin.

By ucwehlc, on 22 May 2023

Even though the Grant Museum is closed this summer, we still have plenty of exciting stories to tell from the collection!

Today’s blog is by visiting researcher Dr Andrew McCarthy from Canterbury College, UK.

The Micrarium at the Grant Museum of Zoology is a beautiful and unique display of illuminated glass microscope slides of specimens from a bewildering range of groups within the Animal Kingdom. Each slide has its own story and potentially its own contribution to make to the study of zoology. The specimen on one such slide is probably at present better known than the rest due to its appearance in Jack Ashby’s excellent book “Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects” based on specimens from the Grant Museum. The specimen of a trematode parasite in the genus Isoparorchis appears in the book as a photogenic example of a parasitic flatworm in a concise overview of the group.

Image of parasitic flatworm Isoparorchis on a yellow background

The Parasite: Isoparorchis specimen from the Micrarium
© UCL Grant Museum of Zoology & Oliver Siddons


Specimen of the Week 313: The Newt Microscope Slides

By ucwehlc, on 20 October 2017

This week, lucky blog readers, not only do we have our usual Grant Museum Specimen of the Week, we have a super-special guest star. From the Grant Museum Micrarium and the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons come…

Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium

Newt slide from the Grant Museum Micrarium


Specimen of the Week 190: The Platypus Tooth

By Jack Ashby, on 1 June 2015

A slide showing a fragment of platypus tooth from the Grant Museum Micrarium

A slide showing a fragment of
platypus tooth from the
Grant Museum Micrarium

I have to admit that when I first encountered this object I didn’t recognise what it was until I read the label, which is scratched into the glass slide that houses it. I don’t feel too bad about that as it is essentially microscopic, and very few people have ever seen one of these specimens. It is among the very smallest objects in the Museum.

Unsurprisingly then, it is on display in the Micrarium – our place for tiny things. This beautiful back-lit cave showcases over 2000 of the 20,000 microscope slides in our care – it broke the mould for how museums display their slide collections.

I first wrote about the species featured on this slide in my first ever Specimen of the Week, but that was taxidermy – a real A-Lister compared to the miniscule, obscure fragment I have selected here. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


Tiny Praise for the Micrarium at the Museums + Heritage Awards

By Jack Ashby, on 15 May 2014

The Micrarium

The Micrarium

Last night was the Museums + Heritage Awards – the Oscars of the Museum world. This was our third year on the shortlist, and after winning the Award for Innovations in 2012 and the Guardian Cultural Pros Pick (a public vote to find the UK’s most inspiring museum) in 2013, hopes were high that the Micrarium (our place for tiny things) would pick up the Award for Project on a Limited Budget in 2014.

Sadly that wasn’t to be, but happily we didn’t come away empty handed. We were the Highly Commended entry in the category, so we do have something to add to the trophy cabinet. We are really thrilled that the project was recognised by the sector.

The Micrarium was conceived to overcome two identified problems in museums with natural science collections. First, that 95% of all known animal species are tiny – smaller than your thumb – yet nearly all the specimens on display in natural history museums are large animals. As such, natural history museum galleries are deeply unrepresentative of the natural world – a disconnect that visitors very rarely notice. (more…)

Happy Second Birthday Grant Museum – A Year in Review

By Jack Ashby, on 15 March 2013

Grant Museum version 2.0* opened in the Rockefeller two years ago today. Time sure flies and we are still calling it our “new home” (but then since we’ve been going for about 185 years I guess it’s all relative). I remember telling myself that after the trauma of the relocation things would quieten down, but actually our diaries are ever fuller and we’re proud to look back on another whopping great year in our fabulous little museum. Here are some highlights of the last twelve months…

The year in numbers
16151 visitors during normal opening hours
10148 participants in our events
6031 school and FE students in museum classes
3223 university students in museum classes
578 objects photographed
357 objects accessioned
118 objects acquired
104 blog posts
52 specimens of the week
20 loans
3 two-headed fresh livestock turned down
1 fewer anaconda than we started with. (more…)

I Spy With My Little Eye*

By Mark Carnall, on 15 February 2013

It’s very much Micrarium week here at the Grant Museum. We’ve heard from Jack Ashby about what it’s all about, this month’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month can be found hidden amongst the other slides and museum assistant Emma-Louise Nicholls pays too much attention to my barnet.

Now it’s my turn and I’ve picked just some of the slides you might wish to try to find next time you are down at the Grant Museum. (more…)

Heck that’s cool

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 13 February 2013

Whilst you and I both work as hard as an ant running uphill carrying a dead fly three times its size at our jobs all day every day (right?), sometimes you can’t help but feel a little less Gandalf the Grey and a little more Freena the elf (remember him? Exactly.), than you may otherwise desire.


I get a lot of satisfaction out of a day at work, partly because I am easily amused by… myself, and partly because my job rocks. Not every day of course, some days I want to dart people with porcupine quills from the balcony, but that’s very rare (have no fear). However, more often than not I look at a project or piece of work, or reflect on a school visit, and I think “Yeah, that was super, I’m really pleased”. Getting nice feedback on my Specimen of the Week blog is one of my favourites for example (*cough*hint*cough*). One such moment of self admiration came due to a new project called the Micrarium.


Don’t overestimate my involvement in this project, I have merely spent several (thousand) hours pouring my liquified eyeballs over billions of microscope slides, selecting the sexiest ones and accessioning more thin sections than I have had individual days in my 31 years of life. I did not conceive the idea nor design, sadly did not carry out the building work (I like DIY), thankfully did not insert every slide into the nails-on-a-blackboard-infuriatingly-fiddly grooves on the walls, nor (even more thankfully) did I gain as many grey hairs as the curator. I did however, upon first looking at the completed Micrarium, like an actor seeing a completed film they’d spent months working on in disarticulated portions for the first time, subconsciously breathe aloud “Heck that’s cool.”

Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month: February

By Mark Carnall, on 12 February 2013

February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer. Author Shirley Jackson

Ahh February, the month of love. Valentine’s day, leap year proposals and an early pay day. However, there’s one group of animals who don’t care much for February and that’s fossil fish. They’re dead and fossilised. Even if they weren’t they lack a language processing centre in their brain and February wasn’t invented until 700BC. For a fossil fish things like February don’t matter. But what does matter is this month’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month and this month we’re selling out with some corporate sponsorship tie-in. (more…)

The Micrarium – a place for tiny things – opens

By Jack Ashby, on 11 February 2013

complete micrarium 2 whitenedHere at the Grant Museum we’re not afraid to try something big or something new. This time we’re doing just that with something small and something old, with a topic which has traditionally been problematic for natural history museums.

Last Thursday we opened the Micrarium – a place for tiny things. In what we believe is a first of its kind, we have converted an old storage room into a backlit cave displaying 2323 microscope slides and 252 lantern slides lining the walls on floor-to-ceiling light boxes and the effect is quite staggering. The slides mostly show whole small animals, or slices through whole small animals, a preparation technique which itself is amazing. Imagine taking a slice 1/10th of a millimetre thick through a fly, cutting through its antennae, its body, its head, the hairs on its head, its wings and its legs, all at once.
There were two main drivers behind the project…

1) Displays in natural history museums, while being obviously awesome, are deeply unrepresentative of nature. (more…)

The Saddest Microscope Slide Ever(?)

By Mark Carnall, on 23 January 2013

We’ve been sifting through slides like a slick slide sifter for an exciting project the Grant Museum team have been working on and I discovered this leech slide which caused me to pause for a moment of deep reflection and sadness. I think it’s the word ‘clinging’ that adds some poetic tragedy to this scene.

Grant Museum Helobdella  microscope slide labelled Helobdella stagnalis with young, which were in life carried clinging to the Underside. When I saw this my allergies kicked in and I started to cry. My fake allergies.

Why does this get to me more than the Africa Elephant sequence?