Andrew KitchenerBy Dr Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator of Vertebrates

With the next phase of the redevelopment of the National Museum of Scotland, all the objects that could move are being packed up in the Connect gallery to be stored safely until they are redisplayed. Among these is Dolly the sheep, who must be quite relieved that she is no longer rotating endlessly while watching the countless visitors who come to see her and be photographed beside her every day.

Dolly the sheep

Dolly the sheep

One afternoon we gathered to carefully remove Dolly from her case onto a trolley. She was wheeled carefully through the galleries, down and up lifts, until she finally arrived in the packing area.  An Italian visitor, asking about Dolly’s whereabouts, was lucky to see her briefly on this nerve-wracking journey.  Once safely behind the scenes, she was once more photographed from every angle, scrutinised carefully for her current condition, and then finally her base was screwed and clamped into a very large wooden crate. Outside her case Dolly could be prey to clothes moths and other insect pests, so it is important we keep her sealed in this wooden haven.

Dolly the sheep being photographed

Dolly the sheep modelling for our photo-shoot

Dolly and her tightly sealed crate were transported carefully to the National Museums Collections Centre, which will be her home for the next year and a half until she is unveiled in the new Science and Technology galleries in 2016.

Dolly the sheep on the move

On the move!

Dolly the sheep in her crate

Have you got my best side..?

Dolly the sheep in her crate

Safely stored away in her wooden crate

You can find out more about the new galleries at National Museum of Scotland here.

Guest post by Andy Brown from Replay Events

Replay Events brought their retro video gaming to the second annual Robots Live! event at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune on Sunday 17 June 2012.

Replay Events are a company who specialise in video gaming events and equipment hire and we will be providing a ‘robots’ themed videogames display for Robots Live!  at the National Museum of Flight.

Gamers in the Replay Lounge, which will be at Robots Live! at National Museum of Flight.

Running an event, even for just one day, takes a lot of preparation. All equipment has to be thoroughly checked and cleaned, all games have to be tested and spares need to be brought – some of the equipment we are asked to provide is over 30 years old! Depending on the size of the event, setup can take anything from a few hours to a few days and it isn’t unusual for us to work through the night to get things ready for a deadline.

Remember these? See them at Robots Live! at National Museum of Flight.

For the Robots Live! we will be bringing a selection of computers and consoles from the 1970s right through to the most recent consoles. We will be showing how robot games have evolved as the games machines have become more powerful over the years. There should be something for all ages with our display – parents will enjoy showing their children what games were like when they were at school, some of the latest consoles will be on display for avid gamers and the exhibition should evoke a few smiles as well as memories in even the most casual of gamers.

A guest post by work experience student Jack Hocking

The prospect of seeing what goes on behind the scenes of National Museums Scotland was exciting, and I wasn’t disappointed. After learning to navigate my way through the warren that is the museum, and taking a good look at the exhibits, I found solace in the act of painting paper with tea and coffee to make it look ancient for a map-making workshop to be held in the museum.

My first day was mainly meeting people. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming. I had a meeting with Hugh, the Head of Digital Media, who gave me a talk on what the department does.  He even asked me what National Museums Scotland could do to attract more people in my age group.

We also went to the National Gallery to see an exhibition on prisoners’ art; I found that very illuminating.

Tuesday was quite a busy day, as was Wednesday, when I helped Fiona from the Learning and Programmes department with workshops for primary kids. There were around thirty primary 3s, bright little bundles of completely unsuppressable energy I tell you…

School pupils at the National Museum of Scotland

School pupils at the National Museum of Scotland.

That day I was also given an animal census in order to choose some animals for a trail round the museum.

On Thursday afternoon I visited the Collection Centre in Granton. It was amazing, there were huge machines bolted to floors, the insects were myriad and there were vertebrae bigger than my head! The thing I remember most about that visit was the very strange looking manticore (it was a manticore wasn’t it?) skull, the beast must have been HUGE!

Conservation staff working at the National Museums Collection Centre

Conservation staff working at the National Museums Collection Centre.

Friday, alas, the end of my work experience. And what an experience.  There was, of course, no better way to end the week than by compiling results from the evaluation sheets given to pupils and teachers after workshops. That day I learned a harsh lesson that not all work is fun…  But in the end I got a really nice card out of it and an amusing mug, so it’s not all bad!

Thanks guys !

A guest post by Emma Kaye-Hudson and Elizabeth Morrissey, aka The Blitz Sisters

The Blitz Sisters will be performing Second World War songs at Wartime Experience on Sunday 12 May 2012 at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune. Book your tickets in advance here.

We are a 1940s singing duo who met at university whilst studying for performing arts. After graduating we decided to create some work together and after realising that what we both enjoyed most was singing, we created The Blitz Sisters! That was two years ago now and we have loved every minute.

The Blitz Sisters will be appearing on Sunday 12 May at  Wartime Experience, National Museum of Flight, East Fortune

The Blitz Sisters will be appearing on Sunday 12 May at Wartime Experience, National Museum of Flight, East Fortune.

All our songs are from the 1940s and 1950s, however we have also arranged a few modern songs to fit the sound of the era, so there is something there to suit everyone.

The Blitz Sisters will be appearing on Sunday 12 May at  Wartime Experience, National Museum of Flight, East Fortune

The Blitz Sisters will be appearing on Sunday 12 May at Wartime Experience, National Museum of Flight, East Fortune.

Before a show we try and get a good night’s sleep and then have a honey and hot water in the morning to help look after our voices.

At the Wartime Experience you can expect to hear songs from artists such as Vera Lynn, George Formby and The Andrews Sisters. We are really looking forward to returning to Scotland after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe last August and we hope you have a great day!

Gemma Thorns, Assistant Conservator Technology

By Gemma Thorns, Assistant Conservator Technology

Recently the Engineering and Furniture Conservation Team undertook the exterior cleaning of three large aircraft in the grounds at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield. This was no mean feat, as given their size they presented the conservation team with quite a challenge. The aircraft to be cleaned was the Avro Vulcan B.2A, the De Havilland Comet 4C, and the “Lothian Region” BAC111-510ED. Each of the aircraft had interesting and significant working lives before arriving at the Museum of Flight, and so it is important to keep them in good condition.

The Vulcan was the world’s first delta winged bomber when it first flew in 1952. Our Vulcan made the headlines when, due to a fractured in-flight refuelling probe, the Vulcan diverted to Rio de Janeiro. After seven days internment the aircraft and crew were released. On the nose can be seen two mission markings and a Brazilian flag commemorating her unscheduled stopover.

Vulcan being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The Vulcan

The Comet was the first jet powered passenger airliner, the prototype first flying in July 1949. Our Comet was the last Comet to fly in commercial colours when she flew from Lasham, Hampshire to East Fortune in September 1981.

The Comet aircraft being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The Comet

The BAC111 was a British short-range jet airliner of the 1960s and 1970s, and was one of the most successful British airliner designs, serving until a widespread retirement in the 1990s. Our “Lothian Region” BAC111 was used for the shuttle service between Edinburgh and London

The Lothian Region BAC111 being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The “Lothian Region” BAC111

Luckily the week the team assembled on site was dry and fairly sunny, which made the cleaning much easier. Splitting into smaller teams, and with the help of volunteers, we used hoses, a power washer, mops, brushes and aviation detergent to remove the build-up of dirt, lichen and moss from the aircraft, using lifting equipment to access the higher areas. The final areas of cleaning will be carried out later in the year.

The Vulcan aircraft being cleaned at National Museum of Flight

The Vulcan

With the conservation cleaning almost complete, it is clear to see that the aircraft has greatly benefited from the work, and they can now be seen gleaming in the sunshine once again.

Peter DavidsonBy Peter Davidson, Senior Curator of Mineralogy

Comets are very much in the news at the moment with the approach of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) probe “Rosetta” to the comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (I know it is a bit of a mouthful so let’s call it 67P/CG for short). The hope is that Rosetta will be able to land on the comet and take sample and readings to send back to scientists on Earth. 67P/CG is a regular visitor to our part of the Solar System orbiting the Sun every 6½ years.

Comet 67P

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Comets are truly one of the wonders of the Solar System. Unlike asteroids, they are not solid but composed of a mishmash of varying quantities of rock fragments, dust and ice (a comet is sometimes referred to as a “dirty snowball”) and can come in a range of sizes from a few hundred metres to tens of kilometres. Some comets are thought to originate in an area just beyond our Solar System called the Kuiper Belt, a region of cold, icy bodies, others are thought to derive from the Oort Cloud which lies even further out, beyond the Kuiper Belt.

But the most distinctive feature of a comet is of course its tail. The tail isn’t there all the time and appears only as the comet approaches the Sun. The heat from our star causes the ice to vapourise and stream out from the main body carried by the solar wind. It contains not just ice, but small dust and rock particles and can stretch many millions of kilometres and is very spectacular when visible from Earth. Once the comet has passed, the tail, or rather the rock and ice particles that make up the tail, remain where they were left, and this fact is important to our story. One thing we might notice about comets is that the tail of a comet always points away from the Sun. So when the comet reappears from behind the Sun, the tail will be in front of the comet and not behind it.

Comet Hale-Bopp with its tail

Comet Hale-Bopp with its tail. Photo by NASA.

The orbit of a comet round the Sun

The orbit of a comet round the Sun. Image Hong Kong University.

One of the most famous of all comets is called Halley’s or 1P/Halley to give it its proper name (tip: the name of this comet is pronounced in one of two ways, 1) like Hal the male first name, thus hal-ley or 2. Like hall, thus hall-ley. But definitely not like hail).1P/Halley was named after the astronomer Edmond Halley who in 1705 was able to calculate the orbital period (about 74 – 75 years) of  this comet using historical records and the recently publish work on gravity by Sir Isaac Newton. 1P/Halley first appears in the historical record in 240 BC in a Chinese Chronicle but it is perhaps most famously depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry of 1066. The last visit was in 1986 and its next will be in 2061.

Sir Edmond Halley

Sir Edmond Halley.

Halley’s Comet in the Bayeux Tapestry

Halley’s Comet in the Bayeux Tapestry.

So, why are we remembering Halley’s Comet now? Let’s think back to the little fact I asked you to remember above – the bit about the tail of a comet remaining behind. Like all other comets, Halley’s leaves behind its tail in the form of a long stream of dust and rock fragments. Every year, the Earth passes through a number of these comet’s tails, in fact there are about twenty such occurrences. When we do pass through this debris field, a very spectacular event is seen which on a clear night provides one of the most amazing spectacles. This is a meteor shower. What happens is that the rock fragments and dust particles are drawn down through the Earth’s atmosphere by gravity. As they pass through the upper layers they start to burn up and produce hundreds and thousands of mini fireballs, lasting no more than a second or two. The shower continues until the Earth exits the tail and this can take a few hours. It you are lucky to see a meteor shower, one thing you will notice is that the meteors all appear to be generated from a single point called the radiant. We name the shower after the constellation where the radiant is located, thus the Leonid shower appears in the constellation Leo and the Perseid in Perseus.

Leonid Shower of 1833

Leonid Shower of 1833.

Leonid Shower of 2001

Leonid Shower of 2001. Photo by NASA.

Each of these showers is produced by the Earth passing through the tail of a comet. On October 21, the Earth will pass through the tail of Halley’s comet and we may be lucky to observe a shower on a clear night. This shower is called the Orionid and as the name suggests appears in the constellation of Orion. The next big shower after that will be the Leonids which will appear on the night/morning of November 16/17, though it may not be as spectacular as the 1833 shower.

Keep watching the skies!

Want to know more? You can find further information on Wikipedia and on the European Space Agency website or by visiting our Earth in Space gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Plus don’t miss our Autumn Stargazing event at the National Museum of Rural Life and Astronomy Day at the National Museum of Flight.

Tacye PhillipsonBy Dr Tacye Phillipson, Senior Curator of Modern Science and Computing

One of the great joys of working in a museum is getting to research the specimens in our collection and realise what treasures we have. I was delighted a few months ago to notice in our catalogue Herapathite or artificial tourmaline, 1853. This perhaps needs some explanation – what is herapathite? And why was a specimen dated 1853 delighting me?

The specimen

The specimen in question

Herapathite, or iodoquinine sulphate, is the first synthetic polariser, discovered in 1852 and used by William Land in 1929 to construct the first sheet polaroid.  During the Second World War, polarising sunglasses (in the original aviator frames) were in demand as they cut the glare from the water and made it easier to spot submarines. However, the quinine from which herapathite was made was in short supply as it was also used to treat malaria. Because of this, Land developed an alternative polaroid material, used today in sunglasses and liquid crystal displays.

Herapathite was first described by a Bristol chemist, William Herapath, in a paper published in 1852. He describes how one of his students drew his attention to bright green crystals which had formed after iodine was added to the urine of a dog which had been fed quinine. (In case you are wondering, quinine was an important drug for treating malaria and Herapath’s student was, presumably, studying how it was metabolised and excreted by the body.)  Herapath noticed through the microscope that these small crystals were polarising the light, in a similar way to the mineral tourmaline.

A preliminary search in other museum catalogues did not find any other 19th century examples of herapathite so perhaps we had the world’s oldest artificial polariser!

Shortly after my initial excitement I began to get suspicious. The historic descriptions of herapathite say that it was very fragile and hard to grow as large crystals. So why did we have a large lump of it? And it wasn’t the metallic looking green of the description. It did however exactly resemble selenite, a mineral which, as well as more technical uses, gives beautiful colours when thin sheets are placed between two polarising sheets.

Selenite designs made to be used with polarizing apparatus, c.1860

Selenite designs made to be used with polarizing apparatus, c.1860.

So, sadly, we do not have a candidate for the world’s oldest synthetic polariser, but a case of mislabelling which predates the donation of the mineral into the collection. We do, however, have some other very special artefacts relating to the polarisation of light, including the oldest polarising microscope and a nicol prism, a polariser made from the mineral Iceland spar, which was made by the inventor, William Nicol, himself. You’ll be able to see these objects in our new Enquire gallery, which opens at the National Museum of Scotland in 2016.

Polarising microscope. 1823-1829

Polarising microscope. 1823-1829.

Nicol prism

Nicol prism made of two pieces of Iceland spar (trigonal crystal calcite) cemented together with Canada balsam. The prism makes use of the double refracting qualities of Iceland spar to form an optical filter for polarising light. made by William Nicol, Edinburgh, Scotland, circa 1850.

You can find out more about the new science, decorative arts and fashion galleries at National Museum of Scotland here.



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