Thursday, 10 May 2012

A day at the 'Night at the museum'...Museum.

Today I was in Philadelphia. My stop in Philadelphia was to dispatch my duties as a committee member for a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, who had his PhD proposal defense today. The student splendidly displayed his knowledge and understanding of ceratopsian dinosaurs...not a surprise, given he is supervised by Professor Peter Dodson...the ultimate 'ceratophile'.

Tomorrow morning, bright an early, I will make the trip from Philadelphia to New York. The 'Big Apple' is host to one of my favourite places on Earth, The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Many of you will be familiar with its grandiose exterior, from the Hollywood blockbuster, 'Night at the Museum'..which I might add was not filmed inside the hallowed halls of the said institution...the interior shots were filmed at a specially constructed set for the movie!  However, I am sure the film hooked many visitors into the real Museum which is located just off Central Park.

Whilst the AMNH plays host to some 5 million visitors every year....sadly the exhibit remains un-animated after dusk...as far as I know? However, behind the public exhibition area lurks something even more exciting than an excitable Genghis Kahn or roaming T. rex... here lies one of the most incredible natural history collections on the planet...one that I am pleased to say the University of Manchester team has been donating fossils to over the past year or so.

The fossils that we have donated, coupled with some borrowed from the AMNH collections, are being studied at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL: California) and also at the Diamond Synchrotron (Oxford, UK). My trip tomorrow is to work-out a strategy for which fossils will be placed on the synchrotron x-ray 'spit' on our beam runs in May (at SSRL) and July (at Diamond). Such decisions are always tough, but are fundamentally driven by science...the more we can unpick from lost worlds and forgotten lives, the better.

While the powerful gaze of the synchrotron sheds new light on some very old fossils, in a way...we too are animating a bit of the past...albeit without the aid of Ben Stiller and Hollywood. So, next time you watch a heart-pounding movie with dinosaurs chomping their way through a cast of stars....spare a thought for the museum collections that house the precious fossils from which such stories are crafted.

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