Science Uncovered!

Last Friday I had the pleasure of helping out at the Natural History Museum’s yearly “Science Uncovered” event. For one evening the museum opens its doors until late into the night and scientists that normally work behind the scenes come out to show the public what their work is all about.

On our stand (“Taxonomy 2.0”) Vlad & some of the IT guys were showing off the latest versions of “Scratchpads“, the NHM’s website toolkit for taxonomists. Scratchpads gives taxonomists a framework for creating websites where they can publish information about their research and to collaborate with other taxonomists.

We were also showing the latest SatScan scanner with some of the guys from Smartdrive. The system captures very high-resolution images of museum specimens – usually in museum drawers. A camera moves across the drawer taking small pictures which are later stitched together into a 500MB, 20,000 x 20,000 pixel image. This image can be stored in a permanent catalogue of the museum’s collections and, more importantly, the image of each individual specimen can be cropped out and stored along with metadata that would enable researchers to search for them in the museum’s specimen database. Eventually it is expected that the images will all be made available online – allowing researchers living abroad to search the museum’s reference collections and do basic research without travelling thousands of miles to visit the museum.

I have been helping Vlad to specify and develop the software that grabs the images and that collects metadata associated with each specimen image. It was really good fun to chat to the visitors and to see their enthusiasm for the work we are all doing. 🙂

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