by Chris Hughes, Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum
Every year in early May the Museum participates in the Fossil Festival at Lyme Regis, on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. It’s an event involving thousands of members of the public with an interest in the ancient marine fossils found in the rocks along the coast near Lyme. Museum scientists occupy a large marquee on the sea front and engage in a whole range of outreach activities. The idea is to enable everybody to meet scientists, to talk about real fossils and enjoy exploring the geology and natural history of this area.
We headed down to Lyme Regis on the Tuesday before the Fossil Festival commenced. This allowed us a day to carry out some fieldwork in this world famous fossil locality before we led an outreach event at the Thomas Hardye School, in Dorset. On our field visit we had a look at some of the great fossil sites that are found all around Lyme. We decided to head out west toward the famous ammonite pavement at Monmouth beach. This was my first time in Lyme Regis and I was very excited because I had been told that these rocks were some of the best in the world for these fossils.
What do an Iguanodon’s thumb spike, an ichthyosaur paddle and a shark fin spine all have in common? Well these are just some of the specimens we’ve digitised as part of the museum’s eMesozoic project, headed by Fossil Mammal Curator Dr Pip Brewer.
For the past eight months myself and two other eMesozoic digitisers, Lyndsey Douglas and David Godfrey, have been busy in the palaeontology department mass imaging British Mesozoic vertebrates for the first time.
As someone with two science degrees and a fascination for the unusual I was intrigued, when I found out that the Museum is a world leader in the research of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
NTDs are a group of parasitic and bacterial infections that affect over 1 billion people worldwide. Infection can lead to disabling chronic conditions, delayed and cognitive development. Children are predominantly affected and impacted as they are more likely to come into contact with the parasites.
The research at the Museum has in recent years mainly focused on schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia), a debilitating disease caused by schistosome blood flukes that are picked up from contaminated fresh water – freshwater snails are hosts for part of the life cycle.
However, Museum research is now radically expanding to include major work on a group of NTDs called Soil Transmitted Helminths (STH) and they have recently launched DeWorm3. Aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of using integrated platforms to interrupt the transmission of STH, DeWorm3 is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The world needs copper – we all need copper. It carries the electricity and hot water in our homes through cables and pipes. It is part of all the electrical appliances we use at home and in industry – an essential ingredient in any low-carbon economy. The sources and security of supply of copper are important in economic terms and of great interest for government policy and business strategy.
Every person in the UK uses around 8kg of copper per year. Worldwide usage exceeds 24 million tonnes annually and, whilst around 41% of European copper needs are met by recycling, the demands of growing economies like China and India mean that 75% of this usage is met by mined metal. Copper can’t be grown and simply recycling what we have already extracted won’t keep pace with demands.
We have a massive digital challenge. How do we transform museum collections of millions of diverse specimens, each with complex information in many forms, into digital resources – images and data – to be used by modern science and shared across the world?
Microscope slide with a stonefly
Butterflies with QR codes
The collections have been at the centre of scientific knowledge for 300 years – how do we take them into science’s future? In the words of Rod Page from Glasgow University: how do we transform a 19th Century technology into a 21st Century technology? This is the question we have been looking at in a Cisco Pitstop at the London Digital Catapult Centre over two days in February 2016.