National Museums Scotland Blog#2
By Kirsten Dinwoodie
Behind the scenes at the Museum
On our first day at the museum (see National Museums Scotland Blog#1 for background), we were briefed on what exactly we would be doing for the week.
The specimens we sorted were collected in 2008 and had definitely seen better days! (Photo left – jars of tiny brittlestars, a juvenile sand eel, a tiny razor shell; photo right – a masked crab.)
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as a simple handover of samples! Every specimen is prepared in a way that will keep it preserved in good condition for future research, before it is categorised and stored in a very specific order.
Specimens are first recorded in a database, matching species name to a reference code used by museum curators to store specimens in a proper order, similar to how librarians reference books. Each specimen is then transferred into a small vial of 74% ethanol, which will keep it "fresh" in storage. These vials are then placed inside a jar, along with a label generated from the database containing information on where and when the sample was collected. The jars are also filled with ethanol, so that if the vial inside cracks, the specimen will not dry out. Finally, a tiny bit of paper is added with a number hand-written in special ink that will not break down – this number refers to an entry in the database and can be used to find the specimen information if all other labels are lost. Specimens are then stored, according to their reference code, in a huge facility for use by future researchers.
Photo: Charlie sorting away our fully labelled specimens after a week of hard work.
Watching samples go from a box of poorly labelled jars to fully prepared specimens stored in a huge collection was incredibly satisfying, and I feel so lucky to have been able to see behind the scenes of such an incredible facility. Many thanks to Sankurie and Fiona at NMS for having us.