Museums of variation

Nerd day out.

So what do you do- in a random city halfway across the world confronted with a Saturday of freedom? Like any self respecting nerd, I went to the museum, and was pleasantly surprised.

I met the native wildlife, which really does look like something stuck together for a joke (I mean, how did evolution manage to equip an otter with a beak, poison spikes and egg laying abilities?)

This reminds me of an EPQ project I did at sixth form- collecting elements off the periodic table and putting them in a display. This one looks 100% more professional (and has 90% less superglue) and has an almost complete collection (give or take radioactive elements and some gases)! A couple of my favourites;

Gallium: the only metal that’ll actually melt in your hand- about 30 ° C. it’s not considered toxic (short term exposure) so it’s actually completely safe to do so- and I have done. It’s as uncanny as holding molten metal in the palm of your hand should be. Tellurium, for some reason past my biological knowledge, has an interesting party trick of leaching into the human body- it is only mildly toxic, however, when metabolised by the body produces dimethyl telluride- which is a gas, which smells strongly of garlic. This effect can remain for several weeks, hence I haven’t tried this one!

And finally, a rather nice (albeit blurry) piece of pure elemental sulphur- this particular one coming from Italy. I can’t say I’d seen a sulphur crystal before this, and was somewhat surprised by it- this was around the size of a walnut.

Right at the end of my afternoon at the museum- the last room of permanent exhibits I visited was the section for stuff that hasn't found a permanent home but is kind of on display. It was a large room, filled with display cases, each with a set of draws underneath. Inside every single drawer was something completely different- it was possible to take one step from the side and change from Victorian spectacles to fossils to insects. It was fantastic. As I stood staring at a drawer full of- I believe it was the genetic family of elephant beetles from around Australia and the southern hemisphere, I talked with a middle-aged man, who was coming around with his children. In a moment of what I would like to think was mutual interest, we realised that some zoologist actually spent several decades collecting those insects, cataloguing them, carefully mounting them on pins on a board, with their scientific name, and then just leaving them in a museum, for people to come past and idly flit through the draws for half an hour or so, all for the credit for the collector’s initials and the date on the same card as the scientific name. I realise this may sound a little pretentious, but I don’t care. Because if they weren't passionate about the beetles of the southern hemisphere, of the classification family of Scarabaeidae, then I’d be amazed they kept it up for three decades. And if they were, then their passion fuelled my interest right up until the point where the museum closed, which they should definitely count as a win.