NatSCA Digital Digest

Firstly and most importantly…


Secondly, everything else…

Jobs and Traineeships

With the period known as the ‘run up to Christmas’ well underway it is slim pickings for new vacancies in natural history. However a number of posts still open in areas such as Norwich, Aberdeen and Sheffield, that have been previously advertised through NatSCA, can still be found here. Deadlines for applications begin early January so perhaps write yours out before you start to suffer from excess-turkey-consumption lethargy.

Events and Exhibitions

Fans of natural history have a great reason to visit the British Museum at the moment thanks to a new temporary exhibition called Scanning Sobek: Mummy of the crocodile god. Open until the 21st February, the exhibition is just inside the main door and is completely free. It couldn’t be easier!

If you are in or able to get to Berlin any time soon, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found is now on display at the Museum für Naturkunde in a special exhibition called Tristan: Berlin bares teeth. Tristan has only been baring his teeth to the public since 17th December 2015 and I for one am going to visit him asap.

Around the Web

There’s a rather festive Underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog, complete with santa hat and palaeofied lyrics to a well known Christmas favourite, over on the Grant Museum of Zoology blog.

Now I’m going to go to sleep (yes I know it’s only 11am) so that Christmas comes sooner. That’s how time works.


NatSCA Digital Digest

ChameleonYour weekly round-up of news and events happening in the world of natural sciences


Curator, Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL. It’s here! The job I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for. Just make sure you get your applications in by 3rd August 2015!

Interpretation Producer, Kew Gardens. Closing date: 5th July 2015.

Conservation and Documentation Manager, Bristol Museums, Archives and Galleries. Closing date: 19th July 2015.

See the job page of the NatSCA website for more exciting opportunities!


The deadline for submissions to the next issue of the Journal of Natural Science Collections is 15th July 2015. Get writing! Guidelines for authors are available online, and please send your submission and any queries to Jan Freedman (

Around the Web

Donna Young of Liverpool Museums has been busy digitising Brendel plant models.

A look inside the collections of National Museums Scotland.

North America’s herbarium collections are under threat due to funding cuts. The article is also a nice piece of collections advocacy for herbaria.

New research from the American Museum of Natural History shows that the teeth of Smilodon fatalis grew rapdily, but took years to mature.

The rise and fall of the barbary lion. Could it help to save other species from beyond the grave?


Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and collections advocacy: 10 years on since the birth of the greatest rock festival in history

When I say I’m going to a fossil festival, the reaction of friends who aren’t natural history geeks is often somewhat quizzical. It’s not exactly Glastonbury, is it? But I would argue that those of us who care passionately about museum collections, and return to Lyme Regis every year, are just as rock ‘n’ roll as the line-up at Glastonbury.

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is one of the most successful examples of collections advocacy that I have seen, and it meets a wide variety of audiences over four days, working with Primary and Secondary schools and the general public. The fossil festival this year celebrated its 10th anniversary, and I wanted to share some examples of the good practice I’ve seen.

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in full swing (Image: Anthony Roach)

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in full swing (Image: Anthony Roach)

Museums are just history, right?

Luanne Meehitiya from Birmingham Museums reminded us, in her collections advocacy summary at the 2014 NatSCA conference, that the public may perceive museums as places of history, not as custodians of scientifically and culturally important collections. The surge in social media and targeted events means visitors are increasingly aware of the scientific research that takes place in museums. The Natural History Museum (NHM) and other regional museums presenting at Lyme Regis can engage audiences who don’t visit them regularly, or who see museums as simply about preserving history.

Prof. Paul Smith from Oxford University Museums also emphasised that natural science and historical collections can and should contribute to 21st century debates within society. The fossil festival doesn’t just celebrate palaeontology, and the Life Sciences team have a strong presence at Lyme, actively engaging the public with research that contributes to debates around climate change, invasive species, and the loss of biodiversity.

Myself and colleagues from the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity spent time talking about a new citizen science project called ‘Orchid Observers’, which inspires visitors to look for 29 of the 56 species of orchids in the UK. By encouraging the public to record their sightings, we hope to build a dataset to see how orchids are adapting to climate change, and how this is affecting flowering times. Using original herbarium sheets, we explained how the problems of over-collecting and environmental degradation have contributed to the decline of orchids.

Members of the AMC team

Members of the Life Sciences team from the AMC from left to right Mike, Jade and Chloe on the stand (Image: Anthony Roach)

What do people in museums actually do?

The fossil festival is great at highlighting the amazing work of curators, researchers and scientists, and promotes careers in the museum sector. An excellent example this year was Luanne and Isla Gladstone’s ‘Be A Curator’ activity, where visitors chose a specimen and then had to label it with the age, locality, date, and scientific name. Not only do young people get to meet real curators, they gain an understanding of their work too!

Luanne Meehitiya exploring curation with a young visitor to the festival

Luanne Meehitiya exploring curation with a young visitor to the festival (Image: Anthony Roach)

How can we learn more about museum specimens?

Alex Ball from the Imaging and Analysis Centre at NHM probably has the coolest job I know. He spends his days using chemical, CT, and other scanning technologies to explore natural history specimens. Alex is a continual presence at the festival, and this year he was using a structured light 3D scanner to scan museum specimens for visitors. It scans the object with several cameras and constructs a 3D model that can be examined from different angles.

CT-scanned museum objects were also displayed on screens for visitors to investigate. This technology has enabled conservators to better conserve the beautiful Blaschka glass models, because they can understand how they were made. Researchers can also learn a wealth of information – from the morphology of mummified cats to the structure of meteorites – in a way that is non-invasive and keeps the specimen intact.

Alex Ball and his team from the Imaging Lab with the structured light 3D scanner

Alex Ball and his team from the Imaging Lab with the structured light 3D scanner (Image: Anthony Roach)

These are just some of the examples from a fossil festival that places museum collections, curators, and scientists at the forefront of the visitors’ experience. The festival clearly exposes the past, present, and future use of collections and current scientific research. It also continues to remind us of the amazing scientific discoveries of people like Mary Anning and William Smith, to inspire future generations of scientists, geologists, naturalists, and artists. Long may it continue!


Anthony Roach
Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, NHM

NatSCA Digital Digest

Welcome to the new weekly digest of posts from around the web with relevance to natural science collections. We hope you find this useful and if you have any articles that you feel would be of interest, please contact us at

1. Blog: Dr Woodward’s Fossils

Dr Ken McNamara, Sedgwick Museum of Geology


How the Sedgwick Museum began as a collection of 10,000 fossils ‘of all kinds’ belonging to John Woodward, and his bequest of £100 a year to ‘keep a lecturer’. The fossils were kept for 300 years in five beautiful walnut cabinets, pictured herein. Originally called the Woodwardian Museum, this blog looks at how Woodward helped to shape the museum, and the legacy he left behind.

Bothriolepis, a fossil fish. (C) UCL Grant Museum

2. Blog: What can Twitter do for our collection?

Giles Miller, Natural History Museum


Case study showed ‘major players’ retweeting you leads to a greater number of retweets and new followers. Timing of tweets is essential, e.g. weekend tweets hardly ever get retweeted. Twitter may not affect KPIs in a measurable manner, but it opens up the museum to an audience that would never otherwise visit for logistical reasons. It also facilitates access to parts of the collections that are not on display.

3. Event: The Future of Museums

A conference and workshop for early career museum professionals


Designed to collate the ideas of aspiring museum professionals, a series of talks and discussions will be followed by the opportunity for delegates to collaborate on a manifesto for museums and collections.

4. Event: Human Evolution – The Story of Us

A four hour only pop-up event Friday 7th March at UCL


This mini exhibition will showcase rarely seen objects from UCL’s Biological Anthropology Collection of early hominin fossil casts, including Lucy, the famous Australopithecus afarensis from East Africa. The objects exhibited will also include tools and visitors will have the chance to ‘meet the scientists’. The event will take place in the Rock Room at UCL, which has permanent displays of geological collections.

Neanderthal from BBC’s Prehistoric Autopsy exhibition at the Horniman Museum. (C) Paolo Viscardi

5. Event: Written in Stone: Life and Death in the Fossil record

Evening workshop at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham


The workshop will be an interactive exploration of Cambrian organisms that formed part of the Cambrian Explosion and the subsequent Biodiversification Event of the Ordovician. These two points in Earth’s history are considered to be the foundations of the Earth’s biodiversity in the modern day.

Compiled by Emma-Louise Nicholls, NatSCA Blog Editor