Lockdown introduces a new method for engaging with our collections | Curator of Micropaleontology

2020 has been a difficult year and since March we have been working away from the collections in South Kensington. Learning new on-line communication skills has created opportunities for making our collections available to a wider audience.

Read on to find how using Microsoft Teams and a Nikon microscope we have remotely delivered access to our Micropalaeontology collections for the first time.

First live remote screen image of a microfossil from the Natural History Museum collection.

We provide access to our Micropalaeontology collections in many ways, through loans, providing images/scans, occasionally as part of exhibitions but mainly through supervised physical visits to site. Although we are in an accessible spot in London, it can be an expensive visit, especially if several overnight stays and overseas travel are required.

Due to their size, the micropalaeontological collections are ideal for trialing remote access. Using a Nikon SMZ25 microscope and associated imaging cameras and software that we acquired to support a recent project, we have been able to show live images of our specimens on the screen to a remote user for the first time.

NikonSMZ25 microscope with screen displaying the image of a microfossil on a slide.

This has also been facilitated by the museum project “Collaborate with Confidence” which has rolled out the use of Microsoft Office 365 across the institution. Part of the 365 suite of Microsoft applications is Microsoft Teams, a platform that we have been using for remote networking during lockdown. In his example, it allows the user to have a remote dialogue with the microscope operator to navigate and focus on particular aspects of an image or specimen.

The pioneer thin section slide with a cross section of a type specimen of the foraminiferal species Austrotrillina(?) paucialveolata Grimsdale.

So far we have only tried this within our team but we hope that when we are able to return to the South Kensington site more regularly in 2021, we should be able to offer this more widely as a method to facilitate enhanced access to our collections. Details of many of our slides are digitised and available on our Data Portal.

Further in the future we think that it will be possible to load up a tray of specimens for an enquirer to operate the microscope remotely in their own time. Remote operation has already been successful for some of the analytical equipment in our Imaging and Analysis Centre.

It should also be possible to use MS Teams to invite a wider audience to view and interact with our specimens. Next Christmas we may even be able to offer a guided tour around one of our famous microfossil Christmas cards!

Arthur Earland’s microfossil Christmas card to Edward Heron-Allen in 1912.

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