Dr Alex Ball

  • Electron Beam Laboratory Manager
  • Science Facilities department
  • Imaging and Analysis Centre
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road

Professional Roles

Facilities provision

Manager for the Electron Microscope Unit
Personnel responsibilities include:

  • Line manager to Dr Lauren Howard, Dr Richard Abel and Dr Stig Walsh
  • Supervising role for Dr Gay Kennaway (Museum associate) & Mr Dave Cooper (Museum associate)
  • Supervision & training of all EM Unit users & visitors

Responsibility for the day to day operation & first-line maintenance of the following equipment:

  • Philips XL30 FEG-SEM
  • Hitachi S2500 SEM
  • LEO 1455VP-SEM
  • Hitachi H7100 TEM
  • Leica TCS SP 1 confocal microscope
  • Gatan XuM X-ray Ultramicroscope
  • X-Tek HMX ST CT scanner

And all associated laboratory preparation equipment.

See the  

EMMA Facilities home page


Financial responsibilities include:
• Operational budget for EM Unit.
• Financial planning for operational running costs (with responsibilities to find savings where possible).
• Forward planning for the purchase of replacement equipment including drawing up criteria for tender documents submitted.
• Responsibility for attracting contract income to contribute towards departmental earning targets.

Training role

• Provide training & expert advice to all staff, visitors & EM Unit users to enable them to safely and effectively use the EM Unit laboratories & equipment.
• Provide training for PhD & MSc/Masters students.

Mineralogy department Health & Safety liaison officer

• Carry out departmental health & safety inspections.
• Ensure that departmental COSHH & Risk Assessments have been carried out & completed correctly.
• Maintain a database of Health & Safety documentation to demonstrate that the department is in compliance with the policies laid down by the HSU.
• Report on Health & Safety matters to departmental head & heads of divisions via Quarterly Health & Safety meetings.
• Liaise with other science departments & the HSU through the Science Health & Safety forum which reports to Science Executive.
• Obtain advice from HSU on matters relating to Health & Safety when requested.

External comittees

•         Committee member – Electron Microscope Users Group south (EMUs)

•         Committee member – Society of Electron Microscopy Technologists (SEMt)

•         Committee member – Malacological Society of London

Research Interests

Research background

My PhD concentrated on the ontogeny of the foregut of neogastropod molluscs. I still have an interest in this area, but no longer have the time to continue to carry out research in this subject.

Molluscs are fascinating creatures and offer great opportunities as model organisms to study a variety of different problems. My own research investigated the link between ontogeny and phylogeny.

On a practical level I worked with a species called Nucella lapillus which has encapsulated development. By collecting egg capsules at different stages in development I was able to build a development sequence for the larval stages. 

Specimens were fixed using conventional techniques for SEM and TEM. 

Whole larvae were photographed using SEM and specimens for light microscopy and TEM were prepared in the normal way for TEM. 

I then serial-sectioned the specimens for light microscopy at 1 micron intervals and used a fairly primitive computer-aided 3D reconstruction programme to work out the internal anatomy in three dimensions.

TEM filled in the last gaps in the puzzle by allowing me to positively identify tissue types in the developing embryos and to compare the histology between different organs.

All of this work has been published (see the refs in the publication record).

After working on Nucella, I turned my attention to cone snails. I wanted to see how different the development in the Conoidea was from the Muricoidea. Cone snails have a very different proboscis, highly evolved buccal mass and have a venom gland which seems to be a derivation of the midgut gland (gland of Leiblein) found in Nucella.

Once again, I picked a species with encapsulated development and spent several weeks collecting egg capsules of Conus anemone in Western Australia. I was not able to get as complete a developmental sequence with this species, but the stages were informative enough to show that there are some very interesting parallels between the two species. Again this work has been published.

It's clear that studying development in a model group which has a high degree of morphological diversity with "proper" organs offers a great opportunity for understanding both the development and evolution of complete organ systems.

Modern techniques, such as micro CT, still can't quite match up to the tedious and technically demanding challenge of preparing serial sections of specimens, but at least now we can photograph the specimens with a digital camera rather than having to draw the sections using a camera lucida!

Louise Page at The University of Victoria is also carrying out research in this field, see her webpages here.


and some of her publications:

Page, L.R. 2000. Development and evolution of adult feeding structures in caenogastropods: overcoming larval functional constraints. Evolution & Development 2: 25-34.

Page, L.R. and Pedersen, R.V.K. 1998. Transformation of phytoplanktivorous larvae into predatory carnivores during the development of Polinices lewisii (Mollusca, Caenogastropoda). Invertebrate Biology 117: 208-220.


My current research interests are really methodology-driven towards trying to get the best out of the wide range of instrumentation that we have available in the EMMA labs at the Natural History Museum.

We have an incredible number of visitors to our laboratories and a bewildering diversity of different specimens to examine. Finding the appropriate technique to meet the demands of the researchers requires experience and a willingness to experiment. I try to attend as many scientific meetings as I can and am active in several microscopy societies, including organising the occasional large meeting to try and bring researchers from different disciplines together.



Dauphin Y, Ball A D, Cotte M, Cuif J-P, Meibom A, Salomé M, Jean Susini, Williams C T. 2008. Structure and composition of the nacre - prisms transition in the shell of Pinctada margaritifera (Mollusca, Bivalvia) 2008. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 390: 1659-1669.

Cuif J.P. , Ball A.D., Dauphin Y. , Farre B., Nouet J. , Perez-Huerta A , Salomé M., Williams T.C., 2008 Structural, Mineralogical, and Biochemical Diversity in the Lower Part of the Pearl Layer of Cultivated Seawater Pearls from Polynesia /Microscopy and Microanalysis/ , Volume 14, Issue 05, pp 405-417

Pérez-Huerta A, Cusack M, Ball A D, WILLIAMS C T & Mackay S. 2008. Deciphering the distribution of organic components in brachiopod shells by confocal laser scanning microscopy. Journal of Microscopy 230: 94-99.


Guzman N., Ball A.D., Cuif J.P., Dauphin Y., Denis A., Ortlieb L., 2007 - Subdaily growth patterns and organo-mineral nanostructure of the growth layers in the calcitic prisms of the shell of Concholepas concholepas Bruguiere, 1789 (Gastropoda, Muricidae). Microscopy and Microanalysis 13, 5, 397-403.

 Cuif J.P., Dauphin Y., Ball A., Farre A., Nouet J., Salome M., Williams C.T., 2007 - Diachronic superposition of distinct crystallisation domains: a parallel between coral and mollusk skeletogenesis. The Oceans in the Earth System, Int. Conf. & 97th annual Meet. Geol. Ver., Bremen, abstract and poster, p. 64.


Cornish, L., Ball, A. and Russell, D. 2005. Laser cleaning of avian eggshell. Published in J Nimmrichter, Wolfgang Kautek, M Schreiner (eds).Lasers in the Conservation of Artworks LACONA VI Proceedings: Vienna, Austria, Sept. 21-25, 2005.


Close Up. Chris Jones & Alex Ball. 2004.  The Natural History Museum. 64pp


Kennaway G M, Baker A S & Ball A D. 2004. A method for preparing lightly sclerotized mites for examination by transmission electron microscopy. Systematic & Applied Acarology 9: 3­9.


Taylor, J. D., Glover, E., Peharda, M., Bigatti, G. & Ball, A. 2004. Extraordinary flexible shell sculpture: the structure and formation of calcified periostracal lamellae in Lucina pensylvanica (Bivalvia: Lucinidae). Malacologia 46 (2): 227-194.


Ball, A.D. 2002. Foregut ontogeny of the Neogastropoda: a comparison of development in Nucella lapillus and Conus anemone. Bolletino Malacologico, Supplemento 4, Roma Published in 3rd International Workshop of Malacology Menfi, June 15-19, 2000 "Systematics, Phylogeny and Biology of Neogastropoda".


Burnstock, A.R,  Jones, C.G.  and  Ball, A.D.  2002. "Morphology of the blue artist's pigment smalt using scanning electron microscopy"  In: Non-Destructive testing and Microanalysis for the Diagnostics and Conservation of  the Cultural and Environmental Heritage, R. van Grieken, K. Janssens, L. Van't dack and G.Meersman Eds, University of Antwerp (Publ). Published in full on CD-ROM.



Ball, A.D. 1999. Larval development of Conus anemone studied using scanning electron microscopy. in D.I. Walker and F.E. Wells (Eds) The Seagrass Flora and Fauna of Rottnest Island, Western Australia. Western Australian Museum, Perth.



Bieler, R.; Ball, A. D.; Mikkelsen, P. M. 1998. Marine Valvatoidea - Comments on Anatomy and Systematics with Descriptions of a New Species from Florida (Heterobranchia: Cornirostridae) Malacologia, 40, 305-320.



Ball, A. D.; Andrews, E. B.; Taylor, J. D. 1997. The ontogeny of the pleurembolic proboscis in Nucella lapillus (Gastropoda: Muricidae). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 63, 87-100.


Ball, A. D.; Taylor, J. D.; Andrews, E. B. 1997. Development of the acinous and accessory salivary glands in Nucella lapillus (Neogastropoda: Muricoidea). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 63, 245-260.


Employment history

2004-present Electron Microscope Manager, Mineralogy Department, Natural History Museum
1997       Electron Microscopist, Mineralogy Department, Natural History Museum
1996       Post-doctoral fellowship, Zoology Department, Natural History Museum
1995       Post-doctoral fellowship, Zoology Department, Royal Holloway (University of London)
1995       Post-doctoral fellowship, Zoology Department, Field Museum Chicago


1994       PhD, Zoology, Royal Holloway (University of London)
1990       BSc, Zoology, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (University of London)