We took a behind the scenes tour of Bristol Museum’s gigantic collection of stored animal specimens on 11th of March. The tour was lead by Rhian Rowson who is a curator at the Museum. Rhian is intensely passionate about conserving the animals, the personal stories behind them, and the human/environmental impact on their lives. We learned that the museum is home to over 700,000 different species and that researchers from all over the globe contact the museum to find out about them.
Rhian told us that it is often difficult to display the collection as the animal skins have been treated with arsenic to prevent pests (like silverfish) from destroying them. This means that they can only run small supervised tours. In order to give people access to this space the museum relies on civil participation in the form of volunteers to sort through the collections, help researchers and artists access the animals, and run teaching days where people can pay to learn identification skills.
The museum loves to share knowledge and regularly takes photos of the animals (more recently in 3D) that they then put online. This gives the public the opportunity to see the collection but it would be great if they could find a more immersive way of doing so. This brings us back to the issue of teaching children about bees when they are unable to visit or touch the hive. This research trip was helpful as we were able to confirm that creating a virtual environment to display data is where we want to focus our further research.