Friends of the Sedgwick Museum - Summer Placements

Each year the Friends of the Sedgwick Museum have kindly donated funds allowing the Museum to provide work experience for a period of four weeks for up to three students currently studying in the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge.

Below are some of the thoughts of the latest students to take up this opportunity.

Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Summer Project 2016
Matthew Lees

For four weeks this summer, I had the opportunity to work in the Sedgwick Museum on one of the 2016 Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Summer Projects. My project involved conservation and display improvements. This meant I spent the bulk of my time in the museum bays, carefully removing specimens from display and cleaning them, checking their condition, then redisplaying them. Often, this meant mounting them on Plastazote foam and replacing them as they were – but some specimens needed more attention. A case in point was one particular mammoth jaw which needed relocating, a task that took most of an afternoon due to the size and weight of the thing! 

The work I did in the museum was highly satisfying, as the displays improved in front of my eyes, and I was able to handle exciting material, including dinosaur bones and Pleistocene mammals. I was also able to experience other aspects of museum work, including being involved in setting up the ‘frog trail’ (a trail of frog-related exhibits which was organised by the Whipple Museum) and the entertaining ‘poo trail’ which had visitors hunting around the museum for coprolites. I was also about to visit the archives in the Brighton Building, where I got a flavour for some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in managing a large collection.

Overall, I had a fantastic time and gained very useful experience at museum conservation work. Thanks to Rob Theodore and Sarah Finney, and all the other Museum staff, for their help, as well as to the Friends for providing the opportunity. I’d strongly recommend a summer project to all future students!

Matt Lees
Part III Student 2016-17

Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Summer Project 2016
Greg Palmer

In July 2016 I worked on a Sedgwick Museum summer placement for Nicola Skipper, the museum’s Education Coordinator, with the aim of reorganising and updating the museum’s education collection. This is a collection of over 1000 rock, mineral and fossil specimens including everything from a cast of an Albertosaurus foot to natural silver! The objects are reserved for teaching and handling, usually for schoolchildren doing activities while visiting the museum or in loan boxes sent out to local schools.

In recent years the collection has been split in two parts - 50 drawers filled with random objects and 50 boxes with individual specimens or activity sets. Fortunately, the collection was largely catalogued by another summer student a few years ago (a huge undertaking of recording data on objects and labelling every single one)! I spent much of my time reorganising the drawers, updating the collection database and cataloguing recent additions as I went. These are now the stores, sorted in to logical categories so it is quick to find and compare specific specimens (e.g. all of the ammonites, or metal ores). This was followed by updating some of the boxes tied to specific lessons delivered in the museum with new specimens, then a lot of labelling and laminating to explain my new system!

Towards the end of the project I moved on to the TimeTruck specimens. TimeTruck is the earth sciences outreach scheme run by current students in the department downstairs - something I’ve been involved with for a couple of years. The boxes we take to local primary schools every Spring were in need of a refresh. I honed my foam cutting skills lining brand new boxes for the rearranged specimens, and created new information sheets before doing a little more labelling and laminating.

Thanks to Nicola Skipper, Helen Devereux and all the staff at the museum for having me for a fun month, and of course many thanks to the Friends of the Sedgwick Museum for making these placements possible.

Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Summer Project 2015

Bethany Craik

I spent four weeks this summer working on the collections in the museum. This primarily involved an inspection of all of the drawers (it turns out there's quite a lot!) In order to determine which drawers have catalogued specimens in, which ones have been catalogued as part of the retrospective drawer documentation programme, and which ones had no catalogued specimens in whatsoever. Once I had determined this, I began working on some of the uncatalogued drawers, documenting them at drawer level. This involved counting the number of specimens in the drawer, the age and locality of the specimens, and determining the broad taxanomic hierarchies represented in the drawer.

I really enjoyed the work I was doing, although some of the drawers full of micro-fossils took quite a while to count! My favourite drawer was probably the one I opened that was full of geological hammers, including some belonging to Sedgwick himself.

This summer has provided me with invaluable experiences in working within a museum, and whilst it was hard work, it was something I would definitely do again.

Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Summer Project 2015
Richard Stockey

My name is Richard Stockey and I’m a fourth year Geological Sciences student here at the University of Cambridge. This summer I have been lucky enough to spend four weeks working in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, thanks to funding from the Friends of the Sedgwick Museum. I came to Cambridge as a biologist with a particular interest in evolution and am now specialising in palaeontology and climate science in the Department of Earth Sciences, with a master’s research project focusing on the palaeoecology of the Burgess Shale.

At the Sedgwick Museum my task has been to create a full inventory of the Oak Wing display cases. Following the redisplay and reopening of this part of the museum in 2002, there are over two thousand objects on display in the Oak Wing, all of which need correct labels and database records. I spent the first two weeks of my placement creating a spreadsheet survey of every object on display, beginning with extensive pre-existing work on this project by Matt Riley. I spent my days going through the cabinets, confirming that the previous inventory work was still correct, searching for specimen labels and adding information for unrecorded specimens. I also worked on previously catalogued displays, such as historically important collections previously owned by Adam Sedgwick, William MacFadyen and Philip Cambridge.

My second two weeks have given me the opportunity to experience other types of collections management work. The previously unnumbered specimens in the post-2002 Oak Wing display all needed to be numbered and recorded on the museum database in order to keep museum movement records up-to-date and make specimens available for visiting researchers. Each specimen has required labelling with the new number I have assigned it and has then been entered onto the database, along with any geographic, geological or historical information available to accompany it. This has often meant transcribing the original field or collection numbers written by the objects’ previous owners.
I have really enjoyed having the chance to experience some of the work that goes into managing museum collections. Working on the Oak Wing inventory has provided me with a great learning opportunity and I feel that I’ve gained a lot from my time here, both in terms of developing new skills and increasing my understanding of the collections. Thank you to the Friends of the Sedgwick Museum for making this project possible and to the museum staff for such an enjoyable few weeks.

Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Summer Project 2015
Ellie Mestel

Over the course of September this year, I worked on the Sedgwick Museum’s meteorite collection, housed in the Brighton Building. I was awarded the one of the Friends of the Sedgwick Museum Student Prizes which allowed me to volunteer in the museum, following on from the work of Sarah Lucas and Andy Tindle in previous years.

During the month, I have made a full inventory of the meteorites in the hand specimen and thin section collections. This involved re-weighing and photographing each specimen. When the meteorites as borrowed for testing and research, they are often sawn in half or mounted, so the weights and types of samples change through time. The collection’s drawers also hold empty trays within the drawers from samples which are missing or have been borrowed. The unlabelled specimens which are on display in the Sedgwick Museum were also studied so that they might be matched with these empty trays where possible.

The second phase of the project was matching the inventory with the existing notes on the collection. An old card catalogue of the collection, rediscovered within the last year, was was the starting point for matching the specimens. The computerised database is for these specimens not complete, but was a huge help in finding which specimens are housed in the museum displays. Once matched as much as possible, the new photographs and weights need to be added to the database

Throughout the month, I learnt more about the collection and classification of meteorites and tektites. I particularly enjoyed the puzzle that some of the specimens presented, requiring information from multiple sources for identification. On particularly memorable moment involved asking everyone else in the building if they could work out what a cursive piece of labelling said! Meeting and getting to know those who work in the Brighton Building and Museum was incredibly interesting. I learnt about the archives and collections which are housed there, and hope to return soon to have a closer look at the archives for the Sedgwick Club.

Though there are still about 50 objects which are unmatched, the collection is now more clearly labelled and the images on the database make the specimens easier to identify. I hope that this means that the Sedgwick Museum will be able to use its impressively extensive collection of “space rocks” to a greater extent. Having visited the museum as a child and more recently as a student of the Earth Sciences department, it was great to see the Sedgwick Museum from a different angle.