Endless forams – transforming the study of natural history and training the scientists of the future| Curator of Micropalaeontology

Last week the Museum internally launched its new strategy to 2031. It called us to make our data, insight, knowledge and expertise openly available. Strategic priorities included transforming the study of natural history to benefit people and planet as well as training future generations of scientists.

Challenger_Planktonic_Foraminifera
Scanning Electron microscope image of planktonic Foraminifera from the Challenger Collection.

I immediately felt compelled to write about a paper we jointly published on-line this week in the journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology that features our collections. We provided data for a project run by Yale University to create a portal of calcareous plankton called Foraminifera. It can be used to train the scientists of the future and test a machine learning classifier that could generate large datasets vital for research on our oceans.

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New study shows the value of historical sediment collections | Curator of Micropalaeontology

A study published this week in Frontiers of Ocean Science based on our Ocean Bottom Deposits Collection has shown the value of  historical sediment collections to provide a benchmark to assess global changes in the seafloor environment.

Sediment bottles
A bottle from the Ocean Bottom Deposits Collection that is housed at our outstation.

Read on to find out how NHM/Southampton PhD student Marina Rillo used the microfossil content of these collections to develop a method to assess their usefulness in providing details of the state of the ocean floor as long as 150 years ago.

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The mystery of the microfossil Christmas cards | Curator of Micropaleontology

At this time of year our famous microfossil Christmas card slides always get a lot of attention. An article in Smithsonian Magazine this week followed a very popular Tweet in early December and perhaps the most famous of the slides is about to be displayed in Museum’s Touring Treasures exhibition in Bahrain in early 2019.

Christmas card slide
Arthur Earland foraminiferal Christmas card slide sent to Edward Heron-Allen in 1921.

This year, three additional Christmas greeting slides were added to our collection as part of an exceptionally generous donation by the Quekett Microscopical Club. They returned Arthur Earland’s foraminiferal collection to its place alongside long term collaborator Edward Heron-Allen’s collection at the Museum by purchasing the collection from the estate of Brian Davidson and donating it to the Museum.

Read on to find out why most of this new acquisition can be considered upside-down, contains more evidence of the two scientists falling out and the mystery of the three “new” Christmas greeting slides.

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A boy with a museum under his bed | Curator of Micropaleontology

Geode

When I was at school I had my own geological museum under my bed. Aged 6 I took some of the first specimens in my collection to school for show and tell. This summer term I found myself doing the same at my 7 year old son Pelham’s school (thank you Natasha for volunteering me). I took some specimens on loan from the Museum’s handling collection and some of my favourite specimens from my original collection.

Read on to find out about the specimen that’s been on TV, the rock that is much lighter than it looks and where in Hintze Hall you can come do your own Key Stage 2 revision on Geology.

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New book highlights archaeological and forensic applications of microfossils | Curator of Micropalaeontology

In June, a book was published highlighting the archaeological and forensic applications of micropalaeontology and a deeper understanding of human history. The Museum’s Tom Hill is one of the editors of this volume of papers, some of which feature contributions from Museum staff and associates.

New_book_cover
Cover of a new book published in June by the Micropalaeontological Society on the application of micropalaeontology to archaeological and forensic studies.

Read on to find out how Museum scientists have provided evidence about the early human occupants of the British Isles, provenance materials used in ancient pottery and provided forensic evidence for drowning and murder. A brief review of other chapters in the book underlines the importance of the study of micropalaeontology.

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The importance of being an unglamorous collection | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Most geological collections we hear about in the news are the prettiest, oldest, youngest, largest, smallest, rarest, most expensive or have some exciting story related to them that ties them to the evolution of our planet. Dinosaurs, human remains and meteorites are particularly popular. Over the last year we’ve embarked on a major curatorial project rehousing something that is the opposite – an unglamorous collection of bags of crushed rock.

Protective equipment
Curators Becky Smith, Helena Toman and Robin Hansen in protective equipment.

I’ll be explaining why the samples needed to be re-housed and most importantly why they are strategically important to the work of the Museum and needed to be kept for future reference. And also why we are all dressed up in protective equipment and why I had to learn to drive a fork lift truck! Continue reading “The importance of being an unglamorous collection | Curator of Micropalaeontology”

What do scientists do at conferences? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

The micropalaeontology team attended the annual conference of The Micropalaeontological Society in Lille last week. My wife thinks that conferences are just an excuse for drinking, but I keep telling her that this is only partly true.

Micropalaeo team
The Micropaleontology team at the TMS conference dinner at Dubuisson Brewery

Read on to find out what we were doing in Lille, besides drinking Belgian beer of course! Continue reading “What do scientists do at conferences? | Curator of Micropalaeontology”

What do fjords, climate change and our microfossil library have in common? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Earlier this month one of our long term visitors Prof John Murray published a paper with Elisabeth Alve outlining the distribution of Foraminifera in NW European Fjords. The main purpose was to provide a baseline for assessing man’s impact on the environment.

Map Norway, N Sea, Greenland Sea
Map showing the Norwegian Coast, oceanic currents and biogeographic provinces. Murray & Alve Fig. 1. Reproduced with permission by Elsevier License 3958190505543.

Read on to hear how Prof Murray used our microfossil library and collections to support their observations and investigate other factors that could control the distribution of these important environmental indicators.

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Museum type specimens play a key role for future climate studies | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Elphidium williamsoni Haynes, 1973 is a foraminiferal species that has been used extensively in relative sea level and climate change studies, as it is characteristic of intertidal zones. Identifying this and other species of Elphidium has proven difficult because key morphological characteristics show a wide range of variation causing widespread confusion in determinations.

scanning electron micrscope image of foram
Scanning electron microscope image of the holotype of the foraminiferal species Elphidium williamsoni Haynes, 1973.

A study led by University of St Andrews PhD student Angela Roberts and recently published in the Journal PloSOne, has gone a long way to clearly define this important foraminiferal species. The study is based on measurements from Museum type specimens as well as genetic studies on contemporary material collected from the same location as the type specimens.

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Notes in the collections tell natural stories | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Earlier in the summer I tweeted a picture of a microfossil slide I made in 1997. On the back I had written that it was made while I was listening to England bowl Australia out for 118 in a cricket test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

slide with cricket annotation
A microfossil slide with a cricket-related annotation on the back.

The slide got me thinking about more important hidden notes I have found recently that relate to historical events and provide a context to the microfossil collection. This post examines evidence of a collector’s escape from a disintegrating ice floe, attempts to cover-up a major disagreement between two scientists and the sad end for a laboratory that led to my first job as a curator.

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