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Microscopic designs: Ernest Heath's collection of Foraminifera

The Ernest Heath slide collection
The Ernest Heath slide collection

Would you have the patience to create tiny patterns like these?

Imagine yourself back in the early 1900's with no TV or internet for entertainment. Luckily affordable microscopes are the latest thing and you've started collecting weird and wonderful objects to look at. It's a popular form of entertainment to explore the natural world in miniature.

These wonderful microscope slides are mostly made up of foraminifera (forams), tiny animals which live floating near the sea surface or on the sea bed.

Ernest Heath: A fellow with a steady hand

The Ernest Heath slide collection
The Ernest Heath slide collection

They were created by Ernest Heath, probably using a wet paintbrush to pick the shells from samples of sand and mud. We don’t know much about him, apart from that he was a fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, somehow got hold of deep-sea mud from around the world, and must have had a lot of time on his hands! Please contact us if you know anything else about him.

Museum experts in the Geology department have recently cleaned and restored this unique collection of beautiful slides.

Fossils from the birth of a new science.

Microscope slide before and after conservation
Microscope slide before and after conservation

Some of the forams were dredged by HMS Challenger on its voyage of discovery in 1872-1876. This was one of the first ocean-going scientific research expeditions and has been called the birth of oceanography, the study of the oceans. In fact we probably still know less about the ocean floor than we do about the dark side of the moon!

Click on the thumbnails below to view a selection of images from the collection

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