To celebrate the countdown to Christmas, two of our geology curators have been revealing daily treats from their collections.
Last December, micropalaeontology curator Dr Giles Miller tweeted a series of patterned slides made up of microfossils including a miniature Christmas card, and this year he’s back with something a little bigger.
Model of Globigerinoides 'Santa' sacculifer.
In fact, the specimens are 10s to 100s of times larger than they are in real life – they’re samples from our new microfossil tree. The tree is a gift from scientist Zheng Shouyi of the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, who oversaw the creation of a foraminiferal sculpture park in Zhongshan City, China.
The tree is made up of 120 plastic models of usually microscopic single-celled marine organisms. The delicate models represent the wide variety of shell compositions and structures found in nature.
The microfossil tree.
The tree is not only full of beautiful specimens, but a welcome addition to our collections. Says Dr Miller:
It helps us explain the relevance of tiny objects normally hidden behind the scenes and illustrate our science. Eleven of the species modelled are species for which we hold the type specimen and are amongst the specimens that I curate.
The tree was first unveiled at this year’s Science Uncovered event, and while a permanent spot in the galleries is found for it, a few examples of the little sculptures will be on display in 2015.
Although not dressed up in festive gear, Dr Miller’s favourite specimens tweeted so far are the star-like pair of Hantkeninids, which he says are ‘amazingly beautiful and scientifically important for climate change studies’.
Ore-some festive treats
Ores collection curator Helena Toman decided to highlight a select few samples from the Museum’s extensive collection of ores - naturally-occurring minerals or assemblage of minerals from which economically important constituents, particularly metals, can be extracted.
I like to think of economic geology as occupying one of those crucial interfaces between science and society and so one of my challenges is to make the science accessible to society.
I wanted people to understand just how crucial economic geology is to their everyday lives - how each and every one of us act as a catalyst for mining.
She had a lot of choice for specimens – the collection began its life in the Museum of Practical Geology in 1838, and has now grown to more than 16,000 specimens, representing one of the best historical records for global mining activities.
The collection is very active – constantly growing through fieldwork, donations and acquisitions, and being used for research and public outreach.
One of her favourites even made it to Parliament this year to help inform ministers about the importance and relevance of the UK’s geological heritage. The sample is from the famous Geevor tin mine in Cornwall, and includes veins of copper.
Sample of ore from the Geevor tin mine.
Another favourite is a stunning example of cobalt ore from Morocco, which Helena collected herself on a recent fieldtrip.
This sample not only represents the experience of a wonderful and successful fieldtrip but also highlights the cutting edge research that Museum scientists are taking part in, using microbes to extract metals from their ores. The textures within this sample are also incredible – ores rarely get prettier!
Cobalt ore from Morocco.
All our curators are enthusiastic about their collections, and Helena hopes her and Dr Miller’s efforts will inspire others to dust off some of their favourite specimens:
I would love the format to be adopted by other curators as an annual method by which the Museum promotes the important work that curators have done, behind the scenes, that year. The calendar is a fun, approachable method that allows curators to have a voice/corner in which to show the world why our collections matter.