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As free events go one cannot expect more happenings than the annual Europe-wide celebration that is European Researchers' Night, and the Museum is just one of the 100s of institutions that once again will open its doors for an evening bonanza of science at Science Uncovered.

 

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Science Uncovered, our annual celebration of science as part of European Researchers' Night, is fun, free and gets better every year.

 

 

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4 Successful Years: as part of the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme, our Museum has successfully hosted 4 Science Uncovered evenings, one each September, with a total of more than 30,000 visitors attending so far!

 

Every year has been more popular than the previous, and with around 300 scientists taking part, our visitors have enjoyed activities as diverse as interactive science stations, debates, behind-the-scenes tours and science bars.

 

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This year's Science Uncovered is on Friday 26 September and we are confident it will be another great success. You'll be welcome to join in from 15.00 and our aim is to enthusiastically entertain you until 22.30.

 

The event will be programmed according to the 3 main strategic themes of the Museum: Sustainability, Biodiversity and Origins & Evolution and there will be activities related to these themes in the Darwin Centre, Life and Earth public galleries respectively.

 

Because I was away at the time, I wasn't able to take part in last year's Science Uncovered but I will be there this year with some of my colleague curators, in one of the forest stations, so do drop by and say hello.


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This is an opportunity not to be missed as we'll be taking with us some of our favourite specimens, usually jealously protected in our extensive state-of-the-art collections.

 

We would love to show and tell you about some of the work we do in our Museum and we'll endeavour to answer many of your questions. We'll be setting up some games to test your knowledge and stimulate your curiosity; of course there will be prizes too, but only if you are smart enough.

 

I really hope you'll be one of the thousands people who visit during the evening, joining in to celebrate biodiversity, knowledge and the importance of all inquisitive minds.

 

See you then.

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The hour is fast approaching when we open our doors to the Museum's greatest show of the year on Friday, 27 September to mark the Europe-wide event of the year, European Resarchers' Night. Of course, Science Uncovered is much more than just a show, it gives visitors exclusive and extensive access to hundreds of scientists and our collections and research. But this year, in particular. there are some unmissable star attractions. A few are hot off the press.

 

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Must-sees at Science Uncovered on 27 September include a beautifully-presented Archaeopteryx fossil and hologram on show at the Extinction Science Station from 16.00-22.00 in Fossil Way. Image courtesy of The Munich Show.

 

Following its sensation at the Munich Mineral Show - and thanks to a private collector - we are showcasing a rare Archaeopteryx fossil (thought to be the 11th known example of Archaeopteryx) at the Extinction Science Station throughout the evening. In addition to getting a glimpse of the fossil up close, a hologram brings the Archaeopteryx to life. Alan Hart, Museum Collection Manager, hails it as 'an amazing specimen, especially in the way it is presented. And the hologram reconstruction is a really innovative way of examining it.'

 

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Watch the video of Archaeopteryx and its hologram unveiled at the Munich Mineral Show

 

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Satisfy your app-etite for dinosaurs at Science Uncovered. Catch T. rex on the prowl in the Darwin Centre, using an iOS or Android device. A massive Stegasaurus can be stalked in the Central Hall.

 

Excitingly, we will also be joined by digital dinosaurs roaming the Museum around the Central Hall and Darwin Centre atrium. But to see the 3D animated dinosaurs, you'll need to download the free Aurasma app on an iOS or Android device. Then watch and listen as a realistic-looking dinosaur strides into view, using augmented reality. Museum volunteers will be on hand to help out if needed. Once you've found a dinosaur, you can take a photo of your friends with it and tweet it using the hashtag #SU2013.

 

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We've just had news that the incredibly rare T. rex fossil (pictured above being unpacked in readiness), featuring in Dr Paul Barret's Dinosaur Extinction studio event at 17.00, will now make an appearance at the Extinction Science Station from 20.30-22.00. Remember, you'll need tickets for the free Attenborough Studio events, but they are on a first-come, first-served basis, so this is another way for you to see this incredible specimen if you don't make it to the talk.

 

Along with these big blasts from the past and other amazing highlights on the night, make sure you soak up some of the really cool and quirky stuff too.

 

Get more out of gin than you can imagine over at the Darwin Centre's Food station, use a seismometer to create your own earthquake at the Natural Environment station, examine sticky crime scene evidence (and we're not just talking blood samples) at the Forensics station, or peel away layers to see the intricate insides of specimens using the Insider Explorer Table and 3D Imaging unit in the Earth Hall. And much, much more all over the Museum.

 

Family-oriented activities kick off earlier in the day, so check the website for details.

 

food-soapbox-art.jpgThe ‘beautiful’ future of food: Soapbox Art speakers from the Royal College of Art divulge their creative culinary tactics.

 

Don't forget to stop a while in the Lasting Impressions gallery (near the Birds gallery) to hear what Soapbox Art speakers have to say about their creative tactics for the future of food and where babies will come from.

 

Download a map online, or grab one when you arrive, to plan your exploration and entertainment for the evening. Keep an eye out for the scientists wearing 'talk to me' badges on your travels.

 

Download the Science Uncovered map listing all activities and locations [PDF]

 

Find out what's on at Science Uncovered

 

Countdown to Science Uncovered blogs

 

Read the recent news story about what scientists will be confronting at Science Uncovered

 

Can't make it to the event? Keep in touch with what happens on Twitter via @NHM_Live and #SU2013

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I have always enjoyed taking part in Science Uncovered with its vibrant, interesting, exciting and revealing ambience.

 

As part of the European Researchers' Night, the Natural History Museum is one of the hundred institutions in 33 countries all over Europe to open its door for a night of discovery, learning and inspiration. The Museum's Science Uncovered for 2013 is here today, Friday the 27 September from 16.00 until Midnight, and it’s free!

 

Now, having said that, unfortunately I won’t take part in this year's event! I know this is very sad news for all my fans, or rather for all the fans of Lepidoptera, because they would have been the stars of the show, not me obviously!

 

Science-Uncovered-2-science-station-copyright-NHM.jpgThe Lepidoptera Station at last year's Science Uncovered.

 

But don’t despair! There will be lots of bugs on show, from large and shiny beetles to attractive and colourful butterflies and moths. Some of my entomology colleagues will be manning Science Stations so you can get up close to their favourite specimens and find out what they're working on.

 

Display_Drawers-png.jpgSome of the entomology display drawers you might be finding at this year's Science Uncovered.

 

One of the stations not to be missed is the iCollections projectdigitising the museum’s British and Irish Lepidoptera.

 

Let me tell you few things about this project and what you’ll find if you visit the station. The iCollections project is one of many digitisation activities currently undertaken by the Museum. The aim of the project is to make part of the vast entomology collections at our Museum more accessible to the public and to researchers.

 

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The iCollections project – digitising the museum’s British and Irish Lepidoptera.

 

Each specimen of British and Irish butterflies and moths from the Museum collections is currently being photographed, and the data on the label of each specimen is also photographed and transcribed. This is great news for curatorial and scientific purposes. In fact, once the specimens have been photographed they are re-housed into new drawers that will provide better conditions for many years to come.

 

The data from the specimens will also be extremely useful to examine the pattern of distribution of the species of British and Irish Lepidoptera, and how factors such as climate change and human impact through urbanization and intensive agriculture are affecting it. The data would also be valuable to assess the scale of the historical collections of the Museum.

 

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Some of the digitisers at work.

 

Elisa.jpgOnce the specimens are digitised they are re-housed into new drawers.

 

The project started at the beginning of this year and so far the digitising team has managed to photograph more than 80,000 specimens and transcribe each of their labels.

Erebia drawer.jpgA drawer with specimens of Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops), one of the 60 or so British species of butterflies currently being digitised.

 

Apparently it is a reliable and very productive team, digitising one specimen every 2.9 minutes!

 

So, tonight, at Science Uncovered, do pay the the iCollections project Station a visit. Meet Elisa, Gerardo, Jo, Lindsey and Sara, the digitisers. They’ll be happy to tell you more about this project, answer your questions, and since the process of capturing the data from the labels is rather interesting and complex, they will have some of these labels for visitors to have a go at transcribing and deciphering them! And there’ll be prizes to be won, if you are smart enough that is!

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Meet the iCollections Project digitisers!

 

They will also have some drawers of their favourite species which have already been digitised. The digitising team will be located in the noisy Nature Games room (Marine Invertebrates Gallery), so listen out for our animal-themed buzzers!

 

Enjoy!

 

Science Uncovered takes place today, Friday 27 September at the Natural History Museum, London. Join us from 4pm to midnight.

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This week I celebrate 20 years at the Museum, and my diary has included preparing for a researchers' night highlighting museum science, Tweeting as part of #AskaCurator day and visiting a miniature steam railway.

 

Monday

 

Most of today has been spent preparing for Science Uncovered, our EU-funded researchers' night on Friday 27 September. The doors of the Museum will remain open after usual closing time and scientists like myself will be available to talk about our science, show specimens and chat. Presentations in the Nature Live Studio will also be held and it will be possible to book tours to areas of the Museum not normally open to the public.

 

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This core from the Atlantic SW of Ireland represents the last major glacial period showing glacial dropstones from colder periods (left) and white sections composed almost entirely of warm water microfossils (right). The green packets and plastic sleeve maintain an oxygen free environment.

 

We are showing some deep sea cores taken from the Atlantic Shelf off SW Ireland through sediment that was deposited during the last glaciation. It's a great opportunity to show the key role micropalaeontology plays in quantifying and dating past climatic episodes. The core relates to periods when icebergs broke off glaciers and traversed the North Atlantic.

 

Tuesday

 

A major part of my job is dealing with enquiries about our microfossil collections and subsequently hosting visits or preparing loans. Two main collections are our most requested, the Challenger Foraminifera and the Blaschka glass models of radiolarians. Since three specimens from our Blaschka collections have been on display in our Treasures Gallery, we have had an increased number of enquiries and visitors to view the other 180 specimens that are not currently on display.

 

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Image of one of our Blaschka glass radiolarian models that was widely retweeted during #AskACurator day.

 

Today we are showing the undisplayed Blaschka collection to an artist, last week it was a glassworker from Imperial College and later this week it is a photographer hoping to create a book of images from Blaschka collections across Europe.

 

Wednesday

 

I have spent virtually the whole day on Twitter monitoring questions and providing answers as part of #AskACurator day. Fellow curators from over 500 different museums and 35 different countries have been fielding questions over Twitter causing the hashtag to trend. At one stage it was globally the second most discussed subject on Twitter.

 

I answered questions like:

 

'Do you require a masters degree to become a curator?'

'Which museum, other than your own, inspired you recently?' (the Foraminiferal Sculpture Park in China)

'Which specimens in your collection give you goosebumps when you see them?' (Blaschka glass models

'What sparked your interest to become a curator?'

'Do you need to be an obsessive to be a curator?'

'Which specimen not currently on display would you like to see being displayed?' (100 year old microfossil Christmas card).

 

Many of the questions I was able to expand on using links to blog posts, particularly the one entitled 'How to become a curator'. I started to reply to the 'what is a curator?' question but could not cram 'someone who cares for a collection by enhancing its documentation and storage, maintains access to it by facilitating loans, visits and exhibits and promotes its relevance by engaging with potential users' into 140 characters.The day certainly showed what a varied job we all have, how passionate we are and that one day is never the same as another.

 

Thursday

 

My colleague Steve has worked out that we had 65 new interactions (messages, favourites, retweets, new followers) during #AskACurator day yesterday as well as some more hits to this blog. However, I am saddened as I read a well known museums blog that says that the best way to reach a wide audience is to avoid niche subjects like micropalaeontology and links direct to my blog as an example. It starts me wondering if accumulating vast numbers of hits really show that a blog is successful?

 

A string of meetings are scheduled too; we are applying for funding for a major 3 year conservation project, the photographer arrives to discuss his project and we are finishing an application to hire a new PhD project studying traits of evolution. Microfossils are extremely useful as their fossil record is relatively complete compared to other fossil groups and collections can be made relatively easily across large geographical areas.

 

Friday

 

Earlier in the week I got to work to find two of my train mad, three year old son Pelham's Thomas the Tank Engine stickers on my socks. On Monday he is starting nursery school so today we are taking him and his younger sister Blossom to one of our favourite places, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent. I feel that this family day is a suitable way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my arrival at the Museum as a volunteer.

 

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I am in Berlin - home of Checkpoint Charlie and the ex-Wall - at a Biodiversity networking meeting, talking with a totally new set of colleagues about how to connect the science we do with government policy in Europe and at home. Really interesting and has opened my eyes to a new world where nightshades are important (of course!), but where people and how they connect across cultures, languages and ways of working are even more important.

 

But while sitting in the talks and workshops, in the back of my mind I am thinking about Friday this week and the annual Science Uncovered event in London. Fortunately, I will be back in time.....  just.

 

This year, in addition to being part of the Food station with an array of potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and their friends and relatives, I will be part of Science Fess Up - where a couple of us at a time will talk with people about what WE don't know about science. Challenging? You bet! Not because there is a lack of things to talk about, but just where to start, the depths of my ignorance about lots of things is so profound........ 

 

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An array of eggplants in Avignon - all but the red one in the centre are members of the same species, Solanum melongena - the aubergine.

 

This event has been a great opportunity for me to reflect on just why I love science so much - and why I feel so lucky to be doing it as a daily job - it is a constant adventure, something new around every corner. So come along and let's talk about why its good not to know everything, and why exploring what you don't know is so exciting...oh and of course there will be lots of nightshades - thanks to new colleague Xavier Aubriot, who has just joined the team to study the nightshades of Asia - a big area where we know very little.

 

Part of the Food station will be a pile of however many different sorts of edible nightshades we have been able to find in the markets of London - we hope lots!! These crops are so much a part of our daily lives we often forget about their wild relatives that harbour important genetic diversity that will be key to improving agriculture in the face of environmental change - including that of our climate - that we know lies ahead. The taxonomic work we do here at the Museum into these species is key to unlocking this treasure trove.... come and hear about our latest ideas and adventures, and share what you think we should be thinking about!

 

See you there!

 

Science Uncovered takes place tomorrow, Friday 27 September at the Natural History Museum, London. Join us from 4pm to midnight.

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It’s Science Uncovered time again beetlers! We can’t wait to show off our beetles to the thousands of you who will be visiting the Natural History Museum on the night. We'll be revealing specimens from our scientific collections hitherto never seen by the public before! Well, maybe on Monday at the TEDx event at the Royal Albert Hall we did reveal a few treasures, including specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Charles Darwin, as seen below.

 

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Lucia talking to the audience of TEDx ALbertopolis on Monday 23rd September.

 

lydtedweb.jpgLydia and Beulah spanning 250 years of Museum collections at TEDx Albertopolis.

 

Last year we met with about 8,500 of YOU – so that’s 8,500 more people that now love beetles, right? So, as converts, you may be coming back to see and learn some more about this most speciose and diverse of organisms or you may be a Science Uncovered virgin and no doubt will be heading straight to the beetles (found in the DCII Cocoon Atrium at the Forests Station).


This year the Coleoptera team will be displaying a variety of specimens, from the weird and wonderful to the beetles we simply cannot live without! Here’s what the team will be up to...


Max Barclay, Collections Manager and TEDx speaker
For Science Uncovered I will be talking about the diversity of beetles in the tropical forests of the world. I have spent almost a year of my life in field camps in various countries and continents, and have generally come back with thousands of specimens, including new species, for the collections of the Natural History Museum. I will explain how we preserve and mount specimens, and how collections we make today differ from those made by previous generations.

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Crocker Range, Borneo - it's really hard work in the field...but, co-ordinating one's chair with one's butterfly net adds a certian sophistication.

 

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The Museum encourages its staff to be respectful of and fully integrate with local cultures whilst on fieldwork. Here is Max demonstrating seemless cultural awareness by wearing a Llama print sweater in Peru.

 

I will also talk about the Cetoniine flower chafers collected and described by Alfred Russell Wallace in the Malay Archipelago, and how we recognise Wallace’s material from other contemporary specimens, as well as the similarities and differences between techniques used and the chafers collected in Borneo by Wallace in the 1860s, Bryant in the 1910s, and expeditions of ourselves and our colleagues in the 2000s.

 

Lydia Smith and Lucia Chmurova, Specimen Mounters and trainee acrobats
As part of the forest section at Science Uncovered this year we are going to have a table centred on the diversity of life that you may see and hear in tropical forests. Scientists at the Natural History Museum are regularly venturing out to remote locations around the world in search of new specimens for its ever expanding collection.

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L&L acrobatic team on an undergraduate trip to Borneo with Plymouth University.


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Maliau Basin, Borneo: Lucia injects some colour into an otherwise pedestrian flight interception trap

 

We will be displaying some of the traps used to catch insects (and most importantly beetles!) along with showing some specimens recently collected. We will also have a sound game where you can try your luck at guessing what noises go with what forest creatures. Good luck and we look forward to seeing you!

 

Hitoshi Takano, Scientific Associate and Museum Cricketer

Honey badgers, warthogs and Toto - yes, it can only be Africa! This year at Science Uncovered, I will be talking about the wondrous beetles of the African forests and showcasing some of the specimens collected on my recent fieldtrips as well as historic specimens collected on some of the greatest African expeditions led by explorers such as David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley.

 

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Museum cricket team, The Archetypes (yes, really!). Hitoshi walking off, centre field, triumphant! Far right, Tom Simpson, Cricket Captain and one of the excellent team organising Science Uncovered for us this year.

 

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Mount Hanang, Tanzania: Jungle fever is a common problem amongst NHM staff. Prolonged amounts of time in isolated forest environments can lead to peculiar behaviour and an inability to socialise...but don't worry, he'll be fine on the night...

 

There are more dung beetle species in Africa than anywhere else in the world - find out why, how I collect them and come and look at some of the new species that have been discovered in the past few years!!

 

Beulah Garner, Curator and part-time Anneka Rice body double

Not only do I curate adult beetles, I also look after the grubs! Yes, that's right, for the first time ever we will be revealing some of the secrets of the beetle larvae collection. I can't promise it will be pretty but it will be interesting! I'll be talkng about beetle life cycles and the importance of beetles in forest ecosystems. One of the reasons why beetles are amongst the most successful organisms on the planet is because of their ability to inhabit more than one habitat in the course of their life cycles.

 

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Crocker Range, Borneo: fieldwork is often carried out on very tight budgets, food was scarce; ate deep fried Cicada to stay alive...

 

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Nourages Research Station, French Guiana: museum scientists are often deposited in inacessible habitats by request from the Queen; not all breaks for freedom are successful.

 

On display will be some horrors of the collection and the opportunity to perhaps discuss and sample what it will be like to live in a future where beetle larvae have become a staple food source (or entomophagy if you want to be precise about it)...go on, I dare you!

 

Chris Lyal, Coleoptera Researcher specialising in Weevils (Curculionidae) and champion games master

With the world in the throes of a biodiversity crisis, and the sixth extinction going on, Nations have agreed a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. The first target is to increase understanding of biodiversity and steps we can take to conserve it and use it sustainably. That puts the responsibility for increasing this understanding fairly and squarely on people like us. Now, some scientists give lectures, illustrated with complex and rigorously-constructed graphs and diagrams. Others set out physical evidence on tables, expounding with great authority on the details of the natural world. Us – we’re going to play games.

 

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Ecosystem collapse! (partially collapsed).

 

Thrill to Ecosystem Collapse! and try to predict when the complex structure will fall apart as one after another species is consigned to oblivion. Guess why the brazil nut tree is dependent on the bucket orchid! Try your luck at the Survival? game and see if you make it to species survival or go extinct. Match the threatened species in Domino Effect! Snakes and ladders as you’ve not played it before! For the more intellectual, there’s a trophic level card game (assuming we can understand the rules in time). All of this coupled with the chance to discuss some of the major issues facing the natural world (and us humans) with Museum staff and each other.

 

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Here Chris tells us a joke:

'Why did the entomologists choose the rice weevil over the acorn weevil?'

'It was the lesser of two weevils'

IMG_7063.jpgJoana Cristovao, Chris's student and assistant games mistress!

Big Nature Day at the Museum: Joana with a... what's this? This is no beetle!

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One last thought, things can get a bit out of hand late at night in the Museum, it's not just the scientists that like to come out and play once a year, it's the dinosaurs too...

 

We look forward to meeting you all on the night!

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A wonderful and unique map, showing the routes of Wallace and Darwin's journeys and explaining how both men came to discover evolution by natural selection, has just been published by Operation Wallacea in association with the Wallace Memorial Fund. An image of the map is shown below and a larger version is attached as a PDF file (see the link at the bottom of this post).

 

The map is being distributed free of charge as a high quality A2 size (42 x 59.4 cm; 16.54 x 23.39 inches) poster to all secondary schools in the UK as well as a further 10,000 schools worldwide - a GREAT way of increasing awareness of Wallace.

 

An Indonesian language version of the poster will probably also be produced for distribution to schools in Indonesia. If you would like a physical copy of the English version of the poster at cost price then please email rachael.forster@opwall.com. The price is £1 plus postage and packing.

 

I will also have a limited number of copies to give away at Science Uncovered on Friday 27 September between 17.30 and 18.30. Please come and find me at the Evolution Station in the Museum's Central Hall. Come early to avoid disappointment!

 

 

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The map comparing Darwin's and Wallace's travels, which led to them independently formulating their theory of evolution by natural selection.

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On Friday 27 September the doors of the Museum will remain open after usual closing time and scientists like me will be available to talk about our science, show specimens and chat at Science Uncovered, our EU funded Researchers' Night. Presentations in the Nature Live Studio will also be held and it will be possible to book tours to areas of the Museum not normally open to the public.

 

This year Tom, Steve and I are on the Climate Change table in Waterhouse Way demonstrating some deep sea cores taken from the Atlantic Shelf SW of Ireland. The cores were drilled through sediments representing the last ice age. Information on the distribution and composition of microfossils, allied with other scientific data, shows six 'Heinrich Events' through the last glaciation. These events are thought to relate to climate related cyclic episodes when icebergs broke off glaciers and traversed the North Atlantic.

 

Science Uncovered 2012 welcomed an incredible 8,523 visitors over the night who spoke to over 350 scientists. If it proves to be as successful as last year where we presented our microfossil zoo or 2011 when I was able to use a giant plasma screen to show some of my research then it promises to be an amazing night. Do come and join us if you can.

 

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This core from the Atlantic SW of Ireland represents the last major glacial period showing glacial dropstones from colder periods (left) and white sections composed almost entirely of warm water microfossils (right). The green packets (far right) and plastic sleeve maintain an oxygen free environment and prevent mold growth on the core.

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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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Next Friday, 27th of September, the Museum is once more opening its doors to the great and unwashed (oh sorry that is the staff...) for an afternoon and evening finding out what our scientists get up to behind the scenes. It is Science Uncovered 2013!

 

I’ll start the day in a relaxed fashion... I will be either hosting two or three Dinosnores shows for the kids of Kensington and Chelsea (up to 500 children...). I will be talking about the most venomous and poisonous insects, spiders and scorpions, and bringing out from the collection specimens to highlight these facts. 

Su-post-1.jpgThe bombardier beetle and its volitile behind...

 

There are always a lot of questions and faces being pulled, as well as some charging round as very angry bees…

 

Later on in the day we open our doors fully to the after-hours events and it is here that the chaos ensues. There will be hundreds of scientists of all forms and persuasions touting specimens that have rarely been brought out to the public. And amongst those will be me, with me maggots. 

 

There are stations dotted around the Museum with different themes e.g. Antarctica, Evolution, Space and the best one, Parasites and Pests. I was offered a station in the woods but decided that it was parasites that I wanted. I spend a lot of time discussing maggots one way or another and generally in a way that causes people to feel squeamish.

 

Su-post-img2.jpgThe maggots will be out in force at Science Uncovered.

 

But I thought that it was time to right a wrong. Many of these parasites and pests (the maggots are the dominant - and sometimes only - feeding stage of flies) are actually essential in limiting the effects of pest species as well as maintaining balance within an ecosystem.

 

So instead of just bringing out my maggots in skin, the jars of myasis flies and so on, I will bring out the adult flies and show everyone common species found in their gardens and talk about what their larvae do. An example is the wonderful Episyrphus balteatus, the marmalade hoverfly which is incredibly common throughout the UK.

 

Su-post-img3.jpgEpisyrphus balteatus, the marmalade hoverfly

 

I have just been collecting down in the Isles of Scilly and then I high tailed it up to the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands. And the marmalade hoverfly was common everywhere I went. This little beauty can crush pollen as an adult but it is the predatory nature of the larvae that I am interested in. These and many other species in this family feed on aphids! They love them! Can’t get enough of them!

 

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Dipterists undercover in Scotland...

 

Then there are the aphid midges, Aphidoletes aphidimyza, who graze on over 70 species of aphid. The larvae are vicious little predators and can consume over 80 aphids a day!!

 

Predatory_midge.jpgPredatory aphid midges, Aphidoletes aphidimyza.

 

 

And let’s not forget the truly wonderful parasitic flies – the Tachinids, whose larvae live and eat inside many a troublesome insect. Chris Raper, who is one of the leading Tachinid experts, will also be there on the night representing the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity – I suspect that he will have a few drawers of flies too….

 

But I can’t help myself and so I will bring out some of the parasitoids that we would not necessarily approve of, as they kill solitary bees and other associated kin – the Acroceridae or hunchback flies. These are too cute to be real. And yet, they have the most fascinating larvae. These youngsters have two different body forms – one for high-tailing it into the nest and the second for lazing around, gorging themselves till it’s time for them to pupate!

 

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The hunchback fly - cute are they not?

 

And have I said that there are bars? Always best to grab a scientist in their favoured environment – flies and wine…a winning combination.

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On Friday 27 September the Museum will be holding Science Uncovered, part of the Europe-wide Researchers' Night.

 

Science Uncovered involves almost all the Museum's staff and volunteers talking to visitors about their job, recent research or their favourite specimens. If that isn't enough to tempt you, how about joining one of the Museum tours, or having a drink with a scientist to talk about their work, and maybe ending the night dancing under Dippy's tail with a DJ?

 

An evening with the fossil fish

 

On the night our team will be out in force...

 

Dr Zerina Johnanson will be talking about her work on fish specimens from the London Clay. These are beautifully three-dimensional specimens, which Zerina and her colleagues have been CT-scanning to reveal their internal structures so come along on to see inside these amazing fossils.

 

Chie Heath, one of our many fantastic volunteers, will be talking about the TLC she gives specimens (otherwise known as reboxing), which she carries out on the fossil fish collection.

 

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Picture of the Holotype of Percostoma angustum, a bony fish from the London Clay of the Isle of Sheppey.

 

Do you know who Sir Arthur Smith Woodward is? Mike Smith, another member of our fantastic volunteer team will be talking about our upcoming symposium to celebrate Woodward's contributions to the palaeontology world, specifically involving fossil fish. Woodward joined the Museum when he was only 18 in 1892, and spent his entire career here.

 

fossil-fish-img2-woodward.jpgA rather serious looking Sir Arthur Smith Woodward.

 

Myself, Research Associate David Ward and volunteer David Baines will be talking about our experiences of fieldwork - why we went to Woodeaton Quarry to collect samples (see my last blog entry), the processes involved in sieving and acid-preparing specimens, and what we have found so far. Woodeaton has proved to be a great site and so far we have found an early dinosaur tooth, a very early mammal tooth, bits of crocodile and lots of microfossils.

 

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One of our many Woodeaton samples being washed before we check for fossils.

 

PhD student Joe Keating from the University of Bristol will have several fossil fish specimens on show, and will be talking about the wide diversity of fish and how they evolved over time. You may have seen Joe at a past Nature Live event.

 

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Joe Keating during his last Nature Live talk.

 

We will also have Dr Martha Richter talking about her work on fossil fish and Research Associate Sally Young talking about fossil eels.

 

There will be a member of the fossil fish team on a table in Marine Reptile Way (where all the Ichthyosaurs are displayed on the wall). So why not come along and say hi! It is a free event with lots to see and do. If you are unable to attehnd, keep up-to-date by following us on Twitter (@NHM_FossilFish) or follow the hashtag #SU2013 for updates across the whole Museum.

 

I'm now off to pack for my next fieldwork trip to Morocco! Keep checking back to hear all about it!

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This month’s letter of the month was written from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

"I am afraid the ship’s on fire."

 

These fateful words were uttered by the Captain of the Brig Helen on 6 August 1852, which was sailing from South America to London, as a fire broke out in the ship’s hold. The dramatic events of the fire and subsequent rescue of the ship’s crew and passengers are recorded in a letter from Wallace, who had spent the previous four years travelling through the Amazon, to his friend Richard Spruce (1817-1893).

 

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WCP349: Page one of the eight page letter to Spuce detailing the sinking.

 

The letter was written from the Brig Jordeson on 19 September 1852, the vessel that saved the stricken survivors after they had endured ten harrowing days and nights in a small row boat, 200 miles from the nearest land, with water seeping into the boat from numerous holes. Wallace describes how he was “scorched by the sun, [his] hands nose and ears being completely skinned, and [was] drenched every day by the seas and spray”. They finally anchored ship at Deal, Kent, on 1st October with Wallace rejoicing to Spruce

 

“Oh! Glorious day! Here we are on shore at Deal where the ship is at anchor. Such a dinner! Oh! Beef steaks and damson tart, a paradise for hungry sinners.”

 

The joy at being back on dry land in England is clear to see, made even more poignant by the terrible storms they had to endure in the English Channel the night before they anchored; storms, in which “many vessels were lost”.  

 

Wallace’s journey to the Amazon began in Leicester in 1844 when he met budding young amateur naturalist Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892), after Wallace accepted a job at the Collegiate School there. Wallace moved to Neath, Wales in 1845, but kept in regular contact with Bates, and it was this friendship that first stirred in Wallace an interest in entomology.

 

A seed was sown in Wallace’s mind after reading William Henry Edwards' book A Voyage up the River Amazon, and early in 1848 he began making plans with Bates for their own voyage to South America. This idea came to fruition as the two young, eager friends set sail from Liverpool on 26 April 1848 bound for Pará (Belém).   

 

For Wallace the aim of their Amazon trip was two-fold. Firstly, they were to go and collect specimens of birds, insects and other animals not only for their private collections, but also to sell to collectors and museums across Europe. Secondly, Wallace went with the aim of attempting to discover the mechanism of evolution. Having read the controversial Vestiges of Natural History of Creation by Robert Chambers in 1845, he became convinced of the reality of evolution, which was then known by the term of transmutation. Indeed, in a letter to Bates in 1847, he asserted that he sought to “take one family, to study thoroughly- principally with a view to the theory of the origin of species”.  

 

Wallace and Bates parted company whilst there to focus on different areas, with Wallace travelling around the Amazon basin and Rio Negro. It was here he made beautifully intricate drawings of fish species he found on the Rio Negro, and also used his land surveying skills to create a wonderfully detailed map of the Rio Negro; so detailed and accurate that it became the standard map of the river for many years. You can see this map for yourself at the museum, as it forms part of the Wallace Discovery Trail.

 

Wallace decided to leave the Amazon in 1852 after becoming quite poorly. He sadly lost his brother, Edward, in June 1851 to yellow fever, after Edward had joined Wallace and Bates earlier on the expedition. Wallace boarded the Brig Helen on 12 July, sailing for 26 days before disaster struck.

 

Wallace describes very candidly in his letter to Spruce the frantic moments after the discovery of the fire and the realisation that they would need to abandon ship. He managed to run back to his cabin and collect some items together in a small tin box. He tells Spruce he felt “foolish” in saving his watch and money. However, once aboard the life-boat his regrets at not having “saved some new shoes, cloth coat and trousers” are clear to see.

 

Tragically, Wallace lost all of his natural history specimens, so painstakingly collected over the previous two years; the specimens he collected during the first two years having been successfully posted back to his agent, and he recounts this tragedy to Spruce in the letter:

 

“My collections however were in the hold and were irrevocably lost. And now I begin to think, that almost all the reward of my four years of privation and danger were lost. What I had hitherto sent home had little more than paid my expenses and what I had in the “Helen” I calculated would realise near £500 [around £30,000 in today’s money]. But even all this might have gone with little regret had not far the richest part of my own private collection gone also. All my private collection of insects and birds since I left Pará was with me, and contained hundreds of new and beautiful species which would have rendered (I had fondly hoped) my cabinet, as far regards American species, one of the finest in Europe”

 

A few gems from this trip, however, do survive, and are preserved by us here at the Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Linnean Society. When in his cabin, frantically trying to fit as much as he could in his tin box, Wallace scooped up the drawings he had made of the fishes of the Rio Negro and of Amazonian palms. The Library’s Special Collections now hold the four volumes of fish drawings, with the palm drawings held by the Linnean. The specimens of palms collected, which are now housed in Kew’s Herbarium, were sent back during the first two years of the expedition.

 

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One of Wallace's fish drawings that we hold here at the Museum

 

At the end of his letter to Spruce, written from London on 8 October, Wallace muses about his next trip. He mentions the Andes or the Philippines as possible destinations for his next collecting expedition.

 

However, as we know, in 1854, Wallace headed out to explore the islands of the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), spending eight years there.

 

This letter of the month highlights the real danger faced by those who travelled to far flung corners of the world in the hope of advancing our understanding of the natural world, in sometimes dangerous and harsh conditions. It’s hard not to feel for Wallace having lost the fruits of his hard fought labour.

 

However, every story has a silver lining and Wallace’s Malay Archipelago trip certainly must have helped heal the wounds of the lost Amazon collections. The result of eight years hard work in south-east Asia was an unrivalled collection of 110,000 insects, 7,500 shells, 8,050 bird skins, and 410 mammal and reptile specimens, including well over a thousand species new to science. His book The Malay Archipelago, first published in 1869, is the most celebrated travel book of that region and has not been out of print since it was first published.

 

We're still tweeting about Wallace in this anniversary year and check back next month when I will be writing about another of my favourite letters.

 

Later this month on the 27 September we will be getting out a few Wallace treasures from the Library to showcase at the free to attend Science Uncovered. It promises to be an exciting night and you can see the Wallace treasures along with other items from the Library's amazing collections by booking a free Treasure's of the Library tour.

 

-Caroline-

Wallace Correspondence Project

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The Earth Hall on Science Uncovered night last month. Bustling with cosmic and creative activity, cutting edge technology and prehistoric wonders. More pictures below.

 

Tonight, Friday 26 October, is a very special night for 10 lucky science and natural history fans, as they will be spending an exclusive evening sleeping over at the Museum.

 

At 28 September's Science Uncovered evening we ran a discovery trail called Stamped on Science and 5 attendees who completed the trail were drawn from almost 200 entries and won themselves, and a guest, an amazing overnight experience in our hallowed Central Hall, and tonight is the big night.

 

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One of the many Stamped on Science-ers collecting a stamp on the night.

After they've enjoyed all we have on offer as part of our monthly Friday Lates with MasterCard, the 10 attendees will begin their unforgettable experience.

 

Museum scientists Dr Adrian Glover and Dr Victoria Herridge will guide them on exclusive behind-the-scenes tours and bring out specimens not normally on display to the public while they talk about their research.

 

After a night's sleep alongside the giant sequoia, in the upper Central Hall gallery, the lucky 10 will enjoy a continental breakfast under our iconic Diplodocus skeleton, Dippy. They'll then be taken on a tour of our Zoology Spirit Building and get early access to our ever-popular Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 exhibition.

 

Sounds like a lot of fun for those lucky 5 winners and their guests, who were just a fraction of the 9,077 visitors we had through the South Kensington doors (another 554 attended Tring) for our third annual Science Uncovered festival last month.

 

More than 500 scientists, staff, volunteers and visiting experts helped make the event possible and we're sure everyone who attended will agree it was a wonderful evening.

 

Have a look at some of our favourite pictures and see for yourself. Select the images to enlarge them.

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At the Space Station comets were re-created using (mostly) household ingredients: dry ice, gravel (for the carbonaceous materials), worcester sauce (for the organic materials) and Mr Muscle (for the ammonia).

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The skulls and other remains of our ancient ancestors at the Human Origins Station were a talking point for lots of visitors who chatted to Museum experts on the subject of where we came from.

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Making your own cave art was a popular activity and resulted in a colourful display of familiar images and more contemporary hands-on contributions.

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A state-of-the-art digital specimen table uncovered layers of a mummified cat (pictured) and Martian meteorites with the swipe of a finger.

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Discovering the magic of minerals and their structures

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The incredible palaeontological specimens at the Extinction Station station were a hit.

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Scientists enjoyed the chance to chat about their research and show off their specimens, including here at the Ocean Stations (above and below).

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Sea silk, one of the strange underwater specimens on show at the Oceans Station.

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The Antarctica Science Station gave people a taste of the cold conditions scientists, researchers and explorers experience at the South Pole.

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Many of the younger visitors could be found experimenting at being a vet and treating some very cuddly (toy) creatures at the Vets Station.

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Behind-the-scenes tours gave visitors the chance to step into the role of scientist in our labs.

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The tour of the Museum's library proved popular for its special access to historic artwork and texts.

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Our roaming animal handlers let those brave enough hold real live animals.

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The Food Station was as colourful and tasty as we would expect.

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The Sopabox Art sessions attracted curious listeners, especially the discussion about breeding a mouse with the DNA of Elvis.

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Science Fight Club in full sway.

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The night was made all the merrier by the specially-concocted Science Uncovered cocktail, the Pollinator.

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And who found out what this hairy brain-like mystery speciman was?
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cocktail-long-1000.jpgAs our mighty Visitor Services team, caterers and planners swing into action for the Museum's biggest event of the year later today, and our Museum scientists make final preparations on their choice specimens, exhibits, equipment and talks for the show, I'm thinking of the things I will definitely be doing in a few hours time when I leave the office myself and visit Science Uncovered. It opens to the public at 16.00 and goes on until 23.00.

 

High on my list is, naturally, sipping The Pollinator cocktail (left) created exclusively for tonight's occasion. Its ingredients can't be revealed, but I've heard it is infused with vanilla and smells delicious, and is inspired by the pollination process... mmm nice! This concoction is available at the Cocktail bar in the Darwin Centre, and right next to the Food Station, which was a really cool place to hang out last year and have some really fruitful conversations.

 

Before heading over to the Darwin Centre, I hope to witness the volcano erupting at the Earth Station in the Earth Hall. And on my way from Earth to the Green Bar, I'll stop to listen to the Soapbox Art speakers in the Lasting Impressions gallery. I'm really intrigued about the possibility of a genetically-cloned Elvis mouse (below left) and perplexed by the prospect of women giving birth to endangered dolphins if the future need arose...

 

Both these somewhat surreal subjects and the speculative uses of scientific advancement, as seen through the eyes of budding Royal College of Art design graduates, are sure to give great food for thought. Soapbox Art is a new addition this year.

 

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'Tails' of mice at Science Uncovered tonight. Left a mouse that could be genetically-cloned from Elvis hair samples... featured in a Soabpox Art session; right a locust devouring a mouse at the Parasites/Pests Station.

On the subject of mice and pests, there will be more to explore at the Darwin Centre science stations. I definitely need to see the locust caught in the act of devouring a mouse at the Parasites/Pests Station, where I heard a rumour there might also be edible chocolate parasites. And I must remember to get some inside information at the Vets Station for a little person I know who wants to become a vetinary surgeon.

 

Another must is the roaming digital specimen table (below) where I'll have a go - if I can get a look in - at unwrapping a mummified cat and examining the core of the rare Tissint Martian meteorite. The table will be in the Earth Hall (where you can also see the Imaging Station) from 16.00 - 20.00, moving to the Earth globe just outside the Earth Hall from 20.00 - 22.00.


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And of course, I'll be drawn to weird fish, ancient skull cups, gorgeous butterflies, giant bugs, native gold, glowing minerals, amazing CT scans and much, much more along the way.

 

For anyone interested in science and in our planet's history, its solar system and its future, this is the place to be in London tonight.

 

Find out about the Science Stations and everything that's on tonight at Science Uncovered

 

Read the news story about the digital specimen table

 

Download the Science Uncovered map [PDF]

 

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Of course, if you're in Hertfordshire and close to our Museum at Tring, you can join in their amazing Science Uncovered at Tring night there too. The Edge of Extinction display and talk about birds, which is Tring's special area of research, promises to be fascinating as do some of their special bird art presentations. Pictured above is the forest owlet that has recently been making a recovery and actually 'returning from the dead'.

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Rosie Waldron, one of our Nature Live team who will be working at Science Uncovered - our fantastic night of events to celebrate science at the Museum - tells us about one of the things you shouldn't miss when you attend:

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'If you've ever dreamed of spending a night at the Museum and are coming to Scibutterfly-stamp-22.jpgence Uncovered this Friday 28 September, one of the things you must do is the Stamped on Science trail. The prize for 5 lucky people is a pair of tickets to an exclusive sleepover here.

 

'To enter all you need to do is pick up a Science Uncovered map at the Central Hall Welcome Desk when you arrive at the event, and look for the Stamped on Science trail printed on it. There are six stamps you need to collect (you can crab-200.jpgalso download a PDF of the map at the bottom of this blog post.)

 

'As you enjoy the Science Uncovered activities around the Museum, look out for Stamped on Science staff who will be handing out the stamps at six different locations acorss the Museum building as indicated on the map.

 

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'Once you have collected all six stamps you should take your completed map to

the Stamped on Science desk in the Central Hall and you will be entered into the prize draw.

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'The draw takes place at 22.00 on the evening. But in case you've left by then, once you've provided your name and phone number on the completed trail, we'll be in touch (if you win!).skull-200.jpg

 

'The five lucky people who are randomly drawn win an exclusive sleepover at the Museum for themselves and a friend which will be on 26 October 2012.

 

'The stree-200.jpgleepover event is called Science Under the Covers and includes behind-the-scenes tours with Museum scientists, a field camp experience overlooking the Central Hall and breakfast in the morning under our Diplodocus skeleton's tail...'

 

 

Science Uncovered starts at 16.00 and goes on until 23.00 - find all the details on the website