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Curator of Micropalaeontology's blog

4 Posts tagged with the irene_kopelman tag
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The end of March and start of April at the Museum marks the end of our reporting year so I thought I'd report on the news from the micropalaeontology collections over the past year. This includes details of national press coverage, exhibitions, loans, acquisitions, disposals, visitors, university teaching, projects by artists and answers to big questions about past climates.

 

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Our most iconic specimen as advertising for the Treasures Gallery as 'hair to a Neanderthal with Darwin's beard'!

 

Exhibitions

 

Microfossils are not the easiest display subjects. However, this year has seen several microfossil themed displays, both in the Museum and galleries elsewhere, that feature or have been inspired by our collections.

 

The highlight of the year has to be the display of one of our Blaschka glass models of radiolarians in the new Treasures Exhibition in the main hall of the Museum. The radiolarian scale model, multiplied by about 500 times, was a centrepiece of the display and featured heavily in the advertising for the gallery. The gallery has a public voting panel at the end and last time I looked, the Blaschka items were second favourite behind Guy the Gorilla!

 

The radiolarian model received a large amount of press coverage as part of the advertising of the gallery, including an image in the colour supplement of the Financial Times. I am told that a giant image of the model was projected onto the wall behind the Duchess of Cambridge as she opened the exhibition. A Blaschka video also featured on the Museum's YouTube channel including some additional radiolarian models that are yet to be put on display.

 

The year started with the the exhibition at the Gasworks Gallery of Irene Kopelman's images inspired by our collection of Antarctic Ocean radiolarians and ended with Gemma Anderson's exhibition of art at the Ebb and Flow Gallery, inspired partly by the loan of some radiolarian specimens from our collections.

 

Images of coccolithophores from our archives have been on display at the British Museum. Closer to home, Tom, Steve and I used a portable scanning electron microscope to display our microfossil zoo during the Science Uncovered public event in the galleries at the Museum in September.

 

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Microfossil Christmas cards featured in the national media.

 

Other national press coverage

 

Our collections of Foraminifera hit the national press at Christmas when the story behind the microfossil Christmas cards was published by the Independent and a gallery of images from the collection were included on the BBC Focus web site.

 

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The cabinet of foraminiferal slides loaned to the University of Birmingham for teaching on the Applied and Petroleum Micropalaeontology course.

 

Loans to support micropalaeontology teaching

 

The main loan of the year was to the University of Birmingham who borrowed 730 slides and over 2,500 countable specimens for use in the teaching of the new MSc course in Applied and Petroleum Micropalaeontology. Another loan of 180 slides from the former British Petroleum Collection was sent to support a student project on the same course that will be co-supervised by my colleague Steve Stukins.

 

Other loans have supported undergraduate projects at the University of Manchester and a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. A total of 500 images of our specimens or surrogate loans have also been sent out this year.

 

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Tom Hill transporting part of the Modern Pollen and Spores collection past the giant sequoia in the main hall.

 

Collection enhancements and disposals

 

In January we transferred over 30,000 slides of modern pollen and spores from the former Botany Department. A good start has been made with rehousing some of the slides that are currently stored in less than adequate conditions. Other major donations have included 5 slide cabinets of Recent Foraminifera donated by Prof Jo Haynes to accompany the former Aberystwyth University Micropalaeontology Collection that arrived in 2000.

 

Space for these new collections was created by donating a large number of duplicate foraminiferal reprints to the Gryzbowski Library in Poland and a large collection of duplicate ostracod reprints to the University of Brasilia in Brazil.

 

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Some acritarch images taken by Associate Tim Potter that were released on-line database this year.

 

Details of our collections on-line

 

About 8,900 microfossil specimen records were added to the museum on-line database this year and completed the transfer of records from our paper fossil foraminiferal registers. Details of about 90,000 microfossil slides are now available on-line covering most of our type and figured collection of fossil foraminifera.

 

Records from the Richard Dingle Collection of 90,000 ostracods on 2,500 slides were also added to the database this year and a paper detailing the collection published in the Journal of Micropalaeontology. The collection underpins Richard's work on ostracods that has helped illuminate some major questions in evolution, detailed the movements of ancient continents and shown patterns of migration of ostracods across oceans.

 

1,776 microfossil images from our collection have been posted on-line this year. Images of acritarchs from Tim Potter's collection have been added (see above). Images and videos relating to the Duxbury collection of Cretaceous Dinoflagellates are now available with the specimen details on-line.

 

A cabinet of former staff member Dr Ray Bate's correspondence relating to the ostracod collection has been transferred to the Museum archive and details of these documents added to the on-line archive search.

 

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Temperature ranges of non marine ostracod species identified by Horton et al. (1992) from a Hoxnian site about 400,000 years old at Woodston, Peterborough. The mutual temperature range for the month of January is calculated and shows slightly lower mean temperatures than the present day (courtesy of Dr David Horne). New records of non-marine ostracod occurrences from our collections have been added to Dr Horne's database this year.

 

Visitors

 

We hosted in excess of 200 scientific visitors again this year and welcomed student groups from the University of Birmingham, Imperial College, King's College and the British Science Academy. Academic visitors from universities continue to make up the majority of our visitor numbers with a visit from a post doctoral student from Turkey a highlight. She used the distribution of ostracod species in our collections to add to a database which helps estimate past climatic conditions.

 

John_Williams1.jpg John Williams with part of the Index of Palaeopalynology.

 

Publications on our collections

 

This is a harder question to answer as we usually rely heavily on our collection users to provide details of their publications that cite or figure our collections. I know of at least three major mongraphs in preparation/press and this year a book proposal submitted by Micropalaeontology staff and associates on the Museum Iraq Petroleum Microfossil Collection was accepted by Wiley Blackwell.

 

A short article on the John Williams Index of Palaeopalynology was also published in the journal Palynology and we continue to welcome palynologists to use the index for their research.

 

Thanks

 

I hope this does not sound like I am soley responsible for carrying out all of these tasks relating to visits, loans, donations, collections moves and exhibitions. It has very much been a team effort with so many collaborators that is would be impossible to list them all here. I would particularly like to thank Museum Scientists Tom Hill, Steve Stukins and our volunteers Daryl, Johanna, Freya, Heather and Stephanie without whose support this extremely successful year for the collections would not have been possible.

 

And finally ...

 

Keep in touch with what we're doing in Micropalaeontology with our @NHM_Micropalaeo Twitter feed that we also launched this year, which is where you'll hear about new positions in the labs and about our recent activities like this podcast from Palaeocast in which I featured.

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The Museum radiolarian collection makes up considerably less than 1% of the total microfossil collection but is proving very popular at the moment. Last February we loaned some slides to accompany an exhibition by Irene Kopelman at the Gasworks Gallery and this week I processed a loan for Artist/PhD Researcher Gemma Anderson. Glass models of radiolarians made in 1889 by the father and son partnership of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka are also being prepared for something special that will be happening later in the year at the Museum.

 

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A scanning electron microscope image of part of the fossil radiolarian residue on loan to Gemma Anderson. The tip of a standard 0.65mm diameter dressmaking pin is included for scale.

 

Radiolarians are single celled organisms (Protozoa) that secrete tiny skeletons of opaline silica. They are present in the oceans of today from the tropics to the Arctic and live anywhere from near the surface to depths of several hundred metres. They range in size from 0.03mm to 2mm and mainly have a solitary floating lifestyle (planktonic), although some are colonial.

 

The living cell that produces the skeleton consists of a central mass of cytoplasm surrounded by a peripheral layer called the extracapsulum. Sometimes the extracapsulum contains bubble like structures that aid flotation and occasionally algal symbionts. The cells also produce radiating fine structures called axopodia. In some species these are contractile and may have been used to move organic particles closer to the extracapsulum for digestion.

 

Fine strands called fusules connect the extracapsulum with the inner capsule and these are unique to the Radiolaria. Modern radiolarians are subdivided based on the microanatomy of the central capsule whereas fossil forms are classified on skeletal characteristics. The living and fossil classification schemes are not intergrated as a result.

 

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A Blaschka glass model of the radiolarian Aulosphaera elegantissima Haeckel, 1862. The central mass of cytoplasm, the axiopoda and the spherical silica shell are magnified about 500 times and reproduced in glass.

 

A collection of 18 radiolarian and heliozoan Blaschka glass models were acquired by the Museum in 1889. The Blaschkas made 10 different varieties of Radiolaria representing two of the three main subdivisions. They also offered three varieties of Heliozoa (literally sun animals). These look superficially like radiolarians but differ in the arrangement of the pseudo/axo-podia and the cellular structure in the central capsulum.

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The illustration of A. elegantissima in Ernst Haeckel's 1862 monograph on the Radiolaria that provded the inspiration for their work.

 

Radiolarians are very beautiful to look at but are also scientifically significant. The have a long geological record stretching back more than 500 million years to the Cambrian Period. This makes them very useful for determining the age of sedimentary rocks that contain them as well as giving details of past climates and oceanographic conditions.

 

The Museum's radiolarian collection of 1,500 slides is small but historically very significant. Ernst Haeckel described 2,775 new radiolarian species in his 1887 monograph on the Challenger radiolarians [PDF] but did not define any type specimens. A set of teaching slides made by Haeckel in the Museum collection is the only set of plankton slides available from the Challenger Expedition. Residues in the Ocean Bottom Sediment Collection also contain important comparative specimens that help define Haeckel's species concepts in the absense of type specimens.

 

 

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A close up of part of the radiolarian residue on loan to Gemma Anderson. It is from Miocene Barbados Marl which is roughly 15 million years old.

 

It will be very interesting to see the results of Gemma's study; I will comment on this blog with any details. I would also be very excited to see a Blaschka radiolarian model on display in the Museum galleries. I promise a more detailed post on the Museum Blaschka Collection in the future with a very interesting story involving a team of archivists, curators, conservators and exhibition staff (with some C-T scanning too).

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I'm so tempted to say that a microfossil curator attends meetings and writes e-mails. Sometimes it feels like that. I decided to document a typical day back in January where e-mails and meetings helped prepare towards a loan for an art exhibition, gave news of a potentially exciting new acquisition and a possible research opportunity involving micro-CT scanning.

 

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One of Irene Kopelman's items in the Gasworks Gallery based on microfossils from our collection

 

The bulk of the e-traffic involves preparations towards an exhibition that opened on 10 Feb at the Gasworks Gallery near the Oval Cricket Ground. Artist Irene Kopelman's work was partly inspired by some slides of radiolarian microfossils from our collections. We are preparing an exhibition loan of the slides and today there is a lot of correspondence discussing arrangements for two open day tours I am holding to accompany the exhibition.

 

Most microfossils are so small that I have to deal with images rather than the specimens themselves. We recently sent some specimens on loan to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington where a researcher has made some images for a publication and left them on an ftp site for me to collect. I am also making arrangements for other images of our specimens to be sent to us by one of our regular visitors. They have posted them on an excellent site for people interested in foraminiferal microfossils.

 

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Aggerostramen rustica, a type of foraminiferal microfossil that builds a shell from sediment. In this case, sponge spicules have been chosen. This image has been posted on-line at the foraminifera.eu site mentioned above

 

Typically a day will not pass without some correspondence with future visitors to the collections and/or an actual visit from a scientist. Two visitors want to come in a couple of days time and another wants to visit the following week to discuss a short paper on a major collection of 2,500 slides that they donated last year.

 

In a few days time I'm off to our collections outstation in Wandsworth to meet OU PhD student Kate Salmon who is using our collections to study ocean acidification. I need to book a Museum vehicle to transport me to Wandsworth and to bring the collections back that she would like to borrow.

 

I mentioned meetings but you'll be glad to know that I'm not going to go into detail here. From one meeting I come away with two additional enquiries to answer; a request by a journalism student for a 5 minute mock radio interview and a student wants images of some of our specimens for their thesis.

 

I am also asked to assess a destructive sampling request as my boss is away. Sometimes our samples or specimens need further analysis to reveal their true scientific potential. In this case the borrower wants to make thin sections of fragments of fish fossils and to carry out 3-D imaging using a synchrotron (see my previous blog on sex in the Cretaceous for details of synchrotrons). The work will potentially give important details about early fish evolution so the request is ratified.

 

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Erasmus student Angelo Mossoni using one of the scanning electron microscopes at the Museum.

 

 

The excellent research facilities here at the Museum offer many exciting possibilities. Today an e-mail has come in requesting bids for use of the micro-CT scanner. I want to test whether this method can provide 3-D images of some tiny specimens the reverse sides of which we cannot analyse at the moment because they are stored embedded in wax. If it works, some 3-D images of some of our most important specimens will be delivered to the web. Some of these species have been used extensively in studies on climate change and oceanography.

 

One message informs me that an exciting new sample has just been sent as a donation from Oman. When it arrives I will need to dissolve some of it in acid (vinegar) to release the tiny fossils. Traces of fish microfossil are clearly visible on the surface of the rock so this sounds very promising and possibly the subject of a new paper on early fish evolution.

 

It would appear from everything listed above that there is not much time for any other activities. However, documenting the collections for the web is one of our core duties so I find time in the afternoon to work towards a documentation project. I am also on duty for an hour to answer questions from my fellow curators and my mentee Jacqui about using the databasing system.

 

A number of people including my two new colleagues Tom and Steve, pop their heads round my door to ask questions about the collections or bring me information. Retired Museum Associate Richard Hodgkinson is in today and has some questions about his project. Another retired member of staff brings me a copy of his latest paper and former volunteer and now colleague Lyndsey Douglas comes to tell me that my blog has been quoted in the January edition of the Museums Journal!

 

It's an amazingly variable job being a microfossil curator and no day is ever the same as another. I love my job and I think of it as unique. I don't know of anyone else in the world who has a similar job in Micropalaeontology. If you have a similar job, I'd love to hear from you.

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Irene Kopelman's exhibition entitled "The Challengers Report" opened on 10 Feb at the Gasworks Gallery and features artwork inspired by a visit to the micropalaeontology collections at the Museum. The glass slides of Antarctic radiolarian specimens used by Irene have been loaned for display as part of the exhibition, and two tours of the micropalaeontology collections were provided just after the exhibition opened.

 

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Irene Kopelman in front of two of her acrylic on canvas works based on Radiolaria. Pelham Miller makes a guest appearance in the picture on part of his rapid tour of the gallery!

 

Irene's work borrows patterns from nature or techniques of observation and classification from the history of science. Her inspirations include the expeditions of renowned explorers such as Scott and Shackleton; the title of the exhibition refers to the Challenger Expedition of 1872-76 which laid the foundations for modern oceanography. The exhibition includes large scale paintings of Antarctic radiolarians (see two of them above).

 

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Gasworks Curator Robert Leckie demonstrating the display of slides loaned by the Museum.

 

The slides loaned were transported in a purpose built carrying box made by Palaeontology Department Loans Officer Noemi Moran Lorengo from Plastazote inert foam. Noemi also processed the reams of paperwork associated with the loan and carried out a condition survey of the slides prior to their transport.

 

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The purpose built carrying case made from Plastazote and conservation grade card by Noemi (photo provided by Noemi Moran Lorengo).

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The slides of Antarctic radiolarians loaned to the exhibition (photo provided by Noemi Moran Lorengo). The specimens themselves are less than half a millimetre in size and are encased in Canada balsam that has turned brown in the roughly hundred years since the slides were created.

 

Two tours of the micropalaeontology collections were also included in the Gasworks events associated with the exhibition. We were able to showcase some of the amazing artwork associated with our collections including the 1889 Blaschka radiolarian models created from glass. Other materials included specimens and documents on an Antarctic theme including Heron-Allen's bound Terra Nova study volume and some radiolarian slides from the same expedition.

 

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Demonstrating slides and artwork as part of one of the two tours to the Micropalaeontology Collections (photo courtesy of Robert Leckie).

 

It was great to be able to visit the opening of the exhibition with my family - our daughter Blossom was born shortly before Irene first came to the Museum.

 

My thanks go to Lil Stevens who pointed Irene in the direction of this material while I was on paternity leave. We are hoping that Irene can come again in March and we can maintain links with artists from Gasworks following the Museum tours.



Giles Miller

Giles Miller

Member since: Apr 21, 2010

This is Giles Miller's Curator of Micropalaeontology blog. I make the Museum micropalaeontology collections available to visitors from all over the world, publish articles on the collections, give public talks and occasionally make collections myself.

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