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Eight days to go and the Museum is starting to buzz with excitement about the biggest event of the year in our busy calendar. Stephen Roberts, lead co-ordinator, gives us a warm welcome and introduction to this year's fabulous Science Uncovered. Put 27 September 2013 in your diaries now.

 

'Every single day that the Museum is open there are usually scientists and researchers on hand to talk with our visitors and friends. But Science Uncovered will see an amazing 400 scientists joining in a Friday night opening with a difference.

 

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Above: Last year's Oceans Science Station was a jaw-dropping experience for many and beetlemania was rife at the Entomology Station. Both return for this year's Science Uncovered night on 27 September.  (With the beetles at the Forests Station this time.)

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'Our event is one of hundreds taking place in more than 35 countries on European Researchers' Night, all made free by the EU, and we are pulling out all the stops for this celebration of science.

 

As well as meeting the people behind ground-breaking discoveries at this unique event, you'll see masses of amazing specimens from our collections, normally carefully stored behind the scenes. Some live creatures too.

 

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The lower jaw of the first-ever T. rex skull discovered makes a rare appearance at Paul Barrett's Dinosaur Extinction talk at 17.00 (this talk is also BSL-interpreted.)

 

'Highlights not to be missed include the Dinosaur Extinction studio event revealng extremely rare T. rex remains that have never been on display anywhere in Europe before, and a piece of Mars from our collections that you can explore its insides at the Space Station, just as our researchers do.

 

These are two among hundreds of other amazing objects that could help answer big questions about life and indeed the solar system.

 

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Cave art and live creatures: among the many tactile experiences coming your way on the night.

 

'From creating your own cave art to linking-live with NASA scientists, or presenting your own weather forecast, touring our rare books library or trying our science-inspired cocktail - check out what's on at Science Uncovered on or website and download the map showing you where everything is happening.

 

'Or just come along and see what takes your fancy on the night. Have a think about the questions or puzzles you've always wanted to quizz a scientist about. There are even Science Fess Up tell-all sessions going on in the Central Hall if you're game enough. And you can tweet your photos and comments using #SU2013.

 

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Cool vibes and candid confessions at the Science Bar and Science Fess Up sessions...

 

'This exclusive interaction with our science and scientists is at the heart of Science Uncovered, but we also want you to have a great evening out in one of the most famous and historic venues in London.

 

'We've got a choice of 6 bars and the Restaurant open across the Museum's galleries offering delicious food and drink. As activities wind down from 22.00 you can chill out in the Science Bar which stays open with a DJ until midnight.

 

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Nocturnal Creatures at the Natural History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire will be part of their festivities

 

'Our sister Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire is also joining in the Science Uncovered festivities and will showcase its latest bird research, with a chance to catch the Nocturnal Creatures exhibition open after hours too (above).

 

'About 1,000,000 people across Europe are expected to join in on the night. We'd be delighted if for you to come and be one of those million yourself!'

 

Keep up to date with Science Uncovered on the website

Download the map and activity details

Read blogs by our scientists

Find out about booking for BSL activities

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Most of the species recording in the Garden involves finding out what species have come into the Garden of its own accord, but there are sometimes special circumstances enacted behind-the-scenes to attract certain species to lay their eggs... Poulomi Bhadra explains:

 

"The Wildlife Garden in the summer is thriving with flora and fauna and provides excellent grounds to study the attraction of blowflies to bodies in suitcases. As part of my Masters project at King's, I am investigating blowfly behaviour and particularly their ability to lay eggs without being in direct contact with a food source. This is part of the research conducted by the Museum’s forensic entomologist Dr Martin Hall in collaboration with the Metropolitan Police.

 

Even though preliminary experiments have been conducted indoors in a laboratory at the top of the Southwest Tower (where the smell of decomposing chicken liver wafts undetected above the crowd of visitors in the rest of the Museum!), it was necessary to see if the results could be replicated in field conditions.

 

After several failed efforts to protect the experimental set-ups from the resident foxes - who were evidently attracted to the smell of meat and often stole my experiments - we succeded in a set-up consisting of a dog cage that was enclosed in chicken wire.

 

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Dog cage set-up - weighted down to deter foxes!

 

Petri dishes containing meat, and sealed by a zip, were laid out in the dog cage and behind-the-scenes in the Garden to see if any blowflies would be attracted to them and lay eggs. As it turns out, populations of bluebottles (Calliphora vicina) and greenbottles (Lucilia sericata) visited the cages as soon as they were placed.

 

DSC_0033 (Custom).JPGBlow flies were immediately attracted to the experimental bait

 

The experiment was collected the next day and white dipteran egg clumps were seen to have been laid on the tape of the zips, which had been moistened by the blood and decomposing fluids from the liver beneath. Eggs were also deposited in between the teeth of the zips and when the baits were dismantled in the laboratory, egg clumps were seen hanging like stalactites on the underside of the zips.


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Twenty-fours hours later fly eggs were found laid on the zips

 

This is possible because blowflies lay eggs through ovipositors, which are located at the end of their abdomen. When laying eggs, this ovipositor extends outwards like a lance and can get inside and through crevices, such as the gaps between the teeth of a zip, so that the female is able to drop her eggs.

 

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Female flies extend their ovipositor into gaps to lay eggs in clumps

 

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Calliphora vicina laying eggs on zips in the laboratory experiemental set up

 

During the especially high temperatures this summer, most of the eggs hatched within 24 hours and the first instar larvae, 1-2 mm long, crawled their way through the gaps in the zip to feed on the meat below. The eggs collected from these trials were reared to adulthood in the laboratory.The species that oviposited (laid eggs) predominantly was found to be the bluebottle, Calliphora vicina. Only four adults of the greenbottle, Lucilia sericata, were reared from the laid eggs, even though both species were present in the garden and trapped in the RedTop® flytraps hung nearby for collecting wild-type flies from the garden. 

 

In the beginning of August, a different experiment  was simulated in the field to study a case scenario: a pig’s head, purchased from a butcher's shop, was put in an airline cabin suitcase and then put inside the wired cage. Flies were seen visiting the suitcase regularly during daylight hours but no eggs were seen until the second day, when a single egg was laid on the cloth seam of the suitcase and near the zip. By the third day, more eggs had been laid between the folds of the seam and the zip and inbetween the teeth of the coiled plastic zip. First instars were seen later, travelling along the length of the zip around the suitcase.

 

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Simulation of case scenario - a pig's head in a suitcase inside the cage, left in this position for 3 days

 

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Flies deposited their eggs in between the teeth of the zip and the crevices of the zip slider and the larvae made their way through the zip to reach the food source inside the case

 

The suitcase was brought indoors after three days to avoid the malodours from the decomposition permeating throughout the Garden, which was open to the public. On the eighth day since exposure, third instar larvae were seen dispersing from the suitcase, looking for suitable grounds to pupate. When the suitcase was opened the bait inside was found infested with third instar larvae which meant that the adult flies, or hatching larvae, had been able to penetrate the completely closed zip to gain access to the food inside.

 

The experiment is still under study and we are looking forward to replicating a few more proof of concept studies to establish the potential for delay in egg laying, and to confirm the species that show most propensity of laying on enclosed carrion. The results from this research will have practical value in explaining the presence of larvae on bodies found inside suitcases and will help forensic entomologists estimate a more accurate minimum time since death for the bodies of victims who are disposed of in this manner."

 

Thank you Poulomi, we have enjoyed your company in the Garden this summer, but I can't look at a zipped suitcase in the same way again...

 

For more information about this work please see Museum's forensic entomology web page or come to this year's free Science Uncovered event on the evening of Friday 27 September and see our forensic enotomologists in person.

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Where can you: create your own comet with a space expert or examine a large land snail back from extinction? Get close to rare cave art statuettes and Martian meteorites outside of their glass display cases? Look a fearsome Dracula fish in the face or marvel at a giant clam? Witness a blood spatter analysis by the police? Let a scorpion sit in the palm of your hand? Examine the insides of a mummified cat on a virtual autopsy table? Get inside the colon of a cow as a virtual vet? Take a tour of the largest natural history art library in the world? Or challenge a leading scientist on the latest discoveries about climate change as you sip on a cocktail? And all during a single night.

 

At our brilliant Science Uncovered festival from 16.00 to 23.00 on Friday 28 September, you can do every one of these things and more ... and also try to win your very own private sleepover here at the Museum.

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The Space Station where vistors can make comets and see the Tissint meteorite from Mars, and the Forests Station with its butterflies, beetles and moth displays are sure to attract the crowds at Science Uncovered. Select images to enlarge.

Stephen Roberts, Science Uncovered's co-ordinator, gives us a hint of this year's highlights:

 

'We have a little under two weeks to go until the biggest evening event in the Museum's fantastic yearly calendar - Science Uncovered. This year, in keeping with the summer theme of pushing limits and new records, we will see new science, new ways to take part and new specimens coming out – all for one night only in this unique festival of science, made free thanks to the EU.

 

'On the evening of Friday 28 September, more than 350 researchers will be in our galleries as part of European Researchers’ Night that takes place across 32 countries and gives us unprecedented access to world class research and the people who make it happen.

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Meeting a Dracula fish face to face - it may be tiny but it's huge for taxonomists - at the Evolution Station, and witnessing the police analyse a blood splatter at the Forensics Station will be other popular highlights.

'In a year that has seen science stories making such a splash it is terrific to have the chance to actually meet the people involved and get your hands on some of their work. From mini-mammoth remains discoverd in underground Cretan caves to amazing Martian meteorites and a live link to CERN's Large Hadron Collider control room or the chance to live-chat with researchers in Antarctica, there has never been a better time to meet the people at the cutting edge of discovery.

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At the Antarctica Station you can step inside a real polar tent and try out expedition equipment, and in the Attenborough Studio we video-link live to the control room of CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

'As well as the science and scientists, some of the most precious specimens from our collections will be brought out for this rare occasion, and there's the opportunity to delve behind the scenes into our collections on exclusive tours.

 

'And, of course, if you would rather get your hands dirty you could help build a comet, recreate cave art or extract your own DNA, to name but a few of the more practical aspects. Not least of which for a Friday night, we have a record breaking 7 bars and, by popular demand, our delicious Restaurant will be open till late.

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Homo sapiens and Neanderthal skulls alongside cave art figurines, rarely shown to the public, will be at the Human Origins Station, along with the researchers who more than anyone can answer the questions as to who we really are...

'Our Museum at Tring is also taking part with a fantastic Science Uncovered night in Hertfordshire, with the promise of curators giving us insights into how to prepare bird skins and skeleton specimens, shows of feather painting and natural history art illustration, and the chance to meet live creatures with keepers from Amey Zoo. Local beer and barbecue-style food are on the menu too. Check our Science Uncovered at Tring pages for more information.

 

'If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington or at Tring this is the night to come along and see for yourself.'

 

Find out what's on at Science Uncovered in London

 

Download the Science Uncovered map to see where things are and to plan your evening in London

 

See what's on at Tring's Science Uncovered

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Today, instead of ‘Summertime’ playing in my head as it was at May's After Hours, Victoria Wood’s ‘Let’s Do It' is ringing out loud and clear. Why? Because we hope you will enthusiastically embrace the late-night opening of our Sexual Nature summer exhibition.

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I asked Mike Sarna, our cheerful American head of exhibition planning, to tell me how After Hours visitors might consider Sexual Nature. Mike told me that the exhibition is about animals and us – as we are human animals - and seeing the Sexual Nature exhibition (pictured above) is a good way to learn about ourselves and our loved ones.

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‘People can take a very active approach to the exhibition or a passive approach, they can leave comments, discuss it with their friends, anonymously vote if they believe in true love or not. The range in the sexual spectrum mirrors itself in the animal kingdom.’

 

To get you even more in the mood for Sexual Nature, tonight we also have our smoky-eyed roving troubadour Sebastian Darcy-Heathcliff (right), aka Jack Merivale, who will be smoulderig near the exhibition gallery with his guitar. Sebastian will be reciting some of your favourite lurve songs with more than a glint of humour in his roving troubadour eye. And if you are lucky, he may even compose a new one just for you

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Left: Fingerprinting kit for tonight's Crime Scene NHM special event at After Hours

Switching seamlessly from sex to death, we have a really fascinating event, Crime Scene: NHM, at this Friday's After Hours. At this you’ll get the chance to learn some of our world class forensic experts’ tricks of the trade as you take part in a ‘forensic investigation’ here at the Museum. The event culminates in a ‘trial’ where real barristers, police officers and a judge will demonstrate just how important forensic evidence is to a verdict. But there are only a few tickets left so hurry to get in on the crime scene.

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Switching less seamlessly to dinosaurs, don’t forget that our equally immersive dinosaur experience, the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition, is also available for you to experience after hours.

 

With apologies, our Darwin Centre Courtyard terrace will only have limited access this Friday due to construction work, but you can still enjoy your Pimms out there. Mini picnics should be picked up from the Darwin Centre atrium as usual.

 

Right: Pick up your Mini picnic in the Darwin Centre atrium, where you can also sip Pimms from the bar.

 

Find out more about After Hours

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It's only 3 days to go till our After Hours: Science Uncovered big night this Friday, 24 September, and the last operational plans are in frantic motion.

 

Yesterday was the dress rehearsal for scientists to bring out their star specimens and run through setting up the event's science stations in the Central Hall. The 9 Face to Face science stations are mostly located in the Museum's Central Hall bays. Each represents one of the Museum's main science departments and will showcase specimens from our collections and their research.

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Left: This complete skull of the female Yangtze River dolphin (also known as Baiji), was collected from Tung Ting Lake in 1922. It is on show at Science Uncovered and measures 54cm long and has 36 pairs of teeth in its upper and lower jaws.
Right: A live Chinese River dolphin rescued from the Yangtze River in 1980. She died in 2002. AFP/Getty Images

 

At the science stations you'll find some truly precious and extraordinary specimens to explore and discuss face to face with our experts. Many have never been on public display before. It's vital that they are handled securely and the timings of the rota of exhibits runs to schedule. During the evening from 16.00 onwards, different scientists with their different chosen specimens will alternate on shift

 

Of special interest will be the complete skull of the now-extinct Yangtze River dolphin (above) on display at the Zoology Station, courtesy of our renowned mammals curator Richard Sabin. This rare female skull came into the Museum's collection in 1922. There are only a few specimens of this extinct species in museums worldwide, so preserving it is crucial. This is what Richard has to say about the Yangtze River dolphin skull:

 

'The reason I am showcasing this specimen is to highlight how the nature of museum collections and specimens can change, and how they reflect what is taking place in the world. The extinction of a large marine mammal is not only a sad loss to biodiversity, it is also a shock that you cannot adequately prepare yourself for. As curator of marine mammals, I am at a loss to express how I feel about never being able to see this species in the wild. The specimen will be used to investigate the genetic make-up of the species, which will hopefully provide data that can be used to help conserve other closely-related cetacean species.'

 

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Other Zoology Station treats include a skull of a lion kept at the Tower of London more than 500 years ago. The lions were part of the Royal Menagerie, or zoo. And Richard is also going to show some of the Museum's mummified cats (right)... I did say there would be beauties and beasts, didn't I? Our Head of zoology collections Clare Valentine will also be featuring some unusual sponges (below).

 

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Insect lovers should head off to the Past and Present Insects Station in Fossil Way for the chance to meet live creatures like the rather pretty Therea petiveriana, Domino Cockroach (pictured left), which our entomologist Ed Baker will be bringing along. These cockroaches are often kept as pets. Ed is joined by palaeontologist David Nicholson who will also present some 100-million-year-old insect fossil specimens.

 

Meteorite fans should check out the Mineralogy Station in the Central Hall. We'll have a piece of the very rare Allende carbonaceous chrondrite meteorite (below) that fell as a huge fireball in Mexico in 1969. The Museum has about 5,000 meteorite samples, which hold secrets of the formation of the solar system.

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We hear mutterings that Alan Hart, who is leading The Vault gallery tours, will be showing some excavated Devonshire gold at the Mineralogy Station.

 

sponge-800.jpgTomatoes and poisonous algae are just a few of the botanical delights at the Botany Station, including an actual old-fashioned plant press.

 

And there is the enigma of the giant beasts on the Dinosaurs and Whale Hall torchlit gallery tours, with the chance to learn about identifying worms at the Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way.

 

Moving over to the Darwin Centre Forensics Station, you'll be able to glimpse the first maggots used as forensic evidence (below) to convict a criminal in a court of law. This formed part of the famous 1935 Ruxton murder case.


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In short, 100s of star specimens and gallery treasures await you at Science Uncovered. This is your chance to witness them close up with the people who know them best.

 

After Hours: Science Uncovered is part of European Researchers' Night.

 

Read the latest news story about some of these rare specimens at Science Uncovered

 

Here are some links to related news stories about a few of these specimens that might also be of interest:

 

Did Egyptian mummification lead to the domestic cat? - news story

The Tower of London lion origins revealed - news story

Museum insect detectives join forensic team - news story

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

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On Friday 24 September, 2 weeks from now, we are planning our biggest-ever after hours event, Science Uncovered. It promises to be an amazing science festival and more.

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The Museum opens its doors until 22.00 on Friday 24 September for its biggest-ever After Hours

If you've ever wanted to visit the Museum for an evening drink and never quite made it, this is the night you should come.

 

As well as being a historic, atmospheric venue for Friday night drinks, it's the perfect event to recapture your first vivid Museum encounters as a child, like T.rex and the blue whale. As well as discover new treasures and the latest scientific and natural history research going on behind the scenes.


The event is free and the Museum's doors will stay open until 22.00. Although it's mainly for adults, there are earlier family events and shows starting about 16.00 in the afternoon. Science Uncovered is part of European Researchers' Night happening across Europe, so on the night there will be over 200 cities in Europe having their own celebrations.

 

You'll find all the details of the event on our Science Uncovered website. But in a nutshell here's what's happening:

 

We'll have 3 bars open, 26 exclusive Museum tours you can join, 9 science stations around the Central Hall to stop by and meet scientists and explore 'star' specimens, 5 special nature talks in the Darwin Centre Attenborough Studio and a Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way.

 

Over 50 of our scientists and curators are your friendly hosts throughout the evening.

 

In the next 2 weeks you'll be hearing more about the exciting and inspiring things to enjoy on the night.

 

One of the special attractions of our big event is The Science Bar in the Central Hall Cafe. Here you can join scientists for a drink at tables, in an informal atmosphere, and chat about hot science topics listed on the menu cards at the tables. You'll also be able to chat with scientists face-to-face at a variety of science stations that you'll find around the Central Hall and in the Darwin Centre and Fossil Way.

 

Before you come, maybe think about some questions you've always wanted to ask a scientist or curator. This is your chance to ask them face to face. But don't worry if you haven't got any questions, the night is for you to enjoy the galleries and listen in too.

 

Here are just a few of the scientists you may bump into during the evening.

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At the Science Bar. L to r: Roland Jenner, zoologist, on 'Is science noble?'. Karen James, botanist, on 'What stops women in science?'. Paul Taylor, palaeontologist, on 'Are we in the midst of a mass extinction?' Amoret Whitaker, forensic entomologist, on 'Would you donate your body to a body farm?'

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Face to Face science stations. L to r: Richard Sabin, mammals curator, zoology station. Sandy Knapp, botanist, botany station. Eva Valsami-Jones, nanosciences researcher, European Researchers' station. Mike Rumsey, mineralogist, mineralogy station.

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Museum tours. L to r: Alan Hart, mineralogist, The Vault gallery. Susie Maidment, palaeontology researcher, Dinosaurs torchlit tour. Roberto Miguez, zoologist, Whale Hall tour. Alex Martin, science lab manager, DNA lab tour.

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Scientists talks. L to r: Jon Ablett, zoology curator, The Giant Squid. Heather Bonney, human remains palaeontologist, A Body of Evidence. Geoff Boxshall, zoologist, Life in the Oceans. Adrian Glover, marine biologist, Mysteries of the Deep.