Scientific Research in the Past
A Scientific Museum Piece (Part 1)
by David Bradley
My first visit to London's Natural History Museum must have been at the age of seven or eight accompanying my parents and younger sister and so is only a rather distant memory. I do recall the imposing and blackened skeleton of a giant sauropod that greeted me on entering the massive front doors of the main building but what also struck me at the time was just how many 'taxidermed' animals could be stuffed into row upon row of glass cases
When I took my own children just recently things could not have been more
different. The Diplodocus still stands guard, but all those arrays of
dusty species seem to have been tucked out of sight and replaced with a much
more lively and fun view of natural history with all kinds of hands-on and
multimedia exhibits and galleries.
Behind the scenes though, I suspect the same curiosity-driven research is what has underpinned museums like this around the globe. But, who are the researchers that opt out of everyday academia to work in among those glass cases and dinosaur bones?
David Johnston is one such scientist. 'As with probably the majority of researchers, one rarely is able, at graduation time, to say "I want to spend my life researching X, Y, Z", rather, you change fields as and when job contracts necessitate, and finding employment as dictated by experience and expertise.' His skills in fundamental molecular biology were what landed him his first post-doctoral at the Natural History Museum, sequencing from parasitic flatworms (schistosomes), a group second only to the malaria parasites as a global health problem. Tenureship followed.
Read on... Science in Museums