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Frogs and Physics!

Over the past couple of days we have been running our new A-level study days in conjunction with Dr Mark Dickinson of the Photon Science Institute. The talks and interactive practical sessions are aimed at providing sixth form students with first-hand experience of science in action, and more specifically to help them understand how we are applying some cool innovative techniques to investigate the optical and structural properties of amphibian skin. Students from Whalley Range High School for Girls,Verdin High School, Macclesfield, and Ashton Sixth Form College all visited the museum and got to grips with a wide range of kit which allowed them to investigate for themselves the frogs’ thermoregulation and Infra-red reflecting pigments. 

Following the morning sessions in the Museum, where the pupils got to learn about the frogs and had an introduction to the physics. 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). OCT is a remarkable new technique being developed at Manchester that allows us to see whats going on below the skin’s surface through producing a series of 3D images using light (see clip below for an OCT image of skin on a human palm (note the spiral sweat gland). We hope everyone from the schools enjoyed their visit and would like to say a big thanks to all the demonstrators who helped us deliver the sessions.  

                   (Image above courtesy of Mark Pierce, Wellman Labs)

Ifra-red reflectance research at Manchester and in Costa Rica:

Andrew shows OCT equipment at Manchester: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7464437.stm  

Mark tests rare frog skin with a spectrometer in Costa Rica: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7603225.stm

Link to The Photon Science Institute : http://www.psi.manchester.ac.uk/

The past, now, Saturday..

Today I am spending the day in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose. I have been to Costa Rica many times in the past and every time I visit it feels like home from home. The Costa Rican rainforest has its own special magic for me, but as I stroll the streets today, I absorb the atmosphere and, as always, try and focus on living in the moment, appreciating every sight, smell, sound..  I also fully appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to travel and to do the job I always dream’t of, even as a boy (pictured above aged 7 with my bucket of tadpoles)

If perhaps you are interested in finding out a little more about how I got to where I am today, there is to be a piece relating to this in ‘The Times’. It will feature as part of a larger article in “The Times Magazine” called “The New Victorians”

Soon I will be travelling back to England and this Saturday I will be at the Manchester Museum to support ‘Evolution Revolution’, a special family day event that forms part of the  Museum’s superb ‘Darwin Extravaganza’. Throughout the day I will be showing a wide variety of different reptile and amphibian specimens from our live collection and expaining the wonders of their evolution. If you can come along it would be very good to meet you.


The Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre

Last night I called in to visit my good friend Brian Kubicki in Guayacan during my trip back to San Jose.  If you are familiar with the blog, you will probably already know how much respect I have for Brian and how I admire his outstanding committment to amphibian conservation. Brian has now established two reserves, both purely dedicated to conserving the rarest  Costa Rican fauna and flora. His scientific knowledge and expertise with amphibians, and especially his specialism for glass frogs, has earned him  justified worldwide recognition. Most of Brian’s work with amphibians focuses on protecting them and modifying the surrounding habitat to help them thrive in the wild. The area within the bundaries of the amphibian Centre is the most diverse for amphibians within the whole of Costa Rica, and includes species only known from the locality. Brian has also focused on studying, breeding and rearing many rare species in captivity, for conservation purposes, which are then released into the reserve. It is a most wonderful place and I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in tropical amphibians to pay him a visit. For a wealth of further information about the work conducted by Brian at the CRARC please see here


Please note that Brian is unable to accept volunteers, but for details of how to arrange a tour of the reserve or to book accomodation and stay at the CRARC, please see his website by following the link below


Sloth Conservation in Costa Rica

Today I visited my old friends Judy and Luis Arroyo at Aviarios del Caribe, a wonderful rescue and research centre for injured and orphaned sloths on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. Over the past 12 years or so I have seen the centre grow considerably and the important work they do increase on a huge scale. It is an absolutely fantastic place and the commitment of Judy and Luis to helping these wonderful creatures never fails to amaze me. The facilities at Aviarios are now really excellent and Judy kindly showed me around the new sloth medical centre, nursery, and the quarters for all the animals. In recent years a fabulous education unit has also been purpose built to educate visitors and locals about sloths and the importance of  helping rather than harming them. Aviarios still needs all the support it can get to help fulfill its mission and I was particularly interested and pleased to hear that a super volunteer programme has now been set up. Whilst supporting this worthy cause, this initiative also provides a great opportunity for people to get experience working with these amazing animals. Anyone interested in hearing more about Aviarios or offering some valuable support check out :   http://www.slothrescue.org/

Vivarium assistants

For the next couple of weeks I will be in Costa Rica, where I’ll be spending some time in the central highlands and also down on the Caribbean coast. Here I plan to visit a range of different animal conservation centres which I hope to report back to you about via the blog. So, while I am out there, if there is anything of particular interest just let me know and I’ll try and make a short clip about it and post it on the ‘Live’ section especially.

While I am away it’s really important that I leave the animals in the Museum in safe hands. I have to say that in that respect I am really lucky at the moment as I have two excellent assistants who both really know their stuff and who I can fully rely on to properly care for the animals whilst I’m away; Matt Wilson and Adam Bland. Matt is currently part-time and Adam has been working with the animals here more or less full-time since Darren moved to Vancouver. Both are really knowledgeable about their subject and Adam in particular has a massive amount of experience keeping both amphibians and reptiles in captivity. One of his passions is keeping geckos. Here Adam introduces himself and shows a Caledonian crested gecko: