Posts Tagged ‘Museum’

I squealed like a 10 year old girl today when I found out the news 🙂 The Beaty Biodiversity Museum, located at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, is scheduled to officially open October 16. Finally! They’ve had series of tantalizing “previews” throughout the summer, but this is finally the real thing!

The website suggests that the “treasure trove” of specimens will be available for the public to view on the 16th and 17th. I desperately hope this is true – these gems have been locked away in a dusty wing of the Biology building for far too long! I was disappointed earlier in the summer when I attended the preview and only saw a handful of specimens on display so I’m really crossing my fingers on this!

Hours are 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays are reserved for research.

Passes are $12 for an adult or $35 for a family. Free for current UBC staff and students!
If you’re a UBC alumni, bring a friend and admission is 2 for 1!

Remember, this is a research and teaching collection – Many of these specimens have been lovingly prepared by volunteers (such as yours truly, back in the day) and over-worked curators (Rex Kenner – I don’t forget you! Your baby is finally open) who make memories from road kill. Be respectful, be ready to learn, and be in awe of the AMAZING diversity of life you will find.

Check out the website! I’ll be there on opening day!

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Saturday was the first of five preview openings for UBC’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum. All five events run 10am to 3pm or 4pm and are free to the public and feature activities for the entire family.

One of the first things I noticed was that UBC has finally figured out that it is damn hard to find anything on campus if you’re not a regular student. (Even today, I encountered a very lost Asian man looking for a building whose name started with “L”. Hmm…) From the bus loop, there were maps and numerous signs directing people to the museum.

The museum is located within the Beaty Biodiversity Centre, a multidisciplinary research institution situated between the Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratories (AERL) and the Food, Nutrition and Health (FNH) buildings. From the road, the whale skeleton is visible – it is a mammoth 25m long and hangs suspended in a giant glass atrium.

Inside, there was a long line up of amateur photographers, families and science enthusiasts jostling for the best view. The whale is visible from a full 360 degrees, thanks to a cleverly designed descending ramp.

25m long blue whale skeleton hanging in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC

At the bottom of the atrium were displays of selected specimens from the various collections housed in the museum, including mounted and unmounted birds (Wilsonia species, flightless cormorant), small mammals (weasels, chinchillas), skulls from various antlered species, an incredibly well preserved turtle, and some GIANT bugs. While impressive, I was a little disappointed at the relatively few items on display. I hope the finished museum will feature more specimens – I saw no pelts (the Vertebrate collection has a beautiful tiger pelt which was donated privately, for example), and very few plant, fish and invertebrate representatives.

Aside from the displays, visitors also had the opportunity to view a movie detailing the journey of the Blue Whale from the East Coast to UBC. One interesting factoid: The whale skeleton actually broke into over 1000 pieces while in transit. When it arrived at the university, museum staff had to reassemble the broken bones!

Outside on the grounds surrounding the museum, tents were set up with family-friendly activities such as bone assembly games, microscope stations, and arts and crafts. All of the stations were staffed by enthusiastic red-shirted volunteers. It was a welcoming atmosphere, with lots of people wandering around, watching, listening and learning.

The next preview session is May 29th, which is also UBC’s Alumni Weekend. It’s free, it’s hands-on, and it’s science celebrating the diversity of life. I would encourage everyone to check it out!

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Artist's rendition of the whale skeleton

I was super excited to see the arrival of the blue whale skeleton at UBC today. This beauty will be the centerpiece of the new Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. The museum is housed within the Beaty Biodiversity Centre, which comprises an interdisciplinary group of over 50 scientists with interests in biodiversity research.

The Biodiversity Museum project has been many years in the making. I volunteered at the museum during my undergrad and my supervisor often talked wistfully about the “new museum” that would one day house all of the collections together. At the time, the vertebrate and insect collections were on the 4th floor, the fish collection was in the basement, the plant collection in another wing entirely. And I’m still not entirely sure where the fungus collection was!

As a result, most people were unaware that UBC has an amazing collection of vertebrate specimens, plants, fish, insects… the list goes on! Over 2 million specimens were housed in the dark dingy corridors of the old biology building. Now they have a new home and I really hope people will take the time to see some of the diversity that this planet holds. To make it even more accessible to the public, UBC plans to hold seminars and lectures on biodiversity topics, as well as conducting programs for school-aged children and families.

Natural history museums such as this not only serve as a repository of life, they also serve as valuable teaching and research tools. Many times during my volunteering days, I would encounter grad students taking measurements of samples, or collecting a bit of hair or feather. As an undergrad, I would often borrow specimens for class presentations.

The museum is one of the places where I most strongly feel connected to science. When you work long enough in a lab, you get into this mindset where it seems normal to be working with chemicals and molecules you can’t see, and it’s easy to forget the “big” science. To me, museums are an example of the “big” science. To see the diversity that it holds, and to know that you are a part of that, I think that’s something special. To be able to see species that may no longer walk this Earth… that’s something special too.

So come and check out the Museum! Can’t decide when? May 22 is International Day of Biological Diversity – I’ll be there! According to the website, there will be a welcoming ceremony, museum tours (including opportunities to view the whale!), hands-on activities and a talk from museum director Wayne Maddison.

[Photo by the Beaty Biodiversity Museum website]

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When I was an undergrad I volunteered the natural history museum on campus.  Now at the time, calling it a museum was a bit of a stretch.  It was an amazing collection of specimens, no one would deny that, but they were all housed in locked cupboards in the recesses of the old biology building.  Worse, they were not even housed on the same floor or even the same wing.  There were fish specimens in the basement, birds and bugs on the top floor… No one knew about them!

I was introduced to the museum during a class on biodiversity, from Dr. Wayne Maddison.  He introduced the class to Dr. Rex Kenner, who ran the vertebrate museum.  Rex showed the class examples of endangered species, extinct species, beautiful animal pelts, exotic insects… It only took one visit to the museum, and I signed up to be a volunteer.

To be accurate, UBC has more than one natural history museum collection – there’s a vertebrate collection, a bug collection, a fossil collection… and so on and so forth.  Rex was in charge of the vertebrate collection.  He was a bit of a bird hobbyist, so my role in the museum was to help prepare bird specimens.  Taxidermy!

From Rex, I learned how to take a dead, bird – usually one who met an unfortunate fate, like flying into a window – and create a specimen which could be used indefinitely for research and for teaching.  Until I became a volunteer, I had no idea that museum archives could be used for research.  But over the course of my time in the museum, I would often see grad students taking measurements, photos, and sometimes samples.

Taxidermy isn’t for the faint of heart, certainly, and I won’t go into the details here.  But I was fortunate enough to work with many beautiful species of birds – everything from Stellar’s Jays to owls to little thrushes.  I was able to hold in my hand a representation of so many species which I never would have seen up close.  Without the museum, I never would have been able to pull back the wing to see the iridescence feathers, nor examined an owl to find it’s “ears”.  And, thanks to the museum, other students and researchers will be able to see, hold and use these specimens as part of their studies and research.

Most exciting is the upcoming public opening of the new Beaty Biodiversity Museum which will finally house these collections!  Gone are the dusty corridors of the old biology building – they are demolishing it even now.

It will be a bittersweet event for me.  For several weeks now, I had planned to visit Rex and extend my congratulations on the move to the new museum.  But I kept putting it off, thinking that I would have all the time in the world.  I received an email a few days ago from his assistant.  Dr. Rex Kenner passed away the previous weekend, only weeks before the museum would have opened to the public.

I’d like to thank him, even if it is a bit late, for all his hard work and dedication to maintaining and promoting the collections.

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