A black stone from Derbyshire turned into pieces of art | Curator of Petrology

The Petrology collection at the Natural History Museum is home to about 189,000 specimens; from the rock collection to building stones, including ocean bottom deposits. The building stone collection is one of the largest documented collections of its kind in the UK, particularly useful for matching stone in historical buildings during conservation work. Beside rock samples, it features amazing pieces of art, like this paperweight in Derbyshire black marble executed by the skilled hands of one of the most prominent nineteenth-century marble makers of the time Thomas Woodruff.

E3864 Black Marble Paperweight
Derbyshire inlaid marble work by Thomas Woodruff in the NHM Petrology (Building stone) collection.

Continue reading to learn more about the marble masons in Derbyshire, the stone itself, the techniques used to create the objects, and the many other works of art created out of this stone such as Samuel Birley’s table in the V&A collection.

 

Continue reading “A black stone from Derbyshire turned into pieces of art | Curator of Petrology”

Remnants of ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ in a Museum drawer |Curator of Petrology

Some rare treasures are hidden within the Petrology collection of the Natural History Museum, and this brunch of a bush, encrusted with sinter, which formed prior to 1886 around hot springs on the shores of the old Lake Rotomahana (warm lake) in New Zealand, is one of them.

Siliceous sinter.BM 1911.1584-1
NHM petrology specimen of siliceous sinter encrusting a brunch of a bush, from White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana.

Read on to learn about the Pink and White Terraces, a natural wonder of the world, regarded by the Māori as a taonga (a treasure), their tragic fate and how specimens in the museum collection are helping current research. Continue reading “Remnants of ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ in a Museum drawer |Curator of Petrology”

Collecting the periodic table’s rarest elements: osmium, rhodium and iridium #IYPT2019

by Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences

At the Natural History Museum our work is based on scientific collecting to support research on the natural world. In our collections we hold naturally occurring chemical elements in many different forms, compounds and combinations, so with many others, we are marking the 150 years since the periodic table was published in 1869 by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev by celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table.  We are aiming to cover all of the elements in our collections in a blog, starting with osmium, rhodium and iridium.

Continue reading “Collecting the periodic table’s rarest elements: osmium, rhodium and iridium #IYPT2019”

Are our collections relevant to modern science? How do we know?

During a conversation with colleagues recently, the topic of “How can we judge that our collections are useful” came up. We can measure the number of visitors into the collections and we can keep tabs on the loans that we send to researchers at different institutes, but is this ever useful. I tasked myself this afternoon to finding out, for just one collection that I care for, just how much our collections are used for relevant science.

For my afternoon task, I chose to use the John Williams Index of Palaeopalynology (JWIP) as my example collection. The JWIP is a database using old-style cards (over 250 000 cards in fact) of the written literature on organic-walled microfossils (spores, pollen and algal cysts are a few such things). Many researchers on these organic-walled microfossils (called palynologists) visit the Museum to look through this resource every year. Read more about this collection https://bit.ly/2BiRtlb

Picture 1 A fossil dinoflagellate cyst (Apectodinium augustum) barely the size of a grain of sand, one of several groups of organic-walled microfossil

To find out how useful the collection has been for the visiting palynologists, I searched the internet for all of the published scientific papers that acknowledge/cite the JWIP. To my surprise, there were many more articles than I was expecting in the last 10 years alone. Twenty-three scientific papers and three PhD theses (there is also another from 2003 that appears on the first page of the search engine) have presented data that they found using the JWIP. There are possibly more that I have yet to find or have not acknowledged the data (Please researchers, acknowledge where your data comes from!). The current list of publications citing JWIP can be found by clicking here

The research in these publications is quite varied. They range from climate change through the Cenozoic Era to diversity changes over extinction events to understanding new species concepts in some of the oldest organic-walled fossil groups.

This is timely as a piece of work has just been published in the journal Nature Communications by Dr. Hendrik Nowak and his colleagues on the greatest extinction event of all time – the Permian/Triassic mass extinction ~250 million years ago. This study uses extensive data collected during a two-week visit that Hendrik had to the JWIP in 2017. You can read about his work in this blog

Simply acknowledging museum collections might not be on the front of all researchers’ minds, but it does help advocate the use of these important scientific materials. It is fantastic to see that in the last ~10 years, one of our collections has contributed so much and that people have felt the need, without pressure to do so, to acknowledge the resource.

We are trying to put as much information about our collections online, so that researchers understand more about what there really is to study here. Hopefully, this will be a positive step in making even more use of the museum and its incredibly vast resources.

Picture 2 Dr. John Williams in part of his index (Picture taken around 2005)

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.

Continue reading “New study shows the value of historical sediment collections | Curator of Micropalaeontology”

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.

Continue reading “The mystery of the microfossil Christmas cards | Curator of Micropaleontology”

“Mr. Cooper, meet ALICE.” – Part 2 | Digital Collections Programme

Guest Blog by Phaedra Kokkini

This is the second part of the story behind about the ALICE pilot project. While the first part focused on piloting our ‘Angled Label Image Capture and Extraction’ or ALICE, this part will focus on the collection and collector. Quite unexpectedly, while preparing our chosen collection for imaging I got to know a person through his collection of pinned insects. Continue reading ““Mr. Cooper, meet ALICE.” – Part 2 | Digital Collections Programme”

“Mr. Cooper, meet ALICE.” – Part 1 | Digital Collections Programme

Guest Blog by Phaedra Kokkini

If you visit our Digitisation Team, you might be drawn to one of our more curious imaging setups, the ‘Angled Label Image Capture and Extraction’ or to close friends: ALICE.

ALICE came about through the collaboration of  Small Orders Curator Dr Ben Price and Digital Collections Project Manager Dr Steen Dupont in order to automate some of the processes to speed up our pinned insect digitisation.

A peculiar setup that used to feature a bucket and six cameras is now a hexagonal light box with cameras that can image pinned insect specimens at multiple angles to digitally extract the attached labels and could provide a breakthrough to an even faster specimen digitisation.

Dr Steen Dupont describes ALICE

I was very excited to start this project as the first test of ALICE’s true potential. What I didn’t expect was that the collection chosen to test ALICE would reveal some stunning wasps and an intriguing untold story of its previous owner. Continue reading ““Mr. Cooper, meet ALICE.” – Part 1 | Digital Collections Programme”

Autumn BioBlitz in the Wildlife Garden | Citizen science

Come and join Museum scientists, naturalists and other nature enthusiasts for a fun day of discovering wildlife in the heart of London!

The BioBlitz is back at the Natural History Museum on Thursday 25 October 2018. Head to the Wildlife Garden in the Orange Zone of the Museum and prepare to step into a world full of wildlife ready to be explored.

Bioblitz 30_05_18-70 compressed
Butterfly survey with Museum scientist Geoff Martin

A BioBlitz is a race against the clock to find and record as many living things as possible within a specific area over a set period of time. These observations, which you will help to gather, are then used for scientific research and environmental monitoring by our wildlife garden managers and are shared with scientists in the UK and abroad.

We discovered 12 species that had never been recorded in the Wildlife Garden before when we BioBlitzed in May half term – three spiders, seven flies, an aphid and a moth. It just shows that if you look carefully, there are new and exciting things to discover even in our own gardens! What will we find this time round?

Continue reading “Autumn BioBlitz in the Wildlife Garden | Citizen science”

Royal College of Surgeons and Natural History Museum forge new research and skills sharing partnership

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) and the Natural History Museum (NHM) are pleased to announce that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for co-operation between the two organisations around research and skills sharing. The MoU will initially run until 2023, covering the period of the RCS’s major building re-development, Project Transform, and will include the Hunterian Museum and the RCS Anatomy and Pathology collection.

The MoU builds on an agreement for the NHM to provide temporary storage of some of the RCS Museums’ Designated collections during the building programme. Researchers will be able to access most of the RCS collections stored at the NHM. For further information please see the RCS Museums’ web pages.

Continue reading “Royal College of Surgeons and Natural History Museum forge new research and skills sharing partnership”