Discovery Centre

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Discovery Centre (62)

Discovery Centre

MV's Discovery Centre responds to public enquiries across the full spectrum of the organisation's expertise - from mammals to migration, from asteroids to ants. Discovery Centre staff work at on-site centres at Melbourne and Immigration Museums.

Preparing to Think Ahead

Author
by Alice
Publish date
5 December 2013
Comments
Comments (2)

The whole preparation department have been hard at work over the past few months getting their creations ready for the opening of Scienceworks' new permanent exhibition, Think Ahead.

I went to visit the team during their last week of preparation to see some of their projects in the final stages of development.

Building model houses Building model houses
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What has always impressed me about all the clever individuals in the preparation department is that their job combines highly refined artistic skills with science and design....and a whole lot of patience and lateral thinking!   

The team’s recent body of work for Think Ahead is certainly a testament to their craft. Using a creative mix of materials ranging from state-of-the-art plastic technology to readymade dollhouse furniture, the team have created a wide range of objects and interactives for permanent display including plastic foods, futuristic human figurines, replica ice cores, miniature dioramas and life-sized human mannequins. They even utilised the museum’s 3D printer to produce miniature model tyres for their futuristic farm machinery.

3D printed tyres 3D printed tyres
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Future food Future food
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

With the exhibition targeted at 8 to 12 year olds, the team have included many clever little twists to catch the eye of their audience. In one display, a model dolls house that shows the evolution of a child’s bedroom from the turn of the century to today, and references to contemporary pop culture are included in the form of mini Diablo and Angry Birds posters pasted on the walls of the modern bedroom. 

Bedroom diorama Bedroom diorama
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Other creations such as Michael Pennell’s future human figurines and Steven Sparrey’s silicone life sized mannequin (modelled from Michael's face) look like props right from the set of a new sci-fi blockbuster.

Future human figurines Future human figurines
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Think Ahead opens this week at Scienceworks.

Nature's nappies

Author
by Alice
Publish date
14 November 2013
Comments
Comments (1)

Here at the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre we are inundated with a wide variety of interesting enquiries. We recently received this stunning photograph from a keen bird enthusiast in Camberwell, wondering what was being fed to the young chicks.

Wattlebird with faecal sac. Wattlebird with faecal sac.
Image: Jim Love
Source: Jim Love
 

Interestingly, the parent wattlebird pictured is not actually feeding this infant but cleaning up after it. 

The black and white material in the parent’s beak is what is called a faecal sac, a mucous membrane that contains the excrement and uric acid (the bird equivalent of urine) of the young nestling. The thick membranous exterior of the sac is strong enough for the parent to pick up with their sharp beak to carry away and dispose of without puncturing it. They are just like a disposable nappy for birds!

Faecal sacs are usually excreted by the chicks shortly after feeding takes place, but this varies from species to species. In the case of the wattlebird the production of a faecal sac is almost instantaneous after feeding. This immediate reaction ensures that whichever parent feeds the chicks, will also be there to carry away the waste at the same time. You can see this occurring in the image below, where the parent is extracting the sac from the nestling’s cloaca as it is being produced.

Wattlebird with faecal sac. Wattlebird with faecal sac.
Image: Jim Love
Source: Jim Love
 

Parents remove faecal sacs from the nest for a number of very important reasons.  Not only do they allow the nest to remain clean and hygienic for the young nestlings, but their removal also deflects the attention of predators by eliminating the scent and sight of the faecal matter. Different species dispose of their faecal sacs in different ways, some preferring to drop them into bodies of water to completely erase their scent while others simply drop them nearby.

Some species of birds will even eat the contents of their baby’s faecal sacs for the first couple of days after hatching. In very young nestlings the bacteria required to digest their food are still under development, hence their excrement is rich in partially digested food. This allows the parents to feed more worms and insects to their young as they can substitute their own meals for the nutrients in their baby’s droppings. 

Wattlebird with faecal sac. Wattlebird with faecal sac.
Image: Jim Love
Source: Jim Love
 

Not all species of birds produce faecal sacs. Young water birds such as ducklings and goslings leave their nests as soon as they hatch, often never returning, and therefore do not have to worry about continual housekeeping. While other birds including eagles, herons and some sea bird species that nest high in trees and on cliffs, will simply back up to the verge of their nests and excrete off the edge.

I will leave it to you to decide whether you think faecal sacs are disgusting, strange or just plain fascinating. Personally, I wish that all human babies were this easy to clean up after!

Dino Might

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
24 September 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, I was absolutely mad for dinosaurs. Many hours were spent poring over my small stash of dinosaur books - I used to lie on our worn lounge room carpet, gawping at fantastical images of a vengeful Triceratops skewering a clearly outraged Tyrannosaurus in the thigh. To my young eyes, the image was evocative and powerful, albeit a little coy in the lack of blood.

By today’s standards, the picture is quite out-dated in the postures of the protagonists, but it was enough to get me hooked on these intriguing (and like me, clearly ill-tempered) animals. My chief interests wavered over the following teenage years – at times Dinosaur Jr. were more interesting than dinosaurs - but dinos were always there in one way or another, bubbling away as a topic of interest in the back of my mind.

Qantassaurus Melbourne Museum's animatronic reconstructions of the Victorian dinosaur Qantassaurus
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fast forward to today, and much has changed – my son sees CGI footage of dinosaurs that are so plausible that there’s genuine confusion over what is actually real. To his generation, it will likely seem ludicrous that our generation thought of Velociraptor as anything other than fully feathered, but to those of us of the “Jurassic Park” generation, the leathery-skinned versions will be long remembered. Disappointingly, it seems that despite scientific consensus on their feathers, the upcoming Jurassic Park film will feature the old-school, oversized, nude ‘raptors. But I digress...

Velociraptor skull A model of the skull of Velociraptor - feathers not shown....just like in Jurassic Park (I might need to get over this)
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unlike Hollywood, the scientific world’s understanding of dinosaur behaviour, posture and lifestyles has changed over the years. There are numerous examples of dinosaur displays in Museums that required modification to keep them up-to-date with current research. One of the quirks of palaeontology - the active study of long-since-inactive animals - is that we can never really ‘get it right...finally’; the most we can hope for is to ‘get it right...for now’. New discoveries drive new interpretations, leading to new theories; forever edging us closer to the truth, but the goalposts are constantly moving.  With dinosaurs, you can never ‘know’ everything - and I find that quite reassuring.

Fossilised Champignons

Author
by Siobhan
Publish date
15 September 2013
Comments
Comments (1)

Remember The X-Files? If you were a fan, you fell into one of two camps – you either liked the mythology arcs, or the Monster-of-the-Week episodes. I fell firmly into the latter camp. I liked one-off weirdness, lacking the attention span for conspiracy narratives. It is in this spirit that I present to you a short episode of "What on earth is THAT?!" from the Discovery Centre.

At the beginning of winter this year, a woman came into the Melbourne centre with some "mysterious objects". We get a lot of mystery items here, and they are normally fairly easy to identify – pieces of manufacturing slag, cicada cases, random pieces of urban archaeology that work their way up from old rubbish pits.

As she removed them from her bag, she said, "they look like fossilised champignons." An odd description, but entirely accurate. The items she unwrapped did indeed look like small mushrooms. They weren't fossils, as they were obviously made of a chalky substance; soft enough to flake and leave a slight powdery residue on one's fingertips. Our visitor said she had discovered them in the mud on the shores of a freshwater pond on Kangaroo Island, and mentioned, in an offhand manner, that they were amongst some crayfish carcasses, and perhaps they had something to do with local platypus? I was stumped. My colleague Wayne, a chap with a palaeontological background, was equally stumped.

Crayfish gastroliths Crayfish gastroliths, brought in to the Discovery Centre for identification.
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Found in platypus territory, and made of chalky material? We did some preliminary research: were they dehydrated platypus eggs? Some weird botanical thing? A fungus? Yes, I did google "fossilised champignons". Getting nowhere, we turned to our various departmental experts in Mammalogy, Marine Invertebrates and Geosciences; even our pet Entomologist. No luck.

On the off-chance that our Live Exhibits manager had seen something similar on fieldwork, I emailed through the photographs to him, and he shared them round the office. Victory! Gentleman-and-scholar Adam Elliot knew immediately what they were. It turned out that our enquirer's by-the-by remark about the crayfish was the salient information – these "fossilised champignons" are freshwater crayfish gastroliths. When preparing to shed, the crayfish forms these stones to store the calcium they will need to help form their new exoskeleton. After they've shed (a process called ecdysis – remember that one for word games), they reabsorb this calcium to help create their new shell. These particular examples are very, very large.

Crayfish gastroliths Crayfish gastroliths, brought into the Discovery Centre for identification.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This blog post from the WA Museum gives a great rundown on how the process works, and includes a photo of some smaller gastroliths from a similar identification request.

So there you have it, mystery solved. We'll keep an eye out for more oddities – I've always liked them best.

Guide to Victorian butterflies

Author
by Simon
Publish date
10 September 2013
Comments
Comments (0)

Dr Ross Field, a former head of Sciences at Museum Victoria, has compiled a spectacular book on one of his passions: butterflies of Victoria. Butterflies: Identification and life history is the result of many years of painstaking work on Ross’s part and covers all aspects of the lifecycle of these eternally popular insects.

Egg Tailed Emperor Butterfly Lateral view of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly egg
Image: Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Incredible images take readers through the lifecycle of each species from egg, through caterpillar and the food plant it eats, pupa and finally adult. The magnified images of the eggs are stunning and allow us to view and admire objects usually too small to notice. The eggs can be ornamented, ribbed, round or cigar shaped and come in a range of colours. Depending on the viewer some people see a range of jellies or blancmanges when they look at some of these images, (or maybe that’s just me). In fact a selection of these egg shots is touring selected Victorian cultural venues as part of The Art of Science exhibition.

  Caterpillar larva Tailed Emperor Caterpillar of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Collecting the eggs of numerous species for photographing was a big undertaking; Ross has spent many hours in a host of locations watching butterflies circle until they land to lay their eggs. A sample of the eggs were collected and brought back to Melbourne Museum to be photographed using our camera/microscope set up. Prior to this book, anyone other than an expert who collected an egg would have to wait until the egg hatched and the caterpillar had reached one of its later instars before being able to hazard a guess at the species. With this new guide, the ability for the general public to undertake identifications in the field is greatly expanded.    

Pupa Tailed Emperor Pupa of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The egg images might also raise questions such as why do butterflies from the Pieridae family tend to lay cigar shaped eggs? Why do the eggs of some species have a series of lateral ribs running around the surface? Is there an evolutionary advantage to laying sculptured eggs? In short, this comprehensive field guide gives a new vision into the fascinating world of Victorian butterflies and helps to educate and provoke our interest into further research and conservation. 

Adult Tailed Emperor butterfly Adult Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Butterflies: Identification and life history. A Museum Victoria field guide by Ross Field. Available in paperback from MV shops or as an eBook from  iTunes or Booktopia.

Melbourne Zoo: 10 steps to a butterfly garden

Drawing class in the Discovery Centre

Author
by Max
Publish date
5 September 2013
Comments
Comments (0)

We recently had a request from Debbie Mourtzios, a teacher at Box Hill Institute, to hold a drawing class for Graphic Design students at the Discovery Centre using natural science specimens.

Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Debbie Mourtzios
Source: Debbie Mourtzios
 

As the theme of the class was texture, Debbie asked if we could supply examples of fur, feathers, scales, claws, wings, or anything that can illustrate textures.

  Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Debbie Mourtzios
Source: Debbie Mourtzios
 

We contacted our Vertebrates Collection Manager who gladly loaned us specimens from the Mammal, Bird and Herpetology collections. We also used specimens in the DC’s interpretive collection. We had bird wings, an echidna, a glass sponge skeleton, a bird of paradise, various bones, reptiles, shark egg cases, all on tables in the Seminar Room, plus all the interpretive collection objects in the Discovery Centre itself. They were not wont for variety.

  Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The eighteen students spent two hours drawing the various specimens. It was very rewarding to watch the students using the centre and its resources; it was also unusually quiet for such a large group. I guess that’s what focused attention sounds like.

Discovery Centre Drawing class Discovery Centre Drawing class
Image: Debbie Mourtzios
Source: Debbie Mourtzios
 

Links

Victoria & Albert Museum

About this blog

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

Categories