Curator of Micropalaeontology | Diary of a Principal Curator April 2021


This year I’m writing a diary entry each month for a typical week in the life of a Principal Curator at the Natural History Museum. In the April entry, we are offered a large microfossil collection, I review a paper about left and right coiling microfossils, help prospective visitors to apply for funds, provide some images to help university remote teaching and have a virtual meeting with our new director.

Monday – a large new acquisition

Slide cabinets from the Aberystwyth University Microfossil Collection acquired in 2000. An example of a similar large university donation.

April is traditionally reporting month so annual reviews of my staff dominate meeting time. It’s a nice change to receive confirmation of a new donation of microfossils from a retired university professor. He, his current and former students have built up an internationally significant collection of over 15 cabinets of microfossil slides that we’ve had on our acquisition radar for some time. We are investigating best practise for packing and moving different types of collection as part of the NHM@Harwell project so I give some of the team a lecture on slides that I prepared as part of a “managing microfossil collections” course I gave in Brazil in 2010. I also suggest that transporting this new acquisition would make a great pilot study.

Tuesday – a new publication

My former PhD student Dr David King is now working for an industrial micropalaeontological company in North Wales but is steadily preparing parts of his thesis for publication so he sends a potential paper for me to review. As part of his work he measured the coiling directions for a genus of planktonic foraminifera called Paragloborotalia. These tiny organisms can coil to the left or the right so David measured coiling directions for all of the specimens he studied. Mass changes in coiling direction occurred in the fossil record and David’s new data shows that one of these “coiling change events” can be mapped to a particularly narrow time interval across the globe. This could be useful for dating and correlating sediments in ocean cores and is important as these cores are often studied for evidence of past climate fluctuations.

Wednesday – a helping hand to potential visitors

It seems that much of my time is spent reviewing documents and today is no different. The Museum is part of a group of major natural history collections that can offer funds to facilitate visits as part of a European Union funded organisation called SYNTHESYS. Last year I was on the panel that reviewed the applications and needed to spend several days during the first lock down, reading and reviewing over 70 applications. We have been working with two potential applicants to visit the Micropalaeontology collections so I provide some constructive comments that will hopefully lead to successful visits. SYNTHESYS cover bench fees for visits so this is an import way for curators to contribute to much needed income generation.

Images of some models from our microfossil tree of the spined planktonic foraminiferal genus Hantkenina that caught the eye of a university colleague.

Thursday – Helping university colleagues

At the present time, most university students are continuing with on-line lecture courses. I receive a couple of enquiries from former colleagues looking to put together such courses. A colleague from the University of Leicester asks me if I have any images from a field course we both attended when I was a postgraduate student there? Unfortunately, the images are all on 35mm slides and I have no method for scanning them quickly. Another university colleague has seen an image of one of our microfossil models in one of my blogs and wonders if we have CT scan data for it that she can use for her students?

Friday – A virtual meeting with our new director

Doug Gurr joined as our new Director during lock down last year. As I have been mainly working off site, I have never met him in real life but have seen him many times during on-line museum wide meetings and briefings. He’s been meeting with divisional teams throughout the museum and finally it is our turn. In general, meetings will continue to be on-line for some time in the future even though we are slowly returning to site. I look forward to meeting Doug properly soon. If you’d like to find out what he’s like and the direction he is leading the Museum then this short programme is available on BBC iPlayer.


%d bloggers like this: