Collections Up Close

***New Blog!***
Trails from the Outback - A new blog by Dr Ken McNamara, Museum Director. 
Pt 1. Tracking the First Colonizers of Land

Study of a unique rock collection – and its astonishingly beautiful microscopic crystal structures – could change our understanding of how the Earth works.

A new study funded by the Natural Environment Research Council in the University’s Department of Earth Sciences has turned to a unique rock collection, amassed since at least the early 1800s and held within the Sedgwick Museum, to provide fresh understanding of the composition of the mantle.
Dr John Maclennan, project leader, is working alongside Dr Arwen Deuss and Dr Tim Holland to look at the frozen remains of magma formed at depths of 100 km or more from the mantle and then 'spewed out of volcanoes'. More information and the film associated with the project can be found here.

Saharan dust on your bonnet - Dr Douglas Palmer

A powerful southerly airflow has been blasting fine dust all the way from the Sahara in north Africa to Cambridge over the past few days.

The dust is most noticeable on the bodywork of dark coloured cars.

If you have wondered what Saharan dust actually looks like, here is a view taken down a microscope by Jeannie Booth, research assistant in the Sedimentological Laboratory of the Department of Earth Sciences. 

The dust grains are very small mineral particles, about a tenth of a millimeter in diameter and therefore light enough to be picked up by the wind and carried high up in the atmosphere over 3000km before being dropped over northern Europe.

The grains have a distinct pinkish colour from a coating of iron compounds, such as haematite, which is typical of the Saharan desert. They also have angular shapes, unlike larger desert sand grains, which are typically well rounded. The dust particles are too small and light to be ground into round shapes. 

Naturalists are becoming an endangered species - Dr David Norman

The phrase “Natural History” is linked in most people’s minds today with places that use the phrase: the various Natural History Museums, or television programmes narrated so evocatively by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

As times have changed, used in its traditional sense the phrase now has an almost archaic ring to it, perhaps recalling the Victorian obsession with collecting butterflies or beetles, rocks or fossils, or stuffed birds and animals, or perhaps the 18th century best-seller, Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne.

Full article available here

Dr Woodward's Fossils - Dr Kenneth McNamara

For three hundred years, 5 beautiful walnut veneer cabinets, like elegant Regency secretaires, have been the home to almost 10,000 “Fossils of all Kinds” in the University of Cambridge. These were originally the personal collection of Dr John Woodward (1665 (or 8) – 1728).

Full article available here

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One of the most iconic of Cambrian age fossils from the famous Burgess Shale is a little (3.5 cm long) creature called Hallucigenia, which has been the subject of considerable controversy for several decades. Now, researchers, Martin Smith and Javier Ortega-Hernandez from the Department of Earth Sciences have reinvestigated this strange creature and its relationship to other animals.

A new project is underway at Cambridge’s oldest museum, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. Funding from Arts Council England’s ‘Designation Development Fund’ is enabling the Museum to make some of its most historically important specimens available to visitors for the first time as high-quality, interactive digital 3D objects.