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

Nikon

2020 has been a difficult year and since March has been spent working away from the collections at the main site 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.

Nikon
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.

Thanks for taking part in the Plant Club BioBlitz! | Citizen Science

A big thank you to everyone who took part in the Plant Club BioBlitz! Over two weeks we made 725 observations of 313 species across the UK. We had observations from car parks in Portsmouth, pavements in Leeds and London, people’s gardens, and even clifftops in Cornwall and the Outer Hebrides. You can view all our observations on iNaturalist.

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Discover plants near you with the Plant Club BioBlitz!

Sometimes plants can be easy to miss. But when we take time to look a little closer, we see how exciting and important they really are!  

As part of the Museum’s Family Festival, the Citizen Science Team invite you to join the Plant Club virtual BioBlitz, to take a closer look at plants and discover which grow near you. Look closely at the shapes and textures of leaves and flowers and use the resources on our BioBlitz webpage to help you to tell different plants apart. 

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Museum collections used to show our oceans are more acidic than 140 years ago| Curator of Micropaleontology

This pre-lockdown publication from the Micropaleontology team at the Museum has received a lot of press and social media attention. CT scans of the calcareous shells of microscopic plankton called Foraminifera have shown that modern examples can be considerably thinner than their equivalents recovered by the ground breaking Challenger Expedition of the 1870s. We argue this thinning is due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and subsequently more acidic oceans.

Read on to find out about the methods used and why this discovery is so significant for the future of our oceans and planet.

CT scans Foraminifera
CT scans of microscopic planktonic Foraminifera showing differences in wall thickness; historical specimens are on the bottom row and the warm colours indicate considerably thicker shells.

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The pandemic is a pivotal moment to raise awareness of biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss is low on the public agenda, but the pandemic could help us reassess our relationship with the natural world,  writes Clare Matterson, the Museum’s Director of Engagement.

A newfound appreciation for weeds in the cracks of city pavements, enjoying melodious birdsong in place of the booming traffic and marvelling at quiet clear blue skies have become daily lockdown news.

Amidst the tragedy of Covid-19, nature has thrived and as we have slowed down in lockdown its variety has caught our eye.

Today is International Day For Biological Diversity, created by the United Nations 27 years ago to raise awareness of biodiversity issues and celebrate that variety.

Since then scientists have warned us about the catastrophic loss of species and their habitat because of our actions.

We need that variety of life on earth for food, medicines and clean water, never mind a spiritual boost in tough times.

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Digitisation uncovers rare specimens that highlight the diversity of sex in nature| Digital Collections Programme

Digitisation enables us to understand exactly what we have in the collection. This can provide updated and accurate collection records, improve estimates for digitising future collections and occasionally uncover the unexpected.  Continue reading “Digitisation uncovers rare specimens that highlight the diversity of sex in nature| Digital Collections Programme”

Displaying our Earth science specimens

by Robin Hansen, Curator, Minerals and Gemstones, NHM Earth Sciences

​​As part of the Galley Enhancements​​ Programme to refresh the Museum’s Earth Galleries Ground Floor, we’ve been working on the specimens to improve the experience for visitors, improve collection visibility and update the science.

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A million threatened species? Thirteen questions and answers

Prof. Andy Purvis

Coordinating Lead Author, IPBES Global Assessment and Life Sciences Research Leader at The Natural History Museum, London

@AndyPurvisNHM

The IPBES Global Assessment estimated that 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. It also documents how human actions have changed many aspects of nature and its contributions to people; but species threatened with extinction resonate with the media and the public in ways that degradation of habitats and alteration of rates of ecosystem processes perhaps don’t, so the figure was widely reported.

IPBES is the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an independent intergovernmental body that was established in 2012 to strenthen links between science and policy to support conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being, and sustainable development

Because only the Summary for Policymakers has so far been made available, it wasn’t clear where the figure of 1 million threatened species came from. Some journalists and researchers asked me, so I explained it to them, and will explain it again here. Some other writers, often with a long history of commenting critically on reports highlighting environmental concerns, instead railed against the Global Assessment in general and the figure of 1 million threatened species in particular. Given that these writers often advance empty or bogus arguments, I thought it would be also be useful to explain why these arguments are wrong.

I have therefore written this blog post in the form of thirteen questions and answers.

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Wildlife Garden Autumn BioBlitz – Species Review

collared earthstar mushroom

Continuing the blogs about the Autumn BioBlitz in the Museum’s wildlife garden, we would like to introduce you to more species found during the day! BioBlitzes are only one of the ways wildlife garden species are being recorded; biological recordings take place in the garden in many different ways all year round.

Read on to learn more about the autumn findings in the amazing wildlife garden including a species very rare to the UK and one which made it to a top 10 list!

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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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