I am one of a small team of curators who make up the Lower Invertebrates Curation Group, Department of Zoology. This is one of three invertebrates curation groups in the department (the other 2 are Higher Invertebrates Curation Group and Parasitic Worms). Lower Inverts look after the most diverse of these collections, spanning more than 20 phyla (animal division below kingdom and above class). The largest of our collections are :-
Within Lower Inverts, the animal group I have particular responsibility for is :- Echinodermata - starfishes and their relatives - though I also deal with Cnidaria and other groups as required.
Specimens are stored mainly as fluid-preserved (usually in alcohol), dry, and microscope slides. There are about 200,000 jars of fluid-preserved specimens in this collections group, and many tens of thousands of dry specimens and microscope slides.
These are scientific reference collections held by the Museum for study by present and future generations of international zoologists.
There are more than 20,000 specimens of echinoderms in the Zoology collections, stored in alcohol and as dry specimens (there is also a small microscope slide collection). This includes many type specimens collected on the Challenger Expedition (1872-76). The 5 main groupings of echinoderms are : Asteroidea (starfish/seastars) ; Ophiuroidea (brittlestars and basketstars) ; Crinoidea (featherstars and sea lilies) ; Echinoidea (sea urchins) ; Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers).
Although I am not a specialist researcher in this group, as well as looking after the collections I carry out identifications of specimens - using the collections and literature - as part of the department's consultancy service. As a result of this I am co-author in about 20 NHM consultancy reports.
The NHM is responsible for one of the best taxonomic websites in the world for any organism group, produced by Dr Andrew Smith in our Department of Palaeontology :-Echinoid Directory (by Andrew Smith)
As a curator my job is to maintain, conserve, document and enhance the collections, and facilitate appropriate access to users.
Specimens are forwarded to us, usually from specialist researchers, to be deposited in the collections. They are given registration numbers and stored under their scientific names. They are then available for research use now and in the future. Research groups based in the NHM study and enhance the collections. In addition, external scientists from around the world visit the department to examine specimens, or receive the specimens from us sent as a loan.
The Museum is in the process of capturing the data of its collections onto a database which can be viewed on the web. This is a work in process, but the currently-available database can be viewed as follows :-Zoology specimen database
One of the main tasks for a group such as ours which has large fluid-preserved collections, is to maintain the levels of fluid (usually alcohol: 80% industrial methylated spirits) in jars, which evaporate over time.
One of my jobs at the present time is to be involved in processing a very large collection -Chagos coral colls
- which needs to be incorporated into cupboard storage.
One of my other jobs is to co-ordinate the main part of our collections glassware order for the department.
I did a History degree in 1983-86 and then joined the NHM, where I worked in the shops for 10 years, settling in the later part of this period in the Museum bookshop. In 1996 I was very happy to secure a fixed-term curation appointment in the Mammal Group. When this expired, I obtained a fixed-term curation post in Lower Invertebrates (then Invertebrates II), where I helped in the team work of moving their entire wet collections (approx 200,000 jars), from the Spirit Building of the Museum into the new facility - Darwin Centre phase one. From the end of 2001 I have been a permanent curator in this group.