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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

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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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We recently staged the first of our new art-and-play events in the Museum's Darwin Centre. This series of free public events is being held over peak holiday periods and invites visitors to explore nature and Museum science in unusual, playful ways. The events are designed especially for these times when the Museum's central areas can get crowded, and they offer families something fun and active to get involved in.

 

For those of you who missed out on the first event, or who wondered what it was all about, here's a round-up from Sarah Punshon, the curator of the Darwin Centre Arts programme.

 

'Over the August Bank holiday weekend, the Darwin Centre was taken over by children in colourful head-dresses; puppet birds, moths and caterpillars; competitive nut-hunting, nest-building and jigsaw-racing; crafting and art for our topically-themed Nature Games Weekend.

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A family joins in the nest-building activity. Artists and scientists all helped to create about 16 different activities for our Nature Games Weekend.

'Each day more than 6,000 visitors found their way into the Darwin Centre, led through other parts of the Museum, and 100s of them joined in the games and actvities. It was a wonderful event to be involved in, free to all, and we're already planning our next extravaganza for the October half-term holidays.

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Out-flapping a beetle was one of the many challenges in the weekend's Insect Sports Day.

'The nature games were specially created for us by artists and scientists. There were games which involved making things, drawing things, identifying things, or pretending to be things – plus a challenge trail linking various natural history tasks from pond-dipping to beetle-classifying.

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Joining the giant caterpillars as they travel through galleries towards the Darwin Centre.

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The massive moth flies around the Darwin Centre after hatching at the end of the Pests game.

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A crafty young man creates his own unique beetle as part of The Ersatz Entomologist activity.

'The Orange Zone's Darwin Centre showcases the Museum’s cutting-edge science, and gives families a chance to see behind the scenes. The centre's airy atrium space, its lofty Cocoon building and outdoor Courtyard make it a perfect space to host such events. We wanted to get families interacting together and it really succeeded in doing this.

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Trying your hand at identifying species: A family takes part in the Quest challenge. 112 teams completed this task over the weekend.

'It wasn't just the children who took part either, there was lots of fantastic interaction between parents and their kids. Seeing mums and dads dressed up as termites, identifying bugs and making nests, really encouraged the youngsters to get involved. It created a friendly and supportive learning atmosphere, which is what we were hoping for.

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Outside in the Darwin Centre Courtyard competitors hunt down different 'samples', using their giant magnifying glasses.

'The Nature Games Weekend was the result of a creative collaboration with award-winning games design studio, Hide&Seek. Games designers were matched with scientists to help them develop their work. For example, lichenologist Holger Thues kindly spent time explaining the ways scientists use UV light to distinguish between different species of lichen – leading to an exciting game outside in the Courtyard called UV Detectives.

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Energetic young players go for it in the Ants vs Termites game.

'I'd like to thank all the Museum staff and volunteers who worked so hard at making the event brilliant fun for visitors, and also our artists and games designers, Andy Field, Josh Hadley, Kai-Oi Jay Yung, Simon Watt, Caroline Gardiner, Matthew Robins, and all at Hide&Seek.

 

'We all learned masses from this first event, hopefully our second one will be even better!  So look out for The Campsite, which will be happening over October half-term. Watch this space for more details...'

Enjoy a few more Nature Games Weekend pictures. Select images to enlarge them

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A young player racing to piece together The Puzzle of the Mysterious Creature

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Mum and son take part in the blindfold In Spirit challenge.

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Hunting for nuts in the Squirrels game

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Actor John Hinton calls on visitors to join the Quest for the Curious

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This family 'donated' themselves to our collection... and learned about the importance of labelling specimens correctly!


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It's a week since we revealed most of the commended and specially commended photographs that will be among the 100 winning images in the 2012 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition opening here at the Museum on 19 October.

 

I thought I'd share with you my pick of some of the amazing media coverage we've been getting for these incredible images, including the ones that show off the photographs - and the stories behind them - the most beautifully online:

 

BBC News online 5-minute interview with 2012 competition judge Roz Kidman-Cox with accompanying slideshow

 

Mail Online gallery of selected images

 

Guardian online preview in pictures

 

Stylist magazine online gallery

 

BBC World Service Mundo gallery

(If you speak Spanish, you'll enjoy this review even more.)

 

Two more of the 52 commended and specially commended images were released yesterday for exclusive features in the Times newspaper's Eureka magazine, one of which is this photograph of an awesome-looking green volcano.

volcano-1000-2.jpgThe great Maelifell by Hans Strand (Sweden), commended in the 2012 competition's Wildscapes category, captures the extinct Maelifell volcano that towers over Iceland's massive Myrdalsjökull Glacier. To get this aerial shot, the pilot flew much lower and closer than usual. The plane went so fast, says Hans, 'I managed only one single frame. It was like trying to shoot clay pigeons.' Select the images to enlarge them.

All the 52 commended and specially commended photographs can be viewed in our Commended slideshow preview on the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year website.

 

One of my favourites already is Evening rays by Swiss photographer Claudio Gazzaroli. It makes me feel happy and I want to be wading in that glorious shallow sea under the dramatic evening sky alongside the charismatic friendly-looking stingrays.

ray-1500.jpgEvening rays by Swiss photographer Claudio Gazzaroli is one of the commended images in the competition's Underwater Worlds category. 'There were about 75 of them [southern stingrays] undulating through the shallows,' says Claudio when he got this shot. 'Balancing the light was a problem... but keeping people out of the picture proved to be more of a challenge' he recalls. Snorkellers gather regularly in the waist-deep water of North Sound off the Grand Cayman island to meet these welcoming creatures.

Visit the website to find out more about the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and the judges who selected the 100 winners from the 48,000 entries submitted this year.