Gangs of small children will be rounded up and school parties put back on their coaches on Friday as the Natural History Museum in London gears up for a grown-ups-only evening of drink and dinosaurs.
Science Uncovered is a free event to celebrate European Researchers’ Night 2011 in sync with 800 other venues across Europe. In London, scientists will run behind-the-scene tours at the museum, carry out interactive experiments and demonstrate to the world what they do in their labs all day long.
The Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast team will also be there, recording an episode in front of a live audience.
There’ll be lots to see. At “science stations”, scientists will man tables loaded with the paraphernalia of their research and material from the museum’s huge behind-the-scenes collections. “There’ll be real things you can pick up and have a good look at,” says Oliver Crimmen, fish curator at the NHM.
The zoology station will also contain some of the stranger mementoes from Crimmen’s field trips to Burma. “I’ve got a fish with teeth so large that it has to have special channels in its skull … it’s just incredible to watch where the teeth go when the mouth closes.”
There may be a few wriggly surprises. “I can guarantee that there’ll be some live specimens,” says Crimmen.
At the space station, Dr Caroline Smith, curator of meteorites and a UK Space Agency Aurora fellow, will put some very precious items on display. “People will be able to say that they’ve held a meteorite. It’ll be the oldest thing they will have ever seen … about 4.6 billion years old.”
Smith will also host a live link-up with her colleagues at Nasa and the European Space Agency in the museum’s Attenborough Studio, and later in the evening she will answer questions at the science bar. In other words she has a busy evening ahead of her. “I don’t think I’ll have time to do any sneaking away … but the thing that I would be most keen to see if I could would be the Crime Scene, although I think I might be a bit squeamish about the maggots.”
At the first opportunity I’ll be heading for Crime Scene Live to try my luck as a forensic anthropologist. Members of the public will be asked to collect evidence at the scene of a “murder” outside the museum to catch the killer.
For even more ghoulish thrills later in the evening, I plan to attend a talk by Dr Silvia Bello, who will be showing off a skull cup found in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. “It dates to around 15,000 years and is a human skull that has been modified to produce a bowl. It shows that there was a process of cannibalisation on this site.”
If skull cups, meteorites and maggots aren’t enough, I might try and squeeze in a tour of the collections. Museum First Aid is about the museum’s unsung heroes – the Conservation Unit, who are responsible for repairing everything from diamonds to stuffed lizards.
There are 11 tours, meeting at a number of curious locations. The conservation tour, for example, meets at the giant sloth.
All this is only a fraction of what is taking place at the museum on Friday. There are more events ranging from a Science Fight Club to a Natural History Roadshow, and of course the live recording of the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast.
There are more than 300 scientists and 150 separate activities so we’ll be hard-pushed to record them all, so do take a look at the Science Uncovered website and let us know if there’s anything you think we shouldn’t miss.
Categories: Amazing Animals