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#AdventBotany Day 10: Have yourself a microscopically Merry Christmas

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At this time of year, there is always that one person who is impossible to buy a gift for. What do you get a botanist who has everything? Well, how about some microscope slides?

As we’ve been working our way through Manchester Museum’s 15,000 microscope slide collection, I can’t help but imagine some of these as presents.  For starters, there’s all that beautiful paper; no gift is complete without the careful wrapping. Early microscope slides were wrapped in paper to keep the coverslip in place on top of the specimen. Other methods for attaching the coverslip were developed, but some slide preparators continued to use the papers for decoration.

Just imagine the fun your botanical friend could have looking at the finer details of the fruit and veg and sharing their findings over the Christmas dinner. While the word ‘fruit’ in English is used for many sweet-tasting plant parts, its use is much more specific in botany. There are a considerable number of ways by which any aspiring botanist can learn to describe their fruits and distinguish one kind from another. They might offer a slice of soft, juicy, pickled pepo (cucumber) with the cheese, warn fellow diners to take care with the hard stone in their delicious drupe (date), join in the struggle to break into a true nut (walnut) and, my personal favourite, uncover the zesty heperidium (tangerine) at the bottom of their Christmas stocking.  Not forgetting, of course, there is always the chance to put people off their dessert by explaining the intricate way that the highly specialised fig flower structure is visited by wasps and develops into the culinary fruit (technically known as a synconium; I wonder if that would get a good score in Scrabble?) .

A set of slides could be an opportunity to escape another round of charades and escape to some quiet contemplation! Perhaps of the Christmas tree in extraordinary detail. Just imagine the pleasure getting lost for hours in the patterns created by slicing the timber in different directions, with or across the grain. Or maybe a close investigation of a local nativity scene – is that really hay in the manger? Or is it a much scratchier bed of straw?

The fortunate recipient of your microscopical gifts can follow in the footsteps of Mr George Wilks, who was clearly snipping bits off the decorations in 1903. Perhaps he needed to test out a new microscope from Santa.

Ivy: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/crg/2014-botanical-advent-calendar/

 

Further reading

Fruit: https://awkwardbotany.com/2014/10/04/22-botanical-terms-for-fruits/ and

https://botanistinthekitchen.blog/2013/02/04/pomegranates-and-the-art-of-herbivore-attraction/

Microscope slides http://www.victorianmicroscopeslides.com/history.htm

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Siberia: At the Edge of the World Oct 2014 – Mar 2015

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Tonight is the private view for our latest temporary exhibition, Siberia, after months of hard work by Dmitri Logunov and David Gelsthorpe (who have curated it) and a final few furious weeks of activity by the team who have installed it (many thanks to the collections care and access team!). There are many beautiful objects on show, but I thought I’d show a little of the preparation which went into getting one of the botanical specimens ready for display.

Dmitri brought some examples of Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica) to the Museum which had been collected in the Novosibirsk Region of Russia in August 2013. After a spell in the herbarium freezer to ensure that there were no insect pests, Lindsey and I put in a box for safe keeping where they waited their turn for almost a year.

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A box of Siberian pine specimens in assorted Russian carrier bags

A standard herbarium sheet didn’t really seem to do justice to the many pieces of tree we had acquired and as they were destined for display before incorporation into the herbarium we decided to arrange them on something bigger. We like to re-use display boxes from previous exhibitions to increase the sustainability of our displays. An acrylic box which had previously housed a stunning fan coral in the ‘Coral, something rich and strange’ seemed perfect.

With the possibilities of several branches and pine cones to choose from, mounting the specimens onto something stronger than paper also seemed like a good plan, so we asked paper conservator Dan Hogger if he could find us a suitably sized piece of cardboard. One of our regular volunteers, Christine, then tried out various bits and pieces for size to find an arrangement which looked attractive.

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The plan, the tools, the card and the specimens – ready to go for it!

The task of attaching a small tree seedling, a small branch, a group of pine needles, 2 whole cones, one half eaten cone, one sectioned cone and a series of pine nuts on to the card then fell to Jemma (our placement student from Life Sciences) and myself. We decided that a combination of glue, tissue papers nests and sewing would do the job better than our standard method of gummed paper slips. We wanted to be thorough as this display is going to be attached vertically to the wall until March 2015 and I didn’t want to find myself taking it down for repairs every other week.

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Jemma glueing tissue paper ‘nests’ to rest the pinecones in

Then the finished piece was off to conservation to be mounted onto the backing board, and down into the exhibition space to be hung in it’s place amongst the other flora and fauna of the taiga.

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Mounted onto the backing board by conservator Jenny
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Waiting for attention from the workshop team
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Done! Bring on the opening!

An introduction and how to remount specimens

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Hello! My name is Jamie and I am the curatorial apprentice within the herbarium.I have been here since February and will continue to be here until the following February (2015). I have been in the herbarium for 5 months now, and we thought it was time for me to introduce myself to the blog. My first 5 months in the herbarium have involved quite a variety of different tasks. These tasks have involved relocating part of our collection to the newly installed roller racking, preparing specimens to go out for educational visits, and one of my favourites, reorganising the Materia Medica collection.

Along with the mentioned above, I have also been doing some remounting of specimens. Below you will find a selection of pictures, with a description, that shows the process of remounting a specimen. The main purpose of re-mounting specimens is for convenience in handling specimens of difficult shapes or sizes during the subsequent steps of preparation and examination. A secondary purpose is to protect and preserve the specimen as best as we possibly can.

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Workspace

The photo above shows the area the remounting will be taking place. Remounting is the process of replacing the cartridge paper – that the specimen is placed on – and the gummed linen tape that are no longer in a satisfactory condition.

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As you can see in the first image, the specimen is placed in a flimsy folder and is not in a very good condition. In image two you can see the specimen is poorly kept, and is without any gummed tape – you can clearly see this in the image below.

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As you can see in the above images this specimen clearly needs to be remounted. The first process of the remounting is to replace the sheet the specimen will be laying on, in this case from a flimsy tissue type paper, to our preferred cartridge paper. Image two shows you the new sheet for the specimen.

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The above images are of the gummed tape we use – this tape is acid free and can last a very long period of time. In the second of these images you see the tape cut into thin strip, this is so we can give the specimen a snug, secure fit.

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Water pot

To get the gummed tape to stay secure, we have to wet both ends. But never the middle, as we don’t want to damage the specimen.

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The first image above shows you how a specimen should correctly be kept. In the second image, you can see how secure the specimen looks, compared to its original sheet.

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Once the specimen has a new sheet and is secure, we then have to transfer any information from its original sheet to the new one. We do this by cutting around the required information and then glue it to the new sheet, as you can see in the below image.

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We then add the finishing touch, which is the Manchester Museum Herbarium stamp.