Museum-inspired computer game characters

Before the festive break, we were delighted to support a Games Development project called ‘Chimera’, undertaken by first year Level 3 BTEC students at Preston’s College. Their brief called for a creature to be designed for use in a video game. The creature needed to have some biological basis in reality to create the illusion of something both familiar and at the same time, completely unique.

To help their design process the students visited Manchester Museum and spent the day sketching, collecting reference photography and taking part in an artist-led session using Museum specimens.

After a lot of development work back at college, the students came back to the Museum and presented their final designs to Museum staff to gain feedback. It was fascinating hearing how the designs had been created and how the visit to the Museum had inspired the students.

The project in conjunction with Manchester Museum was extremely valuable for our students. We were given access to the wide array of exhibitions on offer, had help from experts in their respective fields and we finalised our project by having our students present their work in front of a panel at the Museum. The experience has helped contextualise our students’ learning and we received constructive and supportive feedback from museum staff. The students enjoyed the challenge of the project and our staff were very grateful for such professionalism and enthusiasm from the museum staff.” – Graphics Tutor

Here are their design results:

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Science-related residential summer school opportunity for AS students

Green_Vs_Polluted_CityInterested in how we can create a more sustainable future? Brilliant chance for AS level students to be part of our first ever residential Sustainability Summer School here at Manchester Museum. Bringing objects, technology and innovation together. Supported by the NWBLT, as part of our Lever Prize 2015 year. Find more info and how to apply here.

Conceptio: Tameside College Photography Exhibition

Each year we are lucky enough to work with a fantastic set of photography students from Tameside College. We set them a brief – to use the Museum collection as inspiration for an image to be produced in the darkroom – and every year the cohort deliver us some brilliantly thought-provoking photography that we display in the Museum.

The work from this year has just gone on display on our First Floor Bridge and is looking particularly professional. It will remain on display until the 20th April, so if you can I would recommend popping by to take a look: there’s nothing like viewing the images up close to see the details.

However, if you can’t make it here are some pictures (click to enlarge); Enjoy!

Join The Natural History Museum’s Microverse project


The Natural History Museum are looking for secondary schools across the UK to collaborate with them on cutting-edge genetic research.

Perfect for A-Level Biology classes or equivalent, The Microverse aims to discover and better understand microorganisms that survive in extreme urban environments.

The project explores buildings as habitats where microorganisms have little access to nutrients, experience both wet and dry conditions, and can be exposed to high levels of pollution.

Schools will collect microorganisms from a local building and send them to the Natural History Museum for DNA analysis.

All participating schools will receive a free pack that includes:

  • full instructions
  • all the equipment you need to take part
  • suggested lesson plans and supporting resources
  • a results report once the samples have been DNA sequenced

Visit The Microverse page on the Natural History Museum’s website to sign-up for this fantastic citizen science project.


New Adventures for our Science Co-ordinator Alexa!

Good Bye and Good Luck  Alexa!We’re very sad happy to report that our Secondary and Post-16 Science Co-ordinator, Alexa Jeanes, will be leaving us for exciting new adventures in the New Year.  She started working at the Museum over five years ago when she was delivering on our Real World Science programme as a PhD demonstrator. Then, in June 2009, she became our Secondary and Post-16 co-ordinator and the rest is, as they say, history!

Since she’s been at the Museum she’s developed so many popular, fun and educational experiences that thousands of students across Manchester (and beyond) have participated in: from examining colour throughout the natural world in Nature’s Palette, to debating on stem cell research in The Hard Cell Study Day.

She’s been such a great work colleague and all of us at the Museum are sad that she is leaving the team because she contributes so much. We have no doubt that our Science contacts – teachers, academics and students alike – will also miss her and wish her well on her next adventure: which starts with a trip to Central and South America!

Here’s what Alexa had to say about her time here:

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the Manchester Museum over the past 5 (!) years and have seen it develop and change in many ways.  It has been such fun to translate my passion for science into workshops for students and show them how interesting and fun science can be.  It is always special to work in an amazing environment such as this and with such incredible objects.  The thrill of holding a fossil that is 300 milion years old or seeing a beautiful insect never changes. It has also been a pleasure working with enthusuiatic and knowlegable academics from the Univesity of Manchester and the Museum and bringing their fascinating research and collections to life. I will miss everyone I have worked with over the years, my colleagues, teachers and students and thank you for making my time at Manchester Museum so enjoyable!”

Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma Exhibition

Our latest exhibition ‘Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma’ opened at the end of March.   The exhibition coincides with 2012 Turing Centenary Year, celebrating 100 years since Turings birth. Alan Turing is known to most people as a mathematician and pioneer of computing, as well as being a significant part in the solving of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during WW2.  However the main focus of this exhibition is his work relating to biology, specifically to his fascination of how pattern, shape and form appear in nature, in a process known as morphogenesis.  In 1952, Turing published this work in a paper (The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis) describing a model showing how these patterns could develop from the interactions of two chemicals. The new exhibition combines material used by Turing during his research time in Manchester with objects from the Museum’s extensive natural science collection.  The exhibition is in our 3rd floor exhibition space and runs until 18 November 2012.

As with all our exhibitions, we are developing a learning offer to allow students to explore further the ideas in the display.  Due to the high level content, we are planning a KS4 workshop and a series of Turing related A-Level Study Days, during the summer and autumn term.  Initial details of the workshops are below:

Maths/Science Turing workshop for KS4 – 2 hours, £75

This hands- on, interactive workshop will allow students to explore the scientific contribution of Alan Turings work.  Students will investigate how codes were used in early computing, the numerical patterns found in nature, and how it links to the Fibonacci sequence.  Though facilitated  learning on the new ‘Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma’ exhibition and getting up close to the museums collection, this session shows applications of maths to the natural world and cleverly links both science and maths curriculum.

Turing A-Level Study day, part of Engage with the Experts series (Full day) £150

Through a series of talks by University of Manchester Academics, hands – on activities and debates, your students will discover how their A-Level studies relates the last work of the famous scientist Alan Turing.  They will find out more about embryonic development, morphogenesis and pattern formation in living things and the Maths behind ‘Patterns in Nature’. 

We will be offering a few sessions free of charge during the trial phase (May/June/July), so if you are interested in this offer, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can get involved with your own Turing experiment, by growing a Turing Sunflower

Genes to Phenotype A-level Study Day

Over the past two years, we have hosted an A-Level Study Day called Genes to Phenotypes which was developed with scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester.

On the 5th and 22nd February 2010, 60 A-Level students from The Manchester College, Ashton Sixth Form College, Crompton House School and Xaverian College participated in the 3 hour-workshop (10am-1pm) at The Manchester Museum. The workshop was split into two distinct activities: a hands-on practical session entitled ‘CSI Matrix’ and an interactive meet-the-scientist event, ‘Matrix has got Talent’.

CSI Matrix’ involved the students working through a range of teamwork, problem-solving and analytical activities all based on techniques routinely used in laboratories, ranging from measuring bone lengths to identifying mutations in a DNA sequence, and provided the students with an insight into how to tackle research problems.

‘Matrix has got Talent’ saw five of the Centre’s research scientists, from PhD students to principal investigators, pitch their research to the audience and the students vote for their favourite pitch. Afterwards, the groups of students met each of the scientists to learn about their research interests, and questioned them on a very informal basis about their work and career. The students then cast a second vote, having met the scientists one-by-one, and an overall winner was decided.

Both days were fully booked well in advance, with schools and colleges jumping at the opportunity for their students to interact with research scientists and participate in scientific practical problems.

Overall feedback from both days from the students was great, with 98% of students having a better understanding of science, and 85% are more likely to continue studying science as a direct result of the visit.

Some of the student’s feedback from the day is shown below:

‘It was very interesting to see what careers there are in science’

‘I really enjoyed the study day, it was very interesting. I especially enjoyed having an opportunity to talk to scientists of a field I know little about and learn how specific diseases are diagnosed’

‘Today was very informative and enjoyable and I feel more motivated to learn science now’

‘I learned a lot about what science research is about’

‘ I found out a lot more about the careers you can get into with a degree in Biology and also talking to the scientists helped me find out about what their day to day life is like.’

The scientists also found the day really enjoyable. The thoughts from one of the scientist’s are shown below:

“Working with the A-level students was not only great fun, but really helped me think about and discuss my research in a wider context. Some of the questions the students had were both insightful and challenging, and I could certainly use their imaginations and ideas from time to time!”

Upcoming A-Level Study days includes ‘What Darwin Didn’t Know’ on 17th March 2010 and a Stem Cell Debate Day ‘The hard cell: considerations for stem cell treatments’ on 9th June 2010.

Further dates for Darwin’s Legacy A-Level Study Days in the summer term will be announced shortly. If you would like to book places on any of these study days or would like further information on then please contact or 0161 3061764.

Physics and Frogs A Level Study Day

Image, Students on our recent Physics and Frogs A Level Day

We recently held our first ever Physics and Frogs A Level Study Days.  On these study days students get the unique opportunity to work alongside our Curator of Herpetology, Andrew Gray, and his research colleague from the Photon Science Institute, Dr Mark Dickinson.

The day kicked off with great talks firstly from Andrew, talking about his work abroad in animal conservation and giving a great overview of how and why The Manchester Museum has and looks after a living animal collection.  Andrew then talked about the  research he has been involved in before handing over to Mark who had the tough task of going over the physics behind these exciting scientific techniques.  Mark covered topics such as visible light, infra-red light and ultra-violet light before talking in-depth about how the techniques work and the sort of data they provide.

Image, Students using the Infra-red cameras

Following lunch, the afternoon was spent in Mark’s Lab where the pupils used Hi-tech spectrometers, Infra-red cameras, thermal imaging and Optical Coherence Tomography equipment (OCT).  Andrew posted up a great OCT image of skin which you can see here.

Students really engaged with being able to carry out the research by themselves, with our supervision, and they all took the opportunity to handle the frogs and have their picture taken. 

After the practical work, Andrew took all the students back over to The Museum and provided a hands-on tour of the vivarium and the other animals in his care.

I really hope that the students got as much out of the day as we did developing and delivering it, it’s a real privilege to be able to work with live animals and to work with such cutting edge equipment, so thanks to all involved!

Image, An infra-red photo showing a student and a frog

Travel & Tourism: how to make a difference

Image, Is this Wizard giving excellent Customer Service?

Image, Is this Wizard giving excellent Customer Service?

Recently, Louise and I visited our colleagues at Tameside College to discuss some ideas for engaging students on their Travel & Tourism course at The Manchester Museum.  We focused on the Customer Service module, and came up with some great ideas to complement the course, designing different activities to tease out the necessary skill set required for each level of study.

One of these will be a ‘staff treasure hunt’ where students will be encouraged to determine a response for a set scenario within the Museum – such as what to do if a child is reported lost – by tracking down the appropriate member of staff in order to clarify the situation. Each participating staff member will be ‘hidden’ at a specific location within the museum, and student teams will have to ensure that they know who would be responsible for certain areas in order to discover how best to respond to their allocated scenarios!

Not only will this encourage students to understand the organisational structure of the Museum, but it will also challenge their understanding of communication within an institution – as for some of the provided scenarios more than one individual staff member could be considered a key contributor to solving the problem. By the end of the workshop they should all have a clear understanding of how the Museum responds to certain situations and how good customer service can contribute to ensuring these scenarios do not turn into potential disasters!

My favourite activity, however, is probably the one we have devised for the Level 3 students: who will have to internally ‘assess’ our Customer Service provision and then determine how it could be improved. This is a brave move for the Museum, as it puts us out there to be criticised – but, it will allow the students to develop the necessary skills to objectively analyse the venue, and then puts the onus on them to suggest potential, and practical, solutions. They will then have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to members of museum staff, much like the ‘Dragon’s Den’ type programme.

Hopefully, this will increase the student’s ability to recognise gaps in customer service provisions (which occur in every organisation), but it will also encourage them to look for solutions and have confidence that their ideas could make a difference. The team who is seen to have the most impressive, and practical, idea will not only get the ‘Dragon’s – sorry, I mean staff members – vote, but there is a possibility that it could even spark off the process which would see their idea put into practice within the Museum itself – now how’s that for students making a difference?