Amgueddfa Blog: Learning

From Student to Scientist

Kelsey Harrendence, 28 July 2021

The next steps in a Professional Training Year

It’s been a little while since my last blog post and since then there has been a lot of exciting things happening! The scientific paper I have been working on that describes a new species of marine shovelhead worm (Magelonidae) with my training year supervisor Katie Mortimer-Jones and American colleague James Blake is finished and has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal. The opportunity to become a published author is not something I expected coming into this placement and I cannot believe how lucky I am to soon have a published paper while I am still an undergraduate.

There are thousands of scientific journals out there, all specialising in different areas. Ours will be going in the capstone edition of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a journal which covers systematics in biological sciences, so perfect for our paper. Every journal has its own specifications to abide by in order to be published in them. These rules cover everything from the way you cite and reference other papers, how headings and subheadings are set out, the font style and size, and how large images should be. A significant part of writing a paper that many people might not consider is ensuring you follow the specifications of the journal. It’s very easy to forget or just write in the style you always have!

Once you have checked and doubled checked your paper and have submitted  to the journal you wish to be published in, the process of peer reviewing begins. This is where your paper is given to other scientists, typically 2 or 3, that are specialists in the field. These peer-reviewers read through your paper and determine if what you have written has good, meaningful science in it and is notable enough to be published. They also act as extra proof-readers, finding mistakes you may have missed and suggesting altered phrasing to make things easier to understand.

I must admit it is a little nerve wracking to know that peer reviewers have the option to reject all your hard work if they don’t think it is good enough. However, the two reviewers have been nothing but kind and exceptionally helpful. They have both accepted our paper for publication. Having fresh sets of eyes look at your work is always better at finding mistakes than just reading it over and over again, especially if those eyes are specialists in the field that you are writing in.

As you would expect, the process of peer-reviewing takes some time. So, while we have been waiting for the reviews to come back, I have already made great progress on starting a second scientific paper based around marine shovelhead worms with my supervisor. While the story of the paper isn’t far along enough yet to talk about here, I can talk about the fantastic opportunity I had to visit the Natural History Museum, London!

We are currently investigating a potentially new European species of shovelhead worm which is similar to a UK species described by an Amgueddfa Cymru scientist and German colleagues. Most of the type specimens of the latter species are held at the Natural History Museum in London. Type material is scientifically priceless, they are the individual specimens from which a new species is first described and given a scientific name. Therefore, they are the first port of call, if we want to determine if our specimens are a new species or not.

The volume of material that the London Natural History Museum possesses of the species we are interested in is very large and we had no idea what we wanted to loan from them. So, in order to make sure we requested the most useful specimens for our paper, we travelled to London to look through all of the specimens there. We were kindly showed around the facilities by one of the museum’s curators and allowed to make use of one of the labs in order to view all of the specimens. The trip was certainly worth it. We took a lot of notes and found out some very interesting things, but most importantly we had a clear idea of the specific specimens that we wanted to borrow to take photos of and analyse closer back in Cardiff. 

Overall, I can say with confidence that the long drive was certainly more than worth it! I’m very excited to continue with this new paper and even more excited to soon be able to share the results of our first completed and published paper, watch this space…

Thank you once again to both National Museum Cardiff and Natural History Museum, London for making this trip possible.

The Insect Drawer

Dan Mitchell, 8 July 2021

I’ve always loved an insect. There’s something about them and their family in the bug world that has fascinated me since childhood. They are just so contradictory in every way. So familiar and yet so alien. So oblivious to our existence and yet vital to it. Equally freakish and beautiful in their variety.

It’s no wonder I was drawn to the insect drawer in the Clore Discovery Centre. A huge selection of my favourite creatures in the world, encased in clear plastic, enabling amateur entomologists like myself to examine them without danger of them flying off. And I mean flying off because all insects have wings. This, along with knowledge of the three segmented body, and the two sets of wings, is important information. With this information you can recognise the difference between insects and their cousins, the arachnids, arthropods, or bugs.

These differences are not always easy to spot. The largest group of insects are beetles (making up 40% of all animal life on the planet) who sometimes hide their wings beneath a hard shell, preferring to bumble along like colourful tanks, seeing humans as another obstacle to climb over. Some beetles’ wings have hardened, leaving them to trudge the undergrowth, but even huge beetles like the Hercules beetle (which is bigger than some birds) can fly when it needs to, although maybe not very gracefully.

These things can all be seen in great detail when our insects, frozen in time, are placed under the high-powered microscope in the Clore Discovery centre. You can see the defensive spikes on the hugely powerful legs of a locust, the iridescent beauty of a butterfly’s wings or the all-seeing compound eye of a common fly which makes it so difficult to swat. If you stray to the arachnids drawer you can even see the individual hairs on a tarantula’s leg.

Insects’ beauty might be debatable, but their sheer variety makes them endlessly fascinating. Even those who find them terrifying, when given the opportunity to examine them safely, may find themselves softening to the insect world. You may even find yourself discovering a new favourite.

The Whale, the Myth, the Legend.

Louise Rogers, 8 July 2021

Mounted on the wall in the Clore Discovery Centre is a specimen that could have swam straight out of a mythological sea adventure. I wonder whether you’ve seen anything like it before?  Could it be a unicorn horn perhaps? Many of our visitors believe so!  Often referred to as the ‘Unicorns of the sea’, this tusk once belonged to a pale-coloured creature found in the Arctic coastal waters.

Narwhals (Monodon monoceros) are related to dolphins, Belugas, and Orcas. They spend their lives hanging around in the icy waters around Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. They winter for a very chilly 5 months under the ice and are generally spotted in groups of 15 to 20. 

Narwhals feed on fish, shrimp, squid, and other aquatic fare (not that they have much choice!). Like killer whales and other toothed cetaceans, narwhals are suction feeders, meaning you might observe them tapping the fish and sucking them in, swallowing them whole. They can dive to a depth of around a mile and a half and rely on cracks in the ice above to allow them to pop up for air when needed.

The tip of the iceberg

The tusk – most commonly found on males – is actually a tooth. The spiral swordlike tusk grows right through the narwhal’s upper lip, up to 10 feet long. Some Narwhals may have two - ouch!

Scientists are not certain of the purpose of the tusk. Some believe that it is used to impress potential mates, or that they are used for battle. Recent drone footage claims to have captured a narwhal using the tusk to stun fish and some research indicates that the tusk has sensory capability, with up to 10 million nerve endings inside. What do you think their tusks are for?

Dangerous or in danger? 

Narwhals and other arctic species such as polar bears and the walrus, have spent thousands of years evolving for life on and around sea ice. However, due to the effects of climate change, their ice cover is changing rapidly. Sea ice is not only a place for narwhals to feed, but also a place of refuge, providing a safe environment to hide from predators. It is shrinking far too quickly for narwhals to adapt and posing a real threat to the species.

Narwhals are also at threat from increased shipping traffic, placing them in danger of collision. Increased shipping traffic also produces a lot of underwater noise, and since whales rely on sound to communicate, noise pollution has a negative impact on their ability to find food, mates, and to avoid predators.

Our fabulous specimen is an object of wonder, but it is also a reminder of our personal and collective responsibility to ensure their survival.

Super Scientist Awards 2020-21

Penny Tomkins, 7 June 2021

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and The Edina Trust would like to congratulate the thousands of pupils from across the UK who achieved Super Scientist recognition for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-2021.

A big congratulations to you all. Thank you for working so hard planting, observing, measuring and recording, you really are Super Scientists!

Winners of the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Runners up for the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Highly Commended for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Schools recognised as Super Scientists for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Schools to be awarded certificates for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Thank you Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant


Spring Bulbs for Schools Champions

Penny Tomkins, 19 April 2021

The Spring Bulbs for Schools investigation started in 2005 and has been engaging KS2 pupils with science, climate change and the natural environment for sixteen years. The 2020-21 project met with many challenges that inspired us all to work in new and inventive ways.

Schools across the UK have shown determination and versatility in meeting challenges caused by the pandemic and resulting restrictions. We are grateful to all schools who continued to collect and share weather data. In many cases this was achieved by asking pupils who lived near the school to take the weather equipment home. These pupils were responsible for recording and uploading the data on behalf of their school during lockdown.

We will be meeting a few of these Spring Bulbs for Schools Champions through Blog posts. Our first Champion is Riley, who has been taking weather readings for Stanford in the Vale Primary School.

Q. What sort of year have you had with lockdown?
A. I’ve had a mixed year, I have been glad to go back to school as I didn’t really like homeschooling. I was glad to see all my friends!!

Q. Why do you think the project is important?
A. I think that the project is very important. As well as helping with your maths skills, it also makes you get out into the garden and have fun.

Q. How did you help to continue the project?
A. This year I have been helping with the project by doing the weather measurements from home. I think that it is important to keep the project going even during lockdown!

Q. What do you enjoy about taking the measurements?
A. I enjoy seeing the differences in the weather each day, I like it how you can get really varied days in the temperature and rainfall. No day is the same!

Q. What have you noticed about your weather and flower measurements this year?
A. I have noticed this year that we have had some very hot days this year with some temperatures reaching up to 25 degrees in March!!

Q. What are you most looking forward to doing after lockdown?
A. The thing I am most looking forward to is seeing all my family and friends again!! It seems like so long since I last saw them!!

Thank you Riley.

Thank you for all of your hard work Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant