Preparing a Slide: The Great Diatom Hunt.

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.

In the case that one of our lovely diatoms are requested for their moment in the spotlight, a slide with a small amount of sample needs to be prepared using the following process.

1) Wake the diatoms up:
Although there are numerous ways of keeping a diatom collection, a large amount of them will be stored within glass vials. While they were once wet specimens, their time spent in the collections has dried them out. Our first step therefore is to add a small amount of distilled water to the vial to get them ready for sampling. Once the water is added, give the vial a little shake to get them moving again.

Like so:


2) Extract the diatoms:
Using a pipette, place a small drop of the water onto a glass microscope slide. (It really is as simple as that).


3) Tuck them in:
Remember when your mum used to tuck you in, sending you safely off to the land of nod? Well quite similarly, to ensure our diatoms arrive safely at their new destination we cover the drop of water with a slide cover thus completing the easy part of a loan process.

4) Now for the hard part:
Our lovingly prepared slide won’t be much use if it doesn’t actually contain what the scientist needs, so now starts the lengthy process of locating a diatom.

Being microscopic may be a bonus for them, but when it comes to finding diatoms, it’s like playing a massive game of hide and seek… in the whole central London. Scanning through each plain of the water droplet, carefully focusing their eyes, the hunt begins. 


Once we find something, the slide is carefully packaged and sent off to its new home, ready to change the way the public thinks about the worlds climate, to help with forensic investigations or maybe just to confirm what one of it’s relatives of the same species looks like.

Fri, 2013-09-27 11:23 -- Will_H

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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith