Digital Collections: the Cisco Pitstop | Digital Museum

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?

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.

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‘Why is it important to study microorganisms?’ An interview with Dr Anne Jungblut | The Microverse

In the second of three podcasts produced by Science Communication students Olivia Philipps and Caroline Steel, we find out more from Dr Anne Jungblut about the results of The Microverse project, and why it’s important to study microorganisms.

In the podcasts, Olivia and Caroline pose questions asked by students from The Long Eaton School, Nottingham, and Prospect School, Reading, who participated in the project.

136 Askham Bryansmall
Students from Askham Bryan College, York, collecting samples for The Microverse project.

 

Produced by Olivia Philipps and Caroline Steel. With thanks to Long Eaton School and Prospect School for contributing questions. And thanks to Helen Steel for reading the questions on their behalf.

If you missed it, listen to the first podcast here and watch this space for the third and final podcast, where we’ll find out about the types of organisms found through the research.

What do you love? A pictorial ode to Tiputini | Curator of Coleoptera

Scientists often don’t have time for romance. We are married to our science; the data we generate is millions of little babies lovingly brought forth into the world, all with the potential for greatness. For us natural scientists working in Museums, it is our collections we love and care for. And then, digging deeper, what motivates this love? It is (I like to think for most) a passion for the world and all its natural organisms. And there is no greater passion for a natural scientist than to experience those organisms in their natural environment.

Photo showing the curators stood behind a table with a number of specimen drawers laid out on top of it.
Some Coleoptera curators in their natural environment: (from l-r) Beulah Garner, Michael Geiser, Max Barclay, Malcolm Kerley, Roger Booth.

Natural environments are under threat, as we face the 6th great extinction we custodians of the creatures of the world, arbiters of our understanding of our notion of what is a species, may be racing against time. And so we venture forth into the remaining natural habitats of the world in order to document their biodiversity. Not only to build upon the collecting legacy of previous great natural scientists (I heart Darwin) but to discover the ‘new’ and what this ‘new’ can tell us about the natural world. For this, there is no better organism than the beetle (I heart beetles #beetlebias)

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Carving out history for #LibrariesDay | Library and Archives

This is the first of a series of new blogs focusing on external researchers who use the Library and Archive collections, to give them the opportunity to talk about their work and the role that our collections have played in their research. A perfect way to celebrate National #LibrariesDay! Our first post in the series is from student Zoe Barnett, who describes the importance of her access to our resources for her research into stone carving.

I remember visiting the Museum as a small child and being as fascinated with the outside of the building as I was with its contents. Now, 20 years later, I’m in my final year at the City and Guilds of London Art School, studying Architectural Stone Carving and I have to admit my interest in the ornamentation has grown dramatically!

Photo of a page in the archives showing drawings of fish species that would later be recreated as terracotta tiles
An example of the original Waterhouse drawings of the animals that adorn the walls of the Museum

During my second year at college I developed an interest in the terracotta animals that decorate the building. As part of a drawing project I spent time studying them, and I especially liked the panels on the large gate pillars on Cromwell Road. My drawing tutor introduced me to a reference book about the drawings for the terracotta models and I discovered the architect, Alfred Waterhouse, made them all.

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On the inside of the stranded sperm whales | Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme

Following the stranding of a number of sperm whales on the English coast last weekend, scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Museum visited Lincolnshire from Monday 25 January to conduct autopsies on the dead leviathans.

Beach with large whale laid out on sand, surrounded by people, with the north sea behind.
A sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) that had washed up at Skegness, Lincolnshire, around 23 January 2016

I interviewed Rebecca Lyal, Cetacean Stranding Support Officer of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), to find out what the autopsies have revealed thus far about the cause of death.

Rebecca, how do you go about assessing the cause of death of whales?

That can be done by looking at the recent movement of the whales, where they have come from and what their behaviour has been and then, once we’d deduced that they didn’t strand because they had got caught in a net, or had any wounds that may have made them unable to swim, we can start looking a bit deeper. This is when we started to take samples of the skin, the blubber, reading the blubber thickness, and then muscles and blood.

[Warning: readers may find the images that follow in this post upsetting.]

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‘Doesn’t it get a bit boring always looking down a microscope?’ An interview with Dr Anne Jungblut | The Microverse

To kick start our Citizen Science blog for 2016, Olivia Philipps and Caroline Steel, Science Communication students from Imperial College London, have produced a series of three podcasts interviewing Dr. Anne Jungblut, the lead researcher of The Microverse project.

In the podcasts, Olivia and Caroline pose questions asked by students from The Long Eaton School, Nottingham, and Prospect School, Reading, who participated in the project.

Photo showing Anne sitting collecting a water sample from beside a lake in Antarctica, with three penguins in the background
Anne Jungblut collecting microbial samples in Antarctica

In this first one we find out what inspired Anne to pursue a career in microbial research:

Produced by Olivia Philipps and Caroline Steel. With thanks to The Long Eaton School for contributing questions and Helen Steel for posing them to Anne on their behalf.

Watch this space for the second in this series of podcasts, where we’ll find out about the results of The Microverse project.

Why georeferencing is the most important thing for the Museum since sliced bread | Digital Collections Programme

The ‘spatial wealth’ of the Museum’s collections is often ignored or at best under-appreciated. Most specimens if not all have a spatial locality associated with them, either written on to a label, written in a notebook, or on the specimen.

Close crop of a photo of a drawer of pinned clouded yellow butterflies with QR code and hand written labels visible
Digitising the Museum’s collections will let us unlock and share a treasure trove of information about our 80 million specimens

These localities can vary between very precise (e.g. a GPS-based latitude/longitude), very imprecise (e.g. ‘South America’) or, most likely, somewhere in-between. Most specimens within the Museum do not have a latitude and longitude, but do have detailed locality information on the accompanying label, which can be used to define co-ordinates for that specimen. So what is georeferencing, why do we need it, and how do we use it?

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