At V Factor we are working with samples collected during the H.M.S. Challenger expedition. This is really exciting as these samples were collected over 100 years ago and hold so much prestige within the scientific world. So what was the H.M.S. Challenger expedition all about?
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It’s not only the researchers working directly within the confines of the Natural History Museum that use the specimens in our collections for their work. Scientists all over the world are carrying out projects, which may require the information locked within those specimens too. When this is the case, our curators museum wide will be able to create a loan of a specimen, and the diatom collection is no exception.
And I would also add, everyone has beauty, but not everyone can see it (“…mirror mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?” - See the picture below of our Volunteer Co-ordinator, Ali Thomas, trying to take some pictures of a lantern slide).
I'm not entirely sure this is exactly what dieticians and ‘detoxers’ have in mind when they think of a 'diatom diet' but I have absolutely no doubt that they are 100% more delicious!
I am in the process of transcribing the locations of diatoms from Thomas Comber's original handwritten catalogue of slide collections and I am struck by the presence of these eukaryotes all over the world. I am focusing on the British collections, but my colleagues around me are inputting geographical data from many different corners of the globe. From Cheshire to New Jersey, South Africa to the Philippines. These oxygen-producing giants were found everywhere and still inhabit all of the earth's waters today. Diatoms are natural wonders that surround us, connect us and nurture us.
....Three blank stares, three sets of shuffling feet, and hundreds of unseen organisms waiting for their moment in the spotlight.
Let's be honest: diatoms can be a bit of a hard sell for youngsters, who come to the museum with visions of dinosaurs and big blue whales dancing in their heads. At first glance, a container of white powdery stuff, a jar of slightly scummy water and some photos of strange looking magnified shapes don't collectively say "come over here and look at us! We're cool!".
This blog is dedicated to our V Factor team to share some of their experiences (the good, the bad, the ugly and the sometimes plain weird) as our project and work progresses.
The posts that follow are a forum for informal exchange to accompany our work and provide gentle insight into the V Factor initiative and our current project collaboration with the Genomics and Microbial Biodiversity Section: 'Making the invisible visible; Thomas Comber and his diatom specimens'
We hope you will enjoy finding out more…
Today in V Factor we looked at some samples from 1936 from Baffin Island in Canada - way up north! Some people from Spain (we think) want to have a sample of this - we do not know exactly for what purpose, but the Museum often has requests for samples. We have been told that the people want this diatom sample so that they can do scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the diatoms. To ensure the samples we send out contain diatoms we first looked at the samples under the light microscope (it would have been much better if we had a light microscope with a TV camera attachment so the public
It’s a far stretch from our imaginations to see a campaign by WWF to ‘Save the diatoms’ in place of the ever so cute and much adored panda, for example, however much credit is due to these tiny photosynthesising single-celled organisms as they account for over 1/4 of the world’s oxygen alone. (One study showed that: tropical rainforest fix c. 17.8%; savannas 16.8%, the cultivated areas: 8%; diatoms 23.5%).