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'Winter draws on' as my gran used to say, and unbelievably it's our last After Hours with MasterCard of 2011 already.

 

Outside, Ice Rink pealights are wrapped in sparkling coils around the plane trees in the Museum garden and the bright lights of the carousel remind us that the festive season is upon us. And I am now squeaking like Minnie Mouse due to festive laryngitis. My After Hours catering manager, Ed Watts, is promising me a restorative glass of something sparkling laced with Lemsip at our Central Hall bar at tonight's free event.

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At tonight's After Hours do a spot of chilled-out Christmas shopping in our beautiful Museum Shop

Other unusual combinations are on offer at After Hours this week. This is one occasion you can actually chill out and do a spot of Christmas shopping in our Museum shop at the same time – and that is not something one can say of many places in London at  this time.

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I have myself been peering short-sightedly into the jewellery cabinets in our shops looking for present ideas (mostly for me) and there are some beautiful designs and objects based on the natural world at various prices, like our bestselling ‘real leaf’ jewellery range (right). If jewellery isn't your bag we have a very good choice of natural history books, Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year prints, stocking fillers and soft toys, including a Christmassy cuddly reindeer (left) I was very tempted by.

 

You can also experience the unusual combination of dinosaurs and forensic detection - though, sadly, not at the same time - by visiting our iconic Dinosaurs gallery and taking part in Crime Scene Live: The Box of Bones event. Not only are our Crime Scene Live events special, they are also award-winning. Earlier this week the Crime Scene event we held at June’s After Hours won best event in a public space at the Eventia Awards 2011 in London. These awards recognise excellence in the events industry, and ours beat the Royal Wedding live event coverage and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Ryder Cup! We were as pleased as punch.

 

And look out for Drawabout, a theatrical ‘off-piste’ drawing class who will be roaming around, accompanied by a roving minstrel. They'll improvise songs about you if you agree to be drawn! It sounds like great fun and you can take the picture home with you if you like.

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But the main course at our last-one-before-Christmas After Hours with Mastercard is the late opening of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of theYear 2011 exhibition. The exhibition (featured above) is pretty much sold out now, so we hope you have already bought your ticket (although there may still be some at walk-up). Call 020 7942 5725 to see if there are stil some tickets left for tonight. Even if you don't visit the exhibition you can have a browse in the fabulous exhibition shop and enjoy a drink at our bars or a delicious bowl platter at our Gold Café Bar while listening to live jazz.

 

See what Christmas gift ideas to look out for in the Museum Shops

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Following the amazing success of last year's event, we're gearing up for our second Science Uncovered festival on Friday 23 September.

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The Museum's Science Uncovered event celebrates European Researchers' Night in London, and we join over 300 other cities across Europe in our festivities.

 

This year looks set to be on a much grander and more impressive scale than in 2010. We're opening a lot more of the Museum on the night. The dazzling array of shows, discussion opportunities, behind-the-scenes tours and fun activities such as Crime Scene Live and Science Fight Club, will reveal just how varied and cutting-edge our scientific research is here.

 

To avoid disappointment through some activities being over-subscribed on the night, you can pre-book tickets in advance. The evening is free to attend and all the activiities are free. Even if you don't pre-book, there are lots of things to drop-in on and enjoy during the evening and some family activities that start in the late afternoon.

 

I asked Stephen Roberts, the Museum's Nature Live team manager, who's masterminding this science extravaganza to tell us more:

 

'This year's Science Uncovered is a mind-boggling realisation! There are hundreds of different opportunities for visitors to spend time with some of the world's greatest scientists who are coming out, for one night only, in the stunning setting of the Museum at night, and over a drink too.

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A star attraction at the Zoology Science Station in Fossil Way is sure to be the Tasmanian tiger cub specimen held in our collections. The above is a mounted adult specimen of the now extinct Tasmanian tiger.

'Two hundred of our own scientists are joined by over 100 other researchers from around London whose expertise ranges from mammoths to Mars, phytoplankton to philosophy and surgery to spiders. There is, quite literally, something for everybody.

 

'As well as the amazing objects coming out of the collections for the first time, like the now extinct Tasmanian tiger (pictured above) an unprecedented 92 tours will take visitors to some of our favourite places and spaces in and around the Museum.

 

'The word unmissable is bandied about in the media, but if ever there were a time to use it for something happening at the Museum, this is it!'

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Meteorites like Tamdakht above, which fell in Morocco 2008, are helping our scientists reveal the secrets of our solar system. The meteorite is on show at Science Uncovered's Space Station in the Museum's Red Zone.

Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum says: 'We’re looking forward to welcoming even more people to this year’s event [about 7,000 visitors came in 2010], and inspiring them to take a fresh look at a subject they thought they already knew.'

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So with five bars open and over 150 activites to join, it should be a great night out.

 

Have a look at our website to find out what's on. And if you're nearer Hertfordshire than London, our Tring Museum is also joining us on the night with its own celebrations.

 

See what's on at Science Uncovered at the Natual History Museum, London

 

Find out what's on at Science Uncovered at the Tring Museum

 

Book online for Science Uncovered ticketed events

 

You can also join our Science Uncovered community online now to see what scientists are preparing to discuss on the night and for more news and views.

 

Right: One of the Museum tours at Science Uncovered takes visitors into our Conservation Unit, pictured here, where you'll see how we mend everything from broken bones to casts and books.

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Last week, we joined the likes of Mica Paris and Twiggy at a glitzy awards ceremony to receive 2 top tourism awards for the Best London for Free Experience and the Best Family Fun. We won both these prestigious Evening Standard People's Choice awards, which form part of the BT Visit London Awards, for the second year in a row.

 

The ceremony took place at the theatrical Bloomsbury Big Top (shown below) on 8 December to celebrate the best of tourism in the capital. The event was hosted by TV presenter Neil Fox. Olympic gold-winner Dame Kelly Holmes presented the Outstanding Achievement Award to winner, Twiggy.

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Our head of Visitor Services Sandy Clark and Head of the Formal Learning team Aby Tinkler - pictured here with Mica Paris who performed on the night - were there to accept the awards.

 

Sandy told me: "To be voted by our visitors as the best in these two categories is a fantastic achievement and a great honour. And a huge thank-you should go to all those visitors who voted for the Museum in these awards

 

"For me the People's Choice awards gives approval from our visitors to what we do and how we do it, and that is something that all of us in our industry aim for.

 

"Winning these awards was made all the more rewarding and humbling because we up against such a high calibre of attractions.

 

"The whole of the Natural History Museum team should be congratulated for all their hard work in making the Museum such a popular and exciting place to both work and visit."

 

It's been a great year for the Museum's visitors with a record number of more than 4.5 million people enjoying our galleries so we must be doing something right.

 

Read the news story to find out more the Museum's visitor attractions and the Visit London Awards

 

The week before, the Museum hosted this year's Green Awards ceremony where it was announced that the UN's 2010 International Year of Biodiversity campaign had won the Best Green International Campaign Award. Over 450 organisations including the Natural History Museum are part of the IYB-UK partnership, so this was another honour for us.

 

Read the news story about the Best Green International Campaign Award