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Thank You!

Well, what a wonderful Rainforest Saturday it was, superb! It certainly seemed like everyone who attended had a fab time – and if you were one of the people who did it would be great to hear what you.  Personally I have never seen so many smiling faces at one of our events and it was Sooo good to see all the kids getting in there with the animals. A big thanks to the brave little boy who acted as my assistant in my rainforest adventure talk  – putting his hand in one of my collecting bags without knowing what is inside is surely not what most people would dare to do! He was a star : -)  

Talking of stars, I would really like to thank every single person who helped make the day so special, all the volunteers, staff, and our invited special guests and speaker: you, (and your animals) were all absolutely wonderful. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I would also like to thank all the great kids from the Youth Board who came in on Saturday and give an extra special thanks to our Anna Bunney who, without all her hard work, our Big Saturday events just wouldn’t happen. Cheers Anna, hope you are having a good hols and well-earned break this week!  

P.S. During the day we were giving out Rainforest conservation guides produced by the Princes Trust. These are packed with facts and info about what is happening to our rainforests and what you can do to help. Anyone wanting one just write me a comment with their name and contact details (which will not appear on the blog) and I’ll post you one straight out with our compliments!   

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New exhibitions

I’m really looking forward to later today, as it’s not often when I get to preview the opening of 2 exhibitions in the same night.  The first is at The Whitworth Art Gallery and is called The Land Between Us. It’s an exhibition developed by Curator Mary Griffiths that highlights some of the Whitworth’s outstanding collection of historic art alongside recent and contemporary work. Mary blogs at: http://thelandbetweenus.wordpress.com/

The other exhibition opening I’ll be attending is here at The Manchester Museum and also promises to be superb. It’s a touring exhibition called CHINA: Journey to the East and combines some fantastic objects from the British Museum. I know many of our staff, including Curator Stephen Welsh, have put a lot of effort into this exhibition so it should be top notch. Stephen has also just set up a new blog especially in relation to the exhibition at:  http://manchesterkingmonkey.wordpress.com/

I have to say that I find Oriental traditions and folklore of particular interest. Did you know that ancient Chinese folklore has it that frogs or toads are really magical custodians of the secret to immortality – and that they’re are also meant to symbolize carefree enjoyment and spontaneity – don’t know about you but sounds good to me!

Come to think of it, have you ever wondered about those little 3-legged toad figures you see with a coin in their mouths, and what they actually represent? Well I have, so, just now, quite spontaneously :-), I decided to find out… 

According to Chinese legend, apart from getting the blame for swallowing the Moon when there was an eclipse, a 3-legged toad called Ch’an Chu was once a powerful demon that had a strong craving for wealth. It wreaked havoc in the human world until the Taoist Master Liu Hai  managed to tame it with his magic powers. As Liu Hai was fond of giving charity to the poor and helping the needy, the supernatural wealth seeking ability of the toad was just what he required. With the money that the toad gathered everyday, Liu helped countless people to escape from poverty. Thus, the 3-legged toad was revered as a divine wealth fetching creature by the ordinary people. Liu Hai, who was an actual minister in the Imperial government of 10th century China, was proficient in Taoist alchemy but he ended his days in exile.  From these times on, images of Liu Hai and his toad have been considered good luck charms and to represent prosperity. A popular depiction is of the man with his toad sitting on his shoulder. 

In  the Vivarium, we have a small display of small Oriental carvings that includes Gama Sennin, the Japanese equivalent of Liu Hai:

A Feng shui tradition later developed to place a gold or copper image of this toad in your house or shop to bring luck. According to this tradition the toad should face outwards in the day, symbolizing it going out to find money for its owner; and when the night came, it should be turned to face inwards, symbolizing it coming back to spit money into the house. I think I must get one 🙂

Whether it works or not I guess is another story, but perhaps its better to believe that, as where this story originated with Lui Hai, in reality, its the giving to others that’s the sure way to true wealth.

Phil your weekend…frogs or butterflies

The Manchester Museum is extremely busy at the moment, full of families with little ones enjoying themselves. The activities we are putting on  (http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/august/) seem to be going down extremely well, and today we have the frog session for the kids who are coming to the fully-booked screening of the film mentioned in the post below. It should be great fun.

Although I am not working this particular weekend, I just wanted to highlight a couple of things being offered by ourselves and other local Museum’s that should be well worth a visit, particularly for  families with children that are interested in nature and conservation.

The first is a special amphibian-related afternoon on Saturday (14th) at Liverpool Museum, where  there will be a number of fun frog activities in their natural history centre from 1pm – 4pm,  including badge making, mask making, drawing and colouring, frog puppets, and face painting for the kids. There will also be 3 live frog displays on show and during the day Phil Lewis will be sharing his experience with frogs in a talk to highlight the plight of amphibians and the need to support the Amphibian Ark.

For further details please contact World Museum Liverpool directly and see: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/events/wildwildworld_events.aspx#eventID385

Also on Saturday, a colleague here at Manchester Museum who is a professional entomologist (and who’s another Phil, Phil Rispin), will be running a butterfly-related afternoon in Victoria Park, Stretford, Manchester, between 1-3pm. This free event  is suitable for all ages and all equipment is being provided. All you need to do is go spot and identify butterflies in the park. Phil will be taking along museum specimens of all the species you could potentially come across for reference and will also be joined by Don Stenhouse, the Keeper of Entomology from Bolton Museum, who is top beetle expert. Don will be running a minibeast session, so even if the weather is not quite so good for butterflies there will still be plenty of insects to look for and discover. Meeting at the community building,  there will also be free refreshments kindly provided by the Friends of Victoria Park, Stretford (http://fovps.org.uk/)

Most people don’t realise that most British butterfly species are in decline, but I guess, like amphibians, their sensitivity to environmental change makes them very susceptible. To find out more about butterfly and moth conservation why not check out: http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/

Find out more about Insects through Dmitri’s Entomological Blog Here

Thank you!

I would just like to say a big thanks to Jonathon and Arnold, two of our Museum Volunteers, who helped me take out the Darwin related outreach objects last Saturday to the East Manchester Festival. We had a fab day and it was fantastic to meet everyone and contribute to such a great community event.

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Whist on the subject, I would also like to say a big thanks to the following schools who visited the Manchester Museum over the past couple of months. The schools listed below brought in nearly 600 chidren to have  special sessions with the live animals and I have to say its been a real pleasure to teach such great kids.            THANK YOU!! 

William Hulme Grammar, Manchester  

St Marys C of E, Droylsden

Cornerstones, Warrington

Ince St Mary Primary, Wigan

St Pauls school, Rawtenstall

The Meadows, Blackley

Barlow Hall Nursery, Chorlton

Our Lady’s Sports College, Blackley

St Edwards Primary, Rochdale

Swinton High School, Manchester

St Edmonds Arrowsmith, Wigan

Meanwood Primary, Rochdale   

New Moston Primary, Manchester

St Mary’s, Burnley

Forthcoming Events

Thought it would be good to highlight some forthcoming events for those people who live locally. On Saturday (13th February), we are having a wonderful open day at the Mueum to celebrate Darwin’s Birthday.  We have an amazing array of wonderful objects and activities lined up, and specialists for you to meet from across the University. It also provides a great  opportunity to come and see some of our amazing animals at close quarters. Why not come along and join in the celebrations – its going to be a great day: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/february/ http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/february/

Over the next month I am also pleased to be supporting the British Science Association and will be representing the Learning Team and The Manchester Museum whilst conducting presentations at two local SciBars.   The first will be on the 1st of March at the Knutsford SciBar and the second will be at the Bollington SciBar on the 12th April. Both talks will focus on amphibian conservation and I will also be taking some very cool frogs along with me. If you live nearby, why not come along – it would be great to meet you!  

http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/web/RegionsandBranches/BranchActivityInYourArea/_North+West/NorthWest/index.htm

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.

http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/november/