Top NatSCA Blogs of 2022

Compiled by Jen Gallichan, NatSCA Blog Editor.

A very Happy New Year to all of our readers and contributors! Being the blog editor is a great job as I get to read all of your fantastic posts first and hear about all of the great work going on out there with natural history collections. To reflect on this, here is a round up of the most read blogs that came out in 2022 in case you missed any of them. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed an article, the blog continues to go from strength to strength and this is purely as a result of your work and writing. The 2023 calendar is half full already – so if you are considering submitting something for later in the year, do drop me a line and get it scheduled in.

10. A Foot In The Door – Finding Collections Work As A Trailing Spouse In A Foreign Country. Written by Caroline Grounds, Freelance Zoological Collections Assistant, Musée national d’histoire naturelle, Luxembourg. A lovely blog about finding your niche in a new country, and showing that collections work has no borders.

My happy place: sorting bees from by-catch from pan traps which we set up throughout the country. © Dylan Thissen

9. Thomas Bateman’s Ichthyosaurs. Written by Alistair McLean, Curator of Natural Science, Sheffield Museums Trust. Documenting the conservation work (part funded by the Bill Pettit award) that helped restore two beautiful Ichthyosaur specimens.

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Naturalis’ New Hall of Evolution

Written by Becky Desjardins, Senior Preparateur, Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

In 2019 Naturalis opened a new building with eight permanent exhibit halls. We are happy to announce that we have opened the ninth hall, Evolution. The exhibit designer, Marijke Besselink, told me that the concept for the hall was developed after she heard how visitors reacted to a stone that was in the former Naturalis prehistory exhibit. This stone came from Greenland and dates to 3.76 billion years ago. In this rock you can see layers that indicate the presence of oxygen that might have been produced by single celled organisms. It is one of the earliest signs of life on earth. One of the museum educators told Marijke how in the old exhibit, visitors were astonished that the rock was so old, and would touch it with awe. Now this centerpiece is in the front centre of the dark blue exhibit, and when a visitor touches the stone, it starts up a light and sound interaction which connects to other vitrines around the exhibit. This gives the visitor a feeling of connection, that everything on Earth is intertwined: we are all related.

© Henk Caspers

Around the stone we can find fossils from the Burgess Shale, a Canadian formation that includes more than 500-million-year-old ancestors of most modern animals. Marijke wanted to make it clear to the public what the animals preserved as fossils looked like as to the casual observer these small fossils sometimes look like a dark grey smudge! Projections help the fossil organisms manifest out of their slate beds and move across the vitrine and into an aquarium filled with creatures from the so-called Cambrian explosion. The aquarium, made with the Pepper’s Ghost technique, is one of the highlights of the hall. Besides being very cool looking, visitors see how these prehistoric animals moved, and see how similar they are to modern animals.

The other vitrines in the hall are different examples of organisms adapting to their environment, designed to show the visitor how evolution occurs. Marijke’s favourite display is the study skins of five Galapagos finches, where the different beak and body sizes show adaptation related to the different and variable island climates. For example, a finch with a large bill can eat seeds found on the ground of a forest, but those with a smaller bill can eat seeds from a cactus in a drier environment. Of course, Charles Darwin gets a mention here as well!

© Henk Caspers

Along the wall of the exhibit there is a mounted giraffe head, this is an example of random genetic mutation. The text encourages visitors to consider if having such a long neck is an advantage or a hindrance. A display about the shells of land snails shows how they become paler in colour in urban areas: the lighter colour reflecting more heat. A large display on the back of the hall shows how dinosaur evolution occurred and the changes as a result of two large extinction events: The Permian-Triassic the Cretaceous-Paleogene.

© Henk Caspers

There are also a few games, one where the player tries to match DNA and another where the player slides their arm in a box and can see an “x-ray” of their bones. The player then turns a dial at the top of the box and can see how their bones would look as they were differently evolved. How does your radius look as a fossil fish?

© Henk Caspers

My personal favourite vitrine is filled with a mounted chimpanzee and bananas. This vitrine reminds viewers that chimps are not our ancestors, but our cousins. We share 99% of our DNA with them, however, we also share 50% of the same DNA with a banana. We are related to a banana! This insight, that we are all connected, guides visitors to the idea that we need to take care of each other and everything in the natural world, because not treating the natural world well is equivalent to not taking care of ourselves.

This is truly an elegant and interesting exhibit hall, and Marijke and her team deserve lots of credit. If you are around Leiden, please stop by and visit! You too can see how your hand would look as a Tiktaalik flipper.

Listening and learning: Reflections on the Second Workshop of the People and Plants Project

Written by Fiona Roberts. Collaborative ESRC PhD student, Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales Decolonising biocultural curation of South Asian medicinal plants.

Monday 7th November, National Museums Collections Centre

In early November, a group of academics, researchers, curators, artists and knowledge holders gathered at Edinburgh’s National Museums Collections Centre. The second workshop of the year-long AHRC-funded ‘People and Plants’ project focused on ‘reactivating ethnobotanical collections as material archives of Indigenous ecological knowledge.’

During the object handling session (Photo by Dr Ali Clark, National Museums Scotland)

The People and Plants Project

Led by National Museums Scotland, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Powell-Cotton Museum, the project investigates current debates on decolonising museum practices, including the interplay between natural history and ethnography collections, creating a conversation about these among varied experts.

The project’s previous workshop, held at the Powell-Cotton Museum in March 2022, brought together Somali knowledge holders from UK diasporic communities and was run in partnership with the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation and the NOMAD project, which engages Somali communities in heritage projects. To read more, see this previous blogpost, and view workshop talks on YouTube [People and Plants – YouTube].

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NatSCA Digital Digest – December 2022

Compiled by Milo Phillips, Assistant Curator of Entomology for National Museums Scotland.

Welcome to the December edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences, and training opportunities. We are keen to hear from you if you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest, please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

Catch up: Museum Action for Climate Empowerment Webinars

The most recent webinar from the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) is now available to watch online if you were unable to make it to the live webinar in November. Henry McGhie or Curating Tomorrow, and NEMO Policy Officer Elizabeth Wilde dig into sustainability insights for the sector, key ways that museums can meaningfully contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and explores a new guide for how museums can measure and report greenhouse gas emissions. All previous webinars can also be found over on the NEMO YouTube channel.

Link to latest webinar: https://www.ne-mo.org/training/nemo-webinars.html

Link to NEMO YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@nemo-networkofeuropeanmuse7452

Registration Open for Field Studied Council January Courses

You can now register for upcoming natural history courses hosted by the Field Studies Council. January workshops include: an introduction to bee conservation, an exploration of botanical folklore, and courses on marine mammal and marine invertebrate biology and ecology. Many are hosted online with FSC Virtual, and costs vary.

Link to upcoming courses: https://www.field-studies-council.org/courses-and-experiences/natural-history-courses/

NatSCA Lunchtime Chats

The new lunchtime chats are for members only and run on the last Thursday of every month.

This series is supposed to be informal; no fancy equipment is needed; it will be put out over the NatSCA Zoom platform and there is no fixed format. There will be shaky walks through stores by mobile, demos, plain pieces to camera or traditional PowerPoints if that’s the best way to share images and info. For those who want to take part please email training@natsca.org to put forward your idea; if a stable internet connection for what you want to achieve is tricky, we can put up a pre-recorded video and then speakers can jump in at the end for the discussion.

Bring your sandwiches and a cuppa and we hope to see you on the day! All members will have received a link to join via Zoom (the same link works for all sessions) – if you haven’t, get in touch with membership@natsca.org

Where to Visit

Deck the Dinos

The Natural History Museum is getting festive! Drop by before January 3rd 2023 to see their T-Rex dressed up for the holidays in probably one of the largest Christmas jumpers we’ve ever seen.

Link to T-Rex article: https://blooloop.com/museum/news/natural-history-museum-t-rex-christmas-jumper/

Register for Alfred Russel Wallace’s Birthday Symposium

Oxford University Museum of Natural History will be celebrating the 200th birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace with a symposium exploring his contributions to science. The event is on January 9th and will be held both online and in person. Registration is now open, with details of timings and locations on their website.

Link to OUMNH event page: https://talks.ox.ac.uk/talks/id/0cd00bc2-2a47-49d3-a297-da1e96bff7be/

What to Read

A new species of extinct lizard has been described from the collection at the Natural History Museum. Read about how a 200-million-year-old fossil is changing our understanding of how modern lizards and other reptiles evolved.

Link: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2022/december/gloucestershire-fossil-suggests-modern-lizards-could-have-triassic-origins.html

A new book from Samuel Alberti, director of collections at National Museums Scotland explores how science museums can use their power to foster a greater sense of collaboration and community through sparking curiosity and boosting scientific literacy.

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03795-1

Forest & Bird announced their Bird of the Year winner for 2022. Bird of the Year is a nationwide campaign to raise awareness for endangered birds throughout Aotearoa, with spirited and often hilarious efforts by all to promote various birds as the favourite. The Pīwauwau Rock Wren, New Zealand’s only true alpine bird, is this year’s champion! Read more about the Pīwauwau and 2022’s so-called ‘underbirds’ on their website.

Link: https://www.birdoftheyear.org.nz/

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org. Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

NatSCA Digital Digest – September 2022

Compiled by Claire Dean, Curatorial Assistant at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, and MA Preventive Conservation student at Northumbria University.

Welcome to the September edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about exhibitions, conferences and anything you’d like to promote. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

The theme for SPNHC 2023 at The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, is “Taking the Long View”, encouraging all of us to envision the future for our field, our collections, and ourselves. Proposals for Symposia and Workshops are now being accepted. Please visit the Symposia and Workshops page for more information. The deadline for submissions is September 26, 2022.

Papers are currently being sought for the next issue of The Journal of Natural Science Collections, which is due for January 2023. If you would like to submit an article focusing on natural science collections (for example, decolonising, collections, conservation or education), please do get in touch (editor@natsca.org). More details and past volumes can be seen on our website.

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