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  • 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…

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 156 (The Evolution of Life on Land)

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 October 2014

    Scary MonkeyIt’s the third birthday of the Specimen of the Week blogs, so this one is a special one, tackling one of the biggest events in global history (no exaggeration). It’s also the start of winter term at UCL, and that means that Grant Museum returns to doing the very thing our collections were first put together for – spending the day teaching students about life.

    This term every week we have a palaeobiology class where the students learn about vertebrate life from the beginning – looking at each group in turn as they evolve in the fossil record. That has inspired my choice of specimen this week.

    As an Australian mammal nerd, it’s often tempting to think that nothing interesting happened between the appearance of multi-cellular life a little over 500 million years ago, and 200 million years ago when the first platypus-ish things appeared*. However, sometimes it’s important to think about where it all began: the fishy animals without which there would be no you, no me, no internet cats, and no platypuses.

    This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    What do all of our Curators have in Common? On the Origin of Our Specimens

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 May 2014

    Over the past few months we have been investigating what we can learn about where our specimens came from by researching the history of the Museum’s thirteen previous Curators. This “On the Origin of Our Specimens” series has uncovered much about our collections and the people that have worked here over the past 187 years. In this final post in the series I’m going to share some of the unexpected threads that kept reappearing through this time.

    In answer to the question “What do all of our Curators have in common?” one thing that leaps out is a consistent failure to usefully identify which specimens they actually added to the collection. Professional documentation standards are a relatively new invention, and they have only recently been applied to our collection, mostly since we became a “proper museum” and not just a teaching collection and research repository.

    Besides that, there are four topics that keep reappearing through time… (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 134

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 May 2014

    For the past 133 weeks your weekly Specimen of the Week was lovingly delivered to you by our Curatorial Assistant Emma, who left the Grant Museum on Friday for an exciting new job. The show must go on, however, and from now on the rest of Team Grant will take it in turns to select and serve the treasures we find in our collections.

    As you may predict, it could be very tempting for someone with the power to select which Specimens of the Week are featured to highlight with bias the species they are most interested in (shark expert Emma gave you a ridiculous THIRTY-THREE blog posts featuring sharks in her reign). I frown upon such prejudice, and will stay well away from Australian mammals, my own field of zoological nerdery. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    (more…)

    We’re all heart at the Grant Museum

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 14 February 2014

    The dissected giraffe heart

    No matter who you are or where you come from, you have to admire the giraffe’s heart. It manages to pump blood up arteries in a neck that can reach over two metres in length. It is helped out by a series of valves that prevent the blood from flowing back down again (except through the veins, in which it is supposed to flow back down again). The giraffe’s heart is, surprisingly, smaller than that of mammals of a comparative body size. The heart copes with the morphology of the animal by having really thick muscle walls and a small radius. The result is a very powerful organ. I wonder if that means giraffes fall in love really easily, or find it harder to get over their exes? (more…)