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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Jul 2014 (7)

National Science Week - Meet the Scientists

Author
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

Rare Books wrap-up

Author
by Gemma
Publish date
28 July 2014
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Gemma is a librarian at Museum Victoria.

On Saturday 19 July, a panel of experts came together for an Antiques Roadshow-style event where members of the public were invited to come along and have their books, maps and prints appraised.

The experts were kept busy throughout the event. The experts were kept busy throughout the event.
Image: Gemma Steele
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This is the second year running that Melbourne Museum has run the Rare Book Discovery Day as part of Rare Book Week, and this year was bigger and better. Our panel of experts extended to include Gerry Dorset (Brighton Antique Prints and Maps), Mick Stone (Camberwell Books & Collectibles), and Michael O’Brien (Bradstreet’s Books) who were great additions to rare book sellers Stuart Kells (Books of Kells), Peter Arnold (Peter Arnold Rare Books). Museum Victoria’s paper conservator, Belinda Gourley was on hand again this year, and was kept busy providing advice on caring for books and giving recommendations for correct storage.

paper conservato giving advice on caring for a book Museum Victoria’s paper conservator, Belinda Gourley giving advice on caring for a stunningly-illustrated book of fairy tales.
Image: Gemma Steele
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Some interesting items were uncovered, including prints of the Titanic, German calendars from the 1960s, a two-volume English dictionary from the 18th century, and a collection of some very rare serials on migration to British colonies. Many of the items were of high sentimental value rather than high market value, although our highest valuation this year was nearly $5000!

One of the more unusual items on the day: a plan for the removal of the Benevolent Asylum, North Melbourne. One of the more unusual items on the day: a plan for the removal of the Benevolent Asylum, North Melbourne.
Image: Gemma Steele
Source: Museum Victoria
 

If you're a fan of rare books, maps, prints and ephemera, don't miss several items from the Museum Victoria Library’s historic rare book collection on display as part of The Art of Science. This exhibition opens at Melbourne Museum on 19 September 2014 and will run until 1 February 2015.

Meet the Rescuers!

Author
by Murray
Publish date
23 July 2014
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Murray is a Programs Officer at Scienceworks.

Rescue: Live kicked off at Scienceworks on Saturday 12 July with the arrival of the High Angle Rescue Team of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. More than 400 Scienceworks visitors braved the cold to witness the daring and skills of the MFB as they demonstrated how they can save people trapped on skyscrapers and cliff-faces with their special equipment, ropes and rigging.

Rescue Live Visitors to Scienceworks look on eagerly as the MFB High Angle Rescue Team specialists prepare for their demonstration.
Source: MFB

Rescue Live Meet the mannequin! Excited children speak with an MFB specialist about a mannequin dummy used in a mock rescue
Source: MFB

Rescue Live A crowd gathers to inspect how the MFB specialists can save people trapped on skyscrapers and cliff-faces with their special equipment, ropes and rigging.
Source: MFB

Rescue Live MFB specialists use their equipment to demonstrate to a gasping crowd how they can save people in trapped in precarious situations.
Source: MFB
 

The Rescue: Live program gives our visitors the chance to interact with members from several emergency response teams and see how they help keep Australians safe. The program also gives the organisations the opportunity to raise awareness of their services to the community, and is an action-packed accompaniment to our Rescue exhibition. On selected weekends until 14 September, come see safety specialists show their stuff in the arena, the amphitheatre or inside the Scienceworks building.

Rescue: Live program

Working at the museum is dead interesting

Author
by Meg
Publish date
21 July 2014
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We just took receipt of a beautiful Crested Pigeon, in excellent physical condition except for the fact that it was dead. But it will make a useful contribution to the museum’s body of research material. With the locality data carefully recorded, said pigeon was duly deposited in its new (temporary) home – our freezer – to await its final afterlife journey to the collection store.

Crested pigeon specimen. Crested pigeon specimen.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Temporary resting place - the Discovery Centre freezer. Temporary resting place - the Discovery Centre freezer.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As I closed the freezer door on our latest acquisition, I found myself feeling grateful, as an inhabitant of the twenty-first century, for the electricity we have to power our freezer in which we deposit our dead things, which we collect for exhibition and research purposes. In contemplating this luxury, I was reminded of a fun fact I learned during a meal at an old country pub while on holiday in Tasmania a couple of years ago – in colonial Australia, not only was there no electricity, but there was also no such thing as a town morgue, and so the remains of the recently departed were best stored in the coolest place in town, the local “house of public accommodation” – the pub. Yep, the bodies were in with the beer; the stiffs with the stout; the late with the lager; the passed with the pilsner, if you will. Encouraged by my interest, the enthusiastic new owner led me to the front room of the nineteenth century pub to be shown the very place where the bodies would have been laid out. I asked the new landlady if she was bothered at all by the history of her new business venture – she laughed and replied “not at all.” I asked her what she did before becoming a publican – she answered “I was a funeral director.” True story.  

Meanwhile, over the course of my internet wanderings on the topic of hotels-as-morgues, I came across a great little newspaper article about the dual function of Melbourne pubs, but then found myself back in Tassie when I unexpectedly tripped over this little nugget:

“The morgue motel: Plans to turn a ‘home’ of the dead into accommodation for the living”

Apparently, a local Tasmanian motel owner is currently in the process of converting the mortuary of the decommissioned Willow Court psychiatric hospital in the town of New Norfolk into somewhere for folk to sleep, although, unlike the original occupants, it is hoped that these guests wake up again.

Which brings me back to the Museum Victorian collections, for just yesterday I was photographing some mortician’s tools that were acquired from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum in Victoria. While the outbuildings of early Victorian asylums routinely included a morgue for the storage of the bodies of patients who had died within the asylum walls, it wasn’t until the proclamation of the Lunacy Act 1903 in Victoria that provision was made for the employment of a full-time pathologist to the Lunacy Department. The pathologist was tasked with conducting autopsies and undertaking pathological examinations to attempt to associate post-mortem lesions in the brain with ante-mortem symptoms. The development of this new clinical-pathological approach to psychiatric research was one of the outcomes of the increasing secularisation of medicine (and studies of the natural world more broadly), that emerged following the dissemination of the Darwinian theory of evolution towards the end of the nineteenth century.

A selection of objects from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum. A selection of objects from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum). Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum).
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum). Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum).
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like Willow Court in Tasmania, many of the pathology blocks associated with former Victorian psychiatric hospitals remain, although as yet none of them are offering bed and breakfast. One does, however, offer a fully-funded kinder program. Again, true story.

Taking care of your rare books

Author
by Gemma
Publish date
11 July 2014
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Gemma is a librarian at Museum Victoria.

Of course we all love books, but, if I have learned anything from compulsively reading Pride and Prejudice year on year it is this: sometimes we hurt the ones we love. So with Melbourne Rare Book Week fast approaching, whether you are a keen collector or someone who has come across a hidden gem in the garage, here are five golden rules to follow to take care of your own collection:

1. Wash your hands

When reading or flicking through your books make sure your hands are clean and dry because oils, perspiration, dirt and food residue can cause a lot of damage.

A Book Conservator at Work A conservator carefully handles a book. Preventive conservation protocols protect the lifespan of cultural objects while allowing them to be viewed safely.
Source: Creative Commons via Wikicommons.
 

2. Be gentle!

Some books will not want to lie open at 180 degrees; if the spine does not want to bend in a particular way then it is best not to force it as this can cause damage. Turn pages from the side rather than the corner and when removing books from a shelf always pull it from the sides rather than the top of the spine.

3. Light and temperature

Keep your book collection in a cool place with minimal exposure to light and away from areas with radiators or vents.

4. Storage

Store books either upright or lying flat, not leaning at an angle. Books should be supported on either side by books or book stands of similar size, and it is best not to pack the books in too tightly. Large, heavy folio-size books are best stored flat.

books on a shelf An example of bad book storage!
Image: Jon Sullivan
Source: Books on a shelf by Jon Sullivan
 

5. Dust regularly

Dust your books often as dust can quickly accumulate on books. It is very important to remember that, if the conditions are right, dust can be a food source for mould and mildew!

Another important tip would be not to attempt to carry out any books repairs yourself. While it may be tempting, you may end up damaging the book further and reducing its value. Museum Victoria’s paper conservator will be on hand to offer advice on caring for books and other printed material at our Rare Book Discovery Day on Saturday 19 July. Also on the panel of experts at this free event will be leading antiquarian book, print and map dealers who can assess and appraise your items.

Rare Book Discovery Day is part of Melbourne Rare Book Week. Check out the Rare Book Week website for more events around town.

Links

MV Blog: Rare Book Discovery Day 2013

Colourful calendar fiesta!

Author
by Alice
Publish date
4 July 2014
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Come on down to the Discovery Centre this school holidays to help us colour in our giant Aztec Sun Calendar! 

Aztecblank The newly installed Aztec Sun Calendar needs your colouring in skills!
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Aztecs, along with their Mesoamerican cousins the Incas and the Mayans, developed complex calendar systems to structure their lives. These calendars were used to plot their religious festivals and sacrifices, as well as marking the seasons and when to plant their crops. They formed the very backbone of the Aztec civilisation – just imagine if your birthday determined your destiny!

 To honour the mighty Aztec Calendar we have created an almost life-size replica of the famous “Eagle Bowl” Sun Calendar – uncovered in 1790 under the central plaza of Mexico City.

The calendar is full of hidden religious symbolism – in centre place the Aztec Sun God, Tonatiuh, sticks out his tongue while clutching sacrificial human hearts. Surrounding him are the symbols for each of the 20 days in the Aztec month and the faces of the previous Aztec suns: Jaguar, Wind, Rain and Water.

Come and help us bring this ancient relic to life by colouring in your own little segment of the calendar – and see if you can figure out some of the hidden shapes and symbols while doing so!

families Families contributing to the first calendar installation.
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We have also put aside a colourful quiet corner in the Discovery Centre for those interested in learning a little bit more about this fascinating ancient civilisation. Copies of the exhibition catalogue along with dozens of other books on the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures are on offer for those eager to learn a little more. 

Readingroom Beanbags, bunting and books - learn about the Aztecs in our colourful reading room.
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our first installation was a huge success with families and visiting school groups - so make sure you get in quick to make your mark on this colourful collaborative calendar! 

finished Completed Aztec Sun Calendar from last school holidays.
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Discovery Centre is free to visit and located on the Lower Ground floor of Melbourne Museum. Come visit us Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am-4:30pm.

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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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