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November 2014

European Science Foundation Exploratory Workshop

Posted by Chris Cleal on 26 November 2014

Conference delegates

Two weeks ago, Botany Curators at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Cardiff welcomed scientists from across Europe, including Romania, Bulgaria, Germany and Spain. The visitors, who are all experts in the study of plant fossils and pollen analysis, spent two days discussing how best to study the changes that have occurred in plant diversity over the last 400 million years. These changes are important as they help scientists understand how vegetation has influenced climate and environmental change in the past.  The meeting included 17 presentations discussing the vegetation from different geological time periods. The visitors also had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at National Museum Cardiff to see a selection of rare plant fossils from the David Davies Collection and pollen specimens from the Hyde Collection.  This meeting was fully funded by an exclusive grant from the European Science Foundation. It is intended that the workshop will inspire a series of international collaborative projects that will maintain the Museum’s reputation as a centre of excellence in this field.

We produced a Storify Story based on Tweets made throughout the conference.

Magnificent Molluscs

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 25 November 2014

Our 'Magnificent Molluscs' Storify story about #MolluscMonday

Every Monday curatorial staff from the Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales highlight some of the fantastic mollusc specimens from our collections, on Twitter using the hashtag #MolluscMonday

The Molluscan collections at Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales number some 180,000 lots from many different collections which have been amalgamated into one systematic sequence.

The most historically important part of the collections is the Melvill-Tomlin collection which came to us in 1955 and contains over 1,000,000 specimens!

Want to find out more? Why not follow us on Twitter @CardiffCurator or @NatHistConserve or follow the hashtag #MolluscMonday to find out about this fascinating group of animals. Lots of people have been joining in so why not join in the fun!

We have compiled a collection of our favourite #MolluscMonday Tweets on Storify. We also do #BotanicMonday, #WormWedneday and #FossilFriday

Storage of entomology collections in museums

Posted by Christian Baars on 25 November 2014

What is the best way to store insect collections? Recently an enquiry was posted on NHCOLL-L (electronic forum for the care and use of natural history collections) about the use of wood as a material for insect storage cabinets. The question was:

What kind of preservative should be used to treat some new storage cabinets made of eucalyptus wood, that would not harm the insect specimens stored inside them?

The post sparked a discussion about ideal insect storage. Below is a little summary of the factors to consider when planning storage for your entomology collection.

The ideal solution

The ideal solution for insect storage in most situations are metal cabinets, which are robust, relatively cheap, made with a high degree of consistency and can be made air tight (well, almost). This will protect the collection against insect infestations, airborne pollutants and humidity fluctuations (although not temperature fluctuations – cf. Szcepanowska et al. 2013.

Why use wood preservatives?

However, if you do need to use wood for the cabinets, you should consider the following concerns.

Usually, the reasons for treating wood with preservatives are either:

  • to make it more hard-wearing (in the case of wooden floors), or
  • to stop it being attacked by fungi or insects, or
  • to prevent it from greying when exposed to UV light.

Most of these issues are problems mainly in outdoor applications of wood, and there are a number of ways of dealing with these: wood can be varnished to make it protect it from physical impacts, stained to protect it from UV light, and pressure-treated or painted with insecticides and fungicides (ranging from highly toxic substances, such as pentachlorophenol, to less hazardous ones, such as borax).

Assuming the entomology store is dry, has a low relative humidity, clean and there is no problem with insect pests – which should all be the case to safeguard the collection, never mind the storage cabinets – there is really no reason why the cabinets need a finish at all. This applies to all woods – whether in a museum or in a domestic situation, wood used indoors should not require any treatment to protect it from fungal or insect infestations, or greying. Coming back to eucalyptus wood in particular: this has a naturally high content of polyphenols, which makes it naturally resistant to mould growth and insect attack, further negating the need to treat it.

There is one exception: if old cabinets are bought from another institution there is a danger that pest insects may be present already, which could introduce them into the new location. It is advisable therefore to check any old cabinets thoroughly before they are installed – better still, before they are transported to the new location. This then gives time to investigate appropriate treatment options, which are not restricted to chemical means; instead, the units may be frozen, heat-treated or treated in a nitrogen chamber. But that is an entirely different subject which shall be discussed in detail elsewhere.

Organic acid emissions

A further question was the issue of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Wood naturally emits many different VOCs, including acetic and formic acids, which is a problem in many museum collections (e.g. causing Byne’s disease in Mollusca and egg collections, and enhancing pyrite decay in geological collections). There does not appear to be a problem with VOCs affecting insect specimens themselves, although organic acids frequently lead to pin corrosion in insect collections. Many wood preservatives may exacerbate the problem of VOC emissions from storage cabinets. As we always look for ways of lowering such airborne pollutants in museum stores and galleries there is another reason against the use of wood preservatives in entomology stores – actually, ANY museum stores.

What material to choose for the drawers? Experience has shown that plastic drawers have problems with static electricity charging, which attracts dust. Metal drawers can be heavy and unwieldy. Wooden drawers still appear to be very much the most practical way of storing insects. However, the type of wood used should not emit large amounts of VOCs, and the drawers should have well-fitting lids to keep out pests. If you wanted to use a locally sourced (sustainable and ethical) wood you might have to undertake a little research. Generally, hard woods are better than softwoods (drawers made from softwood can warp with time and often contain large amounts of resin), although many imported tropical woods used in days gone by are now controversial for environmental and social reasons. When researching the potential suitability of different wood types, try tracking down a comparative study of the VOC emissions of different local hardwoods, which would give you an indication of those high emission species to avoid in the construction of drawers.

Further guidance

The UK’s Natural Sciences Collections Association [http://www.natsca.org/] has published some guidance on the construction of insect storage units:

NHCOLL-L is a general purpose electronic forum for those with an interest in the care, management, computerization, conservation and use of natural history collections. Hosted by Yale University, NHCOLL-L is co-sponsored by the Society of the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) and the Association for Systematic Collections (ASC, Natural History Collections Alliance).

Disclaimer: The links in this article are purely examples of potential pest management but by no means an endorsement of particular companies or organisations.

Your Questions, My Answers

Posted by Liam Doyle on 21 November 2014

Thank you bulb buddies from Professor Plant and baby bulb!

Hello bulb buddies!

St. Paul's Primary School:

My name is A and I am 9 years old. It is my job all next week to take the weather measurements for you. I think I will enjoy it as I love being in the garden. Prof P – Hello Aiden and everyone else at St Paul’s. It sounds like you are doing a great job recording the weather. Keep up the good work!

Kilmory Primary School:

unable to record rainfall accurately Thurs 22mm Friday 26mm. Prof P – Hi Kilmory, do you need any help with measuring rainfall? Or was your gauge just knocked over?

St. Brigid's School:

It has been a cold and wet start to our bulb investigation. We have all made labels and they are standing up nicely in their pots in a safe part of the school. We are all looking forward to seeing the final results. Prof P – Well done to everybody at St Brigid’s. I hope you all had lots of fun planting and making labels. I’m looking forward to seeing your results too!

Ysgol Rhys Prichard:

Very windy on Thursday and heavy rain over night Crisp and clear on Bonfire Night. Very windy on Thursday 13th. A tree blew down near school. Prof P – Da iawn Ysgol Rhys Prichard. Great weather reporting. I hope you all had a good Bonfire Night!

Llanharan Primary School:

Is Monday's rainfall a record of all the rain caught on the weekend? Prof P – Hi everyone at Llanharan. This is a really good question. Yes it is, otherwise we would have no record of the rain that falls over the weekend. I can see that you have already done this for last week’s data, so good job!

Rougemont Junior School:

We planted our baby bulbs on the 27th in line with Scotland. Please remember Professor we were on holiday when Wales were planting. What with fireworks and the cold snap of weather we hope they are tucked up safe and warm! Rougemont year 5 and 6. Prof P – Good job Rougemont. I hope you all enjoyed your holiday. I’ll be sure to remember that you started on the 27th. Your bulbs are tucked up in a nice blanket of soil so they don’t need to worry about the cold!

Bickerstaffe CE Primary School:

We will do as many as we can through the week, can't guarantee every day. Readings will all be taken close to 9.00 a.m.

Rain recorded on Tuesday morning will have been the total for Sat, Sun and Monday

Prof P – Hello Bickerstaffe! Don’t worry if you miss a few days, just do as much as you can. If possible it might be better to take the weather measurements in the afternoon so you get a better picture of that day’s conditions. But as long as you record at roughly the same time each day then it doesn’t really matter.

Guardbridge Primary School:

It rained a lot on Friday. Prof P – Hello Guardbridge, well done for watching the weather closely. It rained a lot in Wales on that day too.

Rivington Foundation Primary School:

Friday was a very rainy day! Prof P – Oh dear! I hope you all stayed warm and dry inside.

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School:

We are really excited at being involved in this project. We have enjoyed clearing the weeds to plant our daffodils and planting all our bulbs. It is fun taking turns to check the rainfall and temperature. Prof P – Hello to everyone at the Blessed Sacrament. It sounds like you all worked very hard planting your bulbs, well done!

Stanford in the Vale Primary School:

A very cold start to the day on Tuesday and Wednesday! Lots and lots of rain Thursday night....bright blue clear sky today! And the sun is shinning. Prof P – Great weather reporting. It’s nice to hear the sun is shining in Oxfordshire!

St. Paul's Primary School:

hi its  its been really raining this week. Prof P – Thanks for the weather information! I’m sorry that you’ve had a rainy week, but at least the plants won’t be thirsty!

Glyncollen Primary School:

We are really enjoying taking care of our bulbs and reading the rainfall and temperature measurements.

We are not sure if our thermometer is working properly because it has been giving us high readings and the weather has been colder this week. On Wednesday we put a new thermometer outside and our readings now seem closer to what the weather forecast says. Is it possible for you to send us a new thermometer please? Diolch yn fawr. Blwyddyn 4 Prof P – Da iawn Glyncollen! I’m really glad you’re enjoying the project. You’re right, your temperature readings do seem very high. I’ll send you a new thermometer as soon as possible.

Ysgol Iau Hen Golwyn:

Hi. We are year 4 in Ysgol Hen Golwyn. We like doing the project and we have completed the first week. We like your beard. Some of our pots were knocked over and the rain gauge was tipped over too but everything is going to plan now. Prof P – Hello Year 4! I’m glad you’re enjoying the project. Don’t worry too much about things getting knocked over. Problems like that are part of life as a scientist.

Ysgol Bro Eirwg:

Rydyn ni wedi mwynhau dysgu a chofnodi yr wythnos hon! Prof P – Da iawn pawb!

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School:

We are taking it in turns to collect the weather data. The weather has been very wet and windy at times. But it is cool to be a scientist, even if you miss a bit of football! H Prof P – Thank you for the weather data! You’re right, it is cool to be a scientist. I hope you didn’t miss too much football!

Coppull Parish Primary School:

My Year 4 children have recorded these by themselves. They could be the other way around. For example I have switched Thursday's temperature number with Thursday's Rainfall number. It didn't seem to be zero degrees celcius that day and the children wrote mm in the temperature boxes. Hmmmmm. mm also cropped up in the temperature on Wed. Marie Codd Science Leader and Forest School Leader. Prof P – Hi Marie. It’s great that the children are recording the data themselves. It is still very early in the project so there are bound to be some mistakes. I’m sure that by the end of the year you will all be experts. Well done everyone!

Kids in Museums Takeover Day 2014

Posted by Grace Todd on 19 November 2014

A great idea - have children design posters to advertise the exhibition to children

Presenting their ideas

describe your feelings on art using pictures

Hard at work

On November 13th Class Hawk from Trelai Primary joined us for Kids in Museums Takeover day. They tested out some new activities and trails that have been developed for the Artes Mundi exhibition. In the afternoon they worked on developing their own ideas for activities. These were presented to Artes Mundi who will be incorporating some of them into new resources for children. The class came up with some excellent ideas for activities that could be done in any gallery space which we wanted to share, you can see them below.

Thanks and a big hand to Class Hawk and Mr.Cole for all your hard work and excellent fun!

CLASS HAWK'S IDEAS

Pick some words that describe the space you are in/the works on display and make a word-cloud from them

Use this to make a rap

Find the names of artists and works and make a word search for them

Describe how the works of art make you feel using pictures

Make masks inspired by the works on display

Have an I Spy game to play in the space where we have to find things on a check list  - these could be parts of a work of art or words like the names of artists

We like activities that helps us move slowly through the space and appreciate the work

The Adventures of Arthur the Arthropleura

Posted by Annette Townsend on 11 November 2014

Arthur before conservation

Arthur has a bath

Arthur after conservation

Arthur visits the impressionists

» View full post to see all images

In June this year the Natural Sciences Department received a rather special donation from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; a life size model of a giant millipede, Arthropleura, that would have lived in the Carboniferous Period, 300 million years ago. Arthropleura is the largest invertebrate (creepy-crawly) ever known to have lived on land, reaching up to 2.6 metres in length, but despite its monstrous proportions it is thought to have been a harmless herbivore.

The model was originally on display in Kew Garden’s Evolution House but when the space was dismantled in preparation for the HLF funded restoration of the Temperate House, it was no longer needed. So it was donated to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, thanks to the generosity of Chris Mills, David Cook and Jonathan Farley at Kew.

The Arthropleura model was in need of some substantial conservation work when it arrived at AC-NMC. It had been on open display for many years in a glass house alongside living plants and was damaged and rusty. The humid display environment had caused the surface paint to flake away and several spiders and snails had taken up residence on the underside of the model!

The first job was to give the model a good wash with hot soapy water and remove the dirt and cobwebs! Then all the flaking paint was scrubbed off, the damaged areas on the legs and head were rebuilt with an epoxy putty and the surface textures recreated. The nuts and bolts of the removable antennae had rusted together, so the metal parts were replaced with new stainless steel threaded rods.

Once the repairs were complete the model was carefully painted with acrylics and then coated in a durable varnish, making it once again suitable for public display.

Some of the Natural Science staff had become rather attached to the impressive 1.5m long millipede model whilst it underwent conservation work in the lab and named it Arthur the Arthropleura! We also decided to have a bit of Halloween fun with Arthur… so he “escaped” and went on the run around the museum galleries! We posted pictures of his adventures on the @CardiffCurator Natural Sciences Twitter account and had a fantastic response from our followers. Arthur the Arthropleura is now a social media star and is a really wonderful addition to our collections!         

Finally autumn

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 10 November 2014
Beech trees

Hello bulb buddies!

I hope you’re all having fun looking after your bulbs.

Autumn has finally arrived in Cardiff. There is a chill in the air and the leaves on the trees are turning lovely shades of orange, yellow and brown.

Autumn has arrived late this year. October’s weather was warmer and wetter than average and this meant lots of the trees kept their green leaves for longer than usual.

The weather on Halloween was extra-special! Temperatures in some areas of the UK, such as south England and north Wales, reached well over 20°C. 

The temperature in Kew Gardens in west London reached a whopping 23.6°C, which is the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK on Halloween. I hope you didn’t get too hot in your spooky costumes!

I think these weird weather conditions are very interesting and am excited to see what strange things you find during your spring bulb experiments.

Has autumn arrived where you live? Are the leaves changing colour and falling from the trees? Why don’t you take an autumnal picture and send it to me in an email? I might even post it here on my blog.

Remember that you should now have started recording the temperature and rainfall on your weather charts. If you can’t remember what you’re supposed to do you can look at the Keeping Weather Records page on my website.

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

Bulbathon 2015

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 6 November 2014

Professor Plant

Pupils busy planting at Balshaw Lane Primary.

Planting indoors to avoid the rain.

All planted up at Preston Grange School.

A planting day of bulbous proportions!

Eleven thousand and three hundred bulbs were planted by school scientists across the UK to kick start the Spring Bulbs for Schools investigation. Seven and a half thousand pupils from one hundred and seventy nine schools got planting to investigate climate change.

Here is a map to show you where the bulbs were planted.

Here are some of the pictures they sent in. Follow their progress and the questions they raise as they record the local weather and flowering through the winter and into the spring.

Professor Plant

Fire burn and cauldron bubble!

Posted by Jennifer Gallichan on 5 November 2014

Our ghoul infested Herbarium

Learning more about the Ghost slug

Arthur the Arthropleuran

Bugs and beasties on the Entomology (Insects) stand

» View full post to see all images

‘From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night…’

Last Friday, Natural Sciences staff celebrated Halloween in grand style with a host of truly ghoulish and grizzly specimens out in the main hall at National Museum Cardiff. The National Herbarium was transformed into a ghoul filled graveyard, and a large mosquito model leered down from the entomology (insects) stand, any moment threatening to jump on the jugular of an unsuspecting member of the public. Younger visitors to the OPAL stand were encouraged to stealthily walk through a spider’s web without disturbing its occupant, and learn about glow in the dark scorpions. Meanwhile the biggest creepy crawly that ever lived, Arthropleura, a 300 million year old extinct giant millipede, escaped from the Palaeontology (fossil) stand and went off to explore the Impressionist galleries.

Despite all of the fun, visitors gained an insight about some of the 6 million specimens that are held behind the scenes at the museum, and the incredible work of the staff that care for them.  From bats to giant squid, volcanic rocks to fungi, we covered them all. One of my favourite parts of the day was taking visitors behind the scenes on tours of the Entomology and Molluscan sections to see insects and shells and the Spirit store (not ghosts, but where we keep our specimens preserved in fluid such as sea worms and crabs). It is such a rewarding experience to see the excitement of people visiting the collections for the first time, and proudly talking about all of the great research work that we do.

If you missed it, don’t worry! We have a whole host of open days and curator led sessions coming up. See our What’s Onto find out more!

Museum scientists pop up at Fairwater Library

Posted by Lucy McCobb on 4 November 2014

A beautiful display of freshly-pressed leaves and fruits

Marine specimens from the Invertebrate Biodiversity Collections

Slug identification 

A range of fossils from different periods of the Earth’s history

Museum scientists were out and about during half-term week, when the I Spy…Nature pop-up museum paid a visit to Fairwater Library on 30th October.  Curators from the Botany, Invertebrate Diversity and Palaeontology sections took along specimens from their collection areas to show the public, along with a microscope and quizzes to encourage them to look even closer.

Ingrid Jüttner challenged people to identify as many trees as they could, using beautiful displays of freshly-pressed leaves and fruits.  This activity was a big hit with grown-ups, and it was very pleasing to see so many parents and grandparents encouraging children to learn more about these important plants, which bring our living spaces to life.

The library’s meeting room became temporary home to an impressive array of marine and mollusc specimens from the Invertebrate Diversity section.  People were fascinated by the creatures on display, which evoked a range of reactions (including ‘they’re really gross!’) depending on how they felt about slugs and worms!  Teresa Darbyshire showed some of the diversity of life found around our shores, with beautiful sea shells, lobster, starfish, and a pickled octopus and giant sea worm.  Visitors tried their hands at identifying shells using a key, all good training for trips to the beach!  Ben Rowson challenged people to identify mystery objects under the microscope, and introduced them to slug identification using his recently published book and life-like models.

Lucy McCobb showed visitors a range of fossils from different periods of the Earth’s history, ranging from an Ice Age mastodon tooth and horse’s leg bone, through Jurassic ammonites and ichthyosaur bones, to trilobites, which are among Wales’s oldest fossils.  The ‘what’s in a name?’ quiz was popular with children, and asked them to use the meanings of scientific names to match up the name with the correct fossil.

This was I Spy..Nature's  first venture into libraries, and showed that they have great potential as venues for taking the Museum’s collections and experts out into communities.

  • National Museum Cardiff

    National Museum Cardiff

    Discover art, natural history and geology. With a busy programme of exhibitions and events, we have something to amaze everyone, whatever your interest – and admission is free!

  • St Fagans National History Museum

    St Fagans

    St Fagans is one of Europe's foremost open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction.

  • Big Pit National Coal Museum

    Big Pit

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  • National Wool Museum

    National Wool Museum

    Located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, the Museum is a special place with a spellbinding story to tell.

  • National Roman Legion Museum

    National Roman Legion Museum

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  • National Slate Museum

    National Slate Museum

    The National Slate Museum offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

  • National Waterfront Museum

    National Waterfront Museum

    The National Waterfront Museum at Swansea tells the story of industry and innovation in Wales, now and over the last 300 years.

  • Rhagor: Explore our collections

    Rhagor (Welsh for ‘more’) offers unprecedented access to the amazing stories that lie behind our collections.