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DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Priscilla (4)

National Science Week - Meet the Scientists

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by Priscilla
Publish date
30 July 2014
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Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

In National Science Week this year, we're running a special program called Meet the Scientists just for students in Years 9 and 10.

If you're a teacher, you can book your Year 9 or 10 classes in to chat with our researchers about their day jobs. And if you're not, here's a taste of what the students will get: interviews with scientists who work on our natural history collections.

Meet Mel Mackenzie, Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates

From scallops to squids, crabs to octopuses, Mel’s day job sounds more like she works in a restaurant than a museum. That is until she gets into the nudibranchs, echinoderms, flatworms, sponges, isopods and jellyfishes – just to name a few. Meet Mel Mackenzie.

Mel looking down microscope Mel Mackenzie, Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates, on an Antarctic research trip.
Image: Pete Lens (BAS)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

How did you get into being a Collection Manager?

I started working at the museum as a volunteer docent in 1994, educating public visitors in various marine exhibitions while studying Zoology at Melbourne University. From there I moved down to the dungeons of the previous location of the museum on Russell Street as a volunteer research assistant to Dr. C.C. Lu, busily counting squid suckers and tentacles to assist in descriptions of new species. I went on to work as a Relocations Officer during the Museum move from Russell Street, then as an assistant collection manager in Invertebrate Zoology at various temporary locations before finally settling at Melbourne Museum.

After a ten-year stint away (in Learning, Development, Training and Publishing both here and in Japan) I’ve now been back working in the collections at Melbourne Museum since 2010.

Which collections do you look after?

The Marine Invertebrate Collection, though we do also have some freshwater invertebrates (like crayfish) and also some land snails and slugs. The collection is a specimen 'library' of everything from tiny tanaids (a type of crustacean) to giant squids. We keep the collection organised, viable and accessible for ongoing morphological, genetic, and environmental research. 

Have you got a favourite marine invertebrate?

Holothurians; more commonly known as Sea Cucumbers. Apart from my usual collection management responsibilities, I get to work closely with other scientists on this group of animals and contribute through fieldwork, lab work, research and photography to a variety of scientific projects and publications. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to Poland, the Falklands and even the Weddell Sea in Antarctica to collect and identify these curious critters.

 

Meet Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Palaeontology

When you’re studying the past, life came in many more forms than just the dinosaurs. Palaeontologists study fossil birds, plants, snakes, insects, or even pollen, which all help us to build up a picture of the past. Meet Dr Erich Fitzgerald.

Erich with whale skull Dr Erich Fitzgerald, with the fossil skull of the early whale Janjucetus hunderi.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What area of palaeontology do you specialise in?

I investigate the evolutionary history of aquatic vertebrates, especially marine mammals such as whales, seals and sea cows. This research involves exploring the fossil record as well as investigating aquatic adaptations of living species. I seek to document the diversity, evolutionary relationships and palaeobiology of marine vertebrates through time and uncover the drivers of their evolution and extinction.

How did you get your job?

I studied earth science and zoology as part of a Bachelors of Science at Melbourne University, and then studied fossil whales for my PhD at Monash University. I was then a Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and more recently was the Harold Mitchell Fellow at Museum Victoria (2009–2012) before getting my job as the Senior Curator.

What are you researching now?

My major ongoing program of research involves the documentation and analysis of the little-studied fossil record of marine mammals in Australia, exploring how and when the remarkable biological adaptations of today’s whales, dolphins and seals evolved. I am interested in the questions opened up by looking at extinct and living marine mammals as a continuum: to understand the present we must grasp the past. That’s what Wallace and Darwin showed us: life only makes sense in light of its evolution.

Links:

Meet the Scientists program

National Science Week

Alpine School interviews at Alps Bioscan

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by Priscilla
Publish date
7 January 2014
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Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

In 1914 and 1915, scientists and field naturalists explored the Alpine region of Victoria. Nearly one hundred years later, we sent our museum's ornithologists, herpetologists, mammalogists, entomologists, palaeontologists, and others out into the field to explore, discover, and record the wildlife – alive and fossilised. This recent expedition in November last year, called the Alpine Bioscan, was a collaboration between Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria to perform a major wildlife census in the eastern region of Victoria’s Alpine National Park, with 100 experts taking part.

black and white photo of men on horses Men and horses during the survey of the Alpine area in 1914 and 1915.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

People with malasie trap Today’s scientists: Mel Mackenzie, MV’s Marine Invertebrate Collection Manager, and Parks Victoria staff inspecting a Malaise trap in the Alps. Malaise traps catch flying insects.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We’ll never know exactly the thoughts and experiences of those early researchers in the black and white photographs – but to ensure that doesn’t happen again, we invited eight students from the Alpine School to become Bioscan Ambassadors. Their role was to interview our scientists, record it and share it. The response from the students was overwhelming; all 45 students in the school wanted to participate. The lucky eight had their names pulled from a hat.

So, on the afternoon of November 28th, I went with MV historian Rebecca Carland to the Alpine School to work with the students and their teacher Nicola. The students learned from Bec how to interview a scientist, what makes a good question, and how to plan and record an oral history to make an interview clip. When they learned that their clips may become a permanent part of the museum’s collection, two students nearly cried with happiness.

eight students at table The eight Bioscan Ambassadors, workshopping their ideas for interviewing the scientists.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On day two of the project, the students and the scientists met at Omeo Memorial Hall. The students' training put them in good stead for the realities of filming in the field – dealing with difficulties like not being able to film outside due to the rain, bad acoustics, and even unflattering lighting. But, like pros – they pushed on, filming and questioning scientists through the challenges.

Four people around a computer Students editing their clip with assistance from Bec Carland, MV historian and Roger Fenwick, Manager Regional Operations, Parks Victoria.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The result was four great video interviews of Museum Victoria scientists which are now on the Making History channel on Vimeo. In another century, when people look back at the photographs of today’s scientists in the field and wonder who these people were, the students’ films will show them.

This project was supported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Strategic Partnership Program.

Links:

Interview with Mel Mackenzie

Interview with Mark Norman

Interview with Rolf Schmidt

Interview with Ken Walker

Discoveries in the jungle

Author
by Priscilla
Publish date
13 March 2013
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Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

"There’s still plenty to discover in the jungles of Sulawesi," said Dr Kevin Rowe yesterday, via satellite phone from the jungles of Indonesia. He was phoning in to HQ – Museum Victoria, that is; he and his field crew are deep in the jungle, with email access a day’s hike away.

Dr Kevin reported that he and MV Ornithology Fellow, Dr Karen Rowe, have been enjoying great success on their current field trip. “To date, we’ve caught eight species of rats, two species of squirrels, five species of shrews and 13 species of birds”. He further explained that these mammals are all endemic, meaning that they are not to be found anywhere else in the world.

The crew has two camps set up at different altitudes. Kevin and Karen are camped at an altitude of 1600 metres, while Wayne Longmore, Museum Victoria’s Collection Manager of Terrestrial Vertebrates, is working with others at 400 metres above sea level.

While we here in Melbourne have been melting, during the hottest March since records began, Kevin and the crew have been experiencing endless rain. "Rain, rain and more rain, with days reaching a maximum of 16 degrees Celsius" said Kevin. "It’s a big cloud forest here, which leads to a lot of moss on the trees." And where there’s endless rain, there’s plenty of mud, making the work of our scientists tougher as they set out their 240 traps each night, ahead of collecting and checking them all the very next day and processing the data in daylight.

Birdsong metre demonstration The birdsong metre being demonstrated by museum volunteer, Bentleigh, during a trip to the Grampians.
Source: Museum Victoria

Dr Karen Rowe said that they had found many birds on this trip too, including honeyeaters, fantails and goshawks. Simply trying to sight these birds can be very difficult in thick jungle, however, so, to better understand the bird life of Sulawesi, she has been using a song meter to automatically record birdsong, which she can analyse later to determine which birds are living in the area.

The crew are in the jungle until this Saturday, when they will hike out at night. Through the rain, Kevin says "the views of the jungle from the lookouts are beautiful." However, they have only a few more days to enjoy the sights; they'll be back in Melbourne a week from Saturday. Meanwhile, there just may be some more discoveries yet to be made...


View Sulawesi Field Team in a larger map

Dinosaur Dreaming

Author
by Priscilla
Publish date
22 February 2011
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Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum. She has been a regular dinosaur digger for over 10 years!

I'm often asked what it's like at a dinosaur dig. The romantic view most people have, fuelled by films like Jurassic Park, is that we simply sweep away the sand with a brush, use high-tech gadgets to locate the exact location of the bones, and get flown to tropical islands with Jeff Goldblum.

Over 100 years ago the first dinosaur fossil, the Cape Paterson Claw, was found on the coast of Victoria at a site known as Eagles Nest. Nothing much else was found until two young palaeontologists in the making, Tim Flannery and John Long, spent their youth searching the rocks along the coast of Victoria, eventually finding more fossil booty. Their finds have led to decades of dinosaur digs along the coast of Victoria.

From Cape Otway to Inverloch, the Cretaceous-aged sandstone rocks have been blasted, bashed and bored to reveal what life was like 120 million years ago in Victoria. Each year the work at the Dinosaur Dreaming Dig, which is a joint project between Museum Victoria and Monash University, recruits numerous volunteers who spend hours breaking rock. Over the years, the same volunteers return, making the whole experience more like a giant family gathering at Christmas. Uncle Norman, Mother Lesley, Sister Alanna, and Grandma Mary are all there. Gerry and his rock, Doris and her eggnog, Mike and his poems, Nick and his telescope, Nicole and her berry crumble are all part of the experience.

And yes, there are the dinosaur bones. Each year some 800 new bones are found and catalogued. Just like a Christmas stocking, you never know what you are going to find inside each rock – will it be the discovery that changes theories of evolution or another disappointment? Yet despite so many fruitless ‘stocking openings’, I and many others are lured back. After so many years of digging, amazing fossils have been found. Many of these incredible specimens are now on display in 600 Million Years: Victoria evolves. Hopefully, this clip gives you some insight into just how we find them...

Watch this video with a transcript

Links:

Dinosaur Dreaming: the Inverloch Fossil Site infosheet

Fossil collecting sites in Victoria infosheet

Dinosaur Walk

Dinosaur Dreaming blog

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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