National Science Week – Melbourne Museum Collection Tour

National Science Week kicked off on Friday night with a free event called Hypothesis at the BMW Edge Theatre in Federation Square
I arrived with a friend (and fellow science nerd) and overall had a reasonably enjoyable night. It was a pity the Australian Skeptics were crammed into the small space they were, because they appeared to have a very popular stand. I’d have loved to spend some more time there myself, but it was too crowded!

But I digress, on Saturday I arrived at the Melbourne Museum for the once-yearly collection tours. I was a little huffy to see that the entry price had increased from $6 to $8 since I last visited in April last year, though apparently they are in the midst of a revamp so I guess the extra cash is going towards that.

The museum actually had 4 separate collection tours running, covering (from memory):

  • Geology & Paleontology
  • Entomology & Marine Life
  • Birds and Mammals; and
  • DNA laboratory

If time permitted I’d have done them all, but I only had time for one so I chose Geology and Paleontology. The tour covered minerals, and invertebrate and vertebrate fossils, all of which are housed underneath the Royal Exhibition Building, across the plaza from the museum entrance.

The 3 museum employees from each section were prepared, passionate and articulate in talking about their work and I found their explanations pitched at the perfect level for me – that is, at people with a degree in a scientific discipline and with a healthy interest in science in general/popular science. They were happy to answer any questions, engage in conversation about pieces of the collection and were also interested in us – what bought us to do the collection tour? Wide eyes and open mouths were the order of the day, as we were shown through an array of cabinets housing samples from the mundane (multiple drawers full of marsupial teeth) to the spectacular (uranium crystals, a fossilised icthyosaur snout)

I realise that the museum employees have their own work to do, research to conduct and papers to publish but I’d be thrilled to see the museum conduct these behind the scenes tours more than once a year and for longer than an hour.

I feel that the general public really would enjoy more collection tours and the museum would also benefit from the extra interest generated. If I had not already known about Science Week, and actively sought information on what events were happening I wouldn’t have even known the collection tours were on. The way they were conducted on Saturday, larger crowds could have posed a problem so maybe that’s why they don’t advertise it more heavily. I don’t know if I’ll get around to it but I’d really like to write a letter to the head curator, reiterating these points.

To conclude National Science Week, this Sunday my other half and I are off to see American physicist Lawrence Krauss which I am really super duper looking forward to!