Sunday, November 21, 2010

If in London, visit the Natural History Museum - I

On my way to Cairo, I stopped in London for a short overnight stay. However, I managed to go the Natural History Museum (NHM). So let me say - wow! It is very cool and I ended up staying for 5 hours there - without actually getting bored.

So first of all, if you are in London - just go and visit this place. It is a spectacular building (yes, I have to admit I was in a bit of a colonial awe...) and the admission is free! Yes, free. Take that American museums. And on top of that, like all sane people in the world, NHM considers Pluto a planet! Take that Hayden Planetarium!

In all seriousness, here are couple of reasons why I really liked the museum. Instead of simple razzle-dazzle (which there was aplenty in the dinosaur exhibit), there was a lot of emphasis of the process of science. This was partly done by emphasizing on history of science - which when seen in a stunning late 19th century building, it seems a bit more authentic. Second, somehow, they were able to convey the joy of figuring things out. This was done by numerous hands-on activities for kids and adults alike.

Here are couple of pictures from the museum. I will have another post on the fantastic way the museum (and especially their new Darwin Centre) has handled the process of science.

Museum main building with dino (Diplodocus) head and neck

Museum main building with dino (Diplodocus) tail and butt

Entry to the geology section of the museum where Science is depicted somewhere between gods and monsters. Actually this was an interesting way of explaining geology as well as ancient mythologies. The first statue is that of Blake's God holding a measuring instrument, then there is a Cyclops, and then an astronaut. Briefly, it represented our penchant for understanding the world, the search for extinct species, and some of the achievements of science. There are gods Atlas - with Earth in its back (for our efforts to map the planet) and Medusa (for fossils in stones) on the other side. You can also see an escalator going through a giant Earth and to geology galleries. Pretty cool stuff. Oh - and lot of kids in school uniforms - and they were certainly in awe of these statues.

 A very cool section devoted to the early 19th century, fossil collector and paleontologist, Mary Anning.

And I like the fact that the museum was quite straight-forward about our (humans) place in evolution. Here we are with some of our cousins.

And a British sense of humor. In the section talking about the demise of dinosaurs, there is a list of some unusual theories as well. In case you can't read this, the dino's extinction is blamed on boredom - due to the invention of cricket. Ha ha. Okay - so it seemed funny to me...

and finally, there is an interesting installation called TREE by artist Tania Kovats. This was commissioned to commemorate the 200th birth anniversary of Charles Darwin last year. So the tree in the ceiling, in this almost empty room, is actual a thin slice of an actual 200 year old oak tree. It has been growing since the birth of Darwin.

The above picture is from the installation website. It is a very cool concept. Of course, this is inspired by the tree of life diagram that Darwin sketched in his notebook. Also, it represents how we study plants: "This slice through the 200-year-old oak tree is presented like a vast living organism placed on a microscope slide. The branches stretch across the gallery ceiling with the ceiling's grid-like panels forming an architectural frame for the piece. At over 17 metres long, TREE will is the Museum's largest botany specimen on display."

A sequel to this post in a few days.

Also see:
Up with Darwin's Down House


Snuze said...

I am practically green with envy. I love going to museums, where ever I go and the British Museum is one of which I long to visit.

Thank you for sharing the pictures; even if one cannot be there in person, your lovely pictures allow us to be a sort of museum voyeur.


Martin Riexinger said...

Worth a visit because of the architecture alone...

Don said...

If anything, the fact that the first inventors of cricket died of boredom is a warning! It has been discovered anew, and unless we hold more exciting sports tournaments with regularity, surely homo sapiens will go the way of the dinosaur.

Salman Hameed said...

Don - yes, and baseball must have contributed to several extinctions as well. I guess Curling is the only viable option now... :)

Quellspring said...

If the British can do anything right, it's museums. Tell us more soon, Salman!

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