(Click on images to enlarge.)
If you’re looking for somewhere to while away an hour in Sheffield, I can highly recommend this collection of biological specimens at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at Sheffield University. It’s open to the public on the first Saturday of the month, when bookable hourly tours are run by student volunteers. Our group of about 10 were given a brief introduction by Zoology students Chloe and Merryl, then allowed to wander and ask questions.
There was no chance of getting bored given the small scale of the collection and the huge variety of specimens. My family (a 10 year old, a 2nd year university student and 3 parents, one a natural history/museum nut) found plenty to keep us all thoroughly occupied, interested and drawn from one cabinet to the next. For some visitors half an hour was plenty, while we had to be politely edged out of the door with the lure of a look at the Sorby slides when the hour was up!
The collection includes fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and arthropods, represented by skeletons, spirit specimens, taxidermy and pinned insects. The specimens are arranged systematically by Phyla in the 15 cases and there’s a useful plan in the Museum Guide provided.
The room is not much longer than this, with cabinets around the walls too. These beautiful cabinets were transferred when the museum moved from its original location in Firth Court.
‘Half-specimens’ show the animal’s inner workings.
Observational skills were encouraged.
Wonderful to see a Manitee skeleton.
Part of the amazingly preserved and unique collection of slides of marine organisms prepared by Henry Clifton Sorby in the early 1900s.
All the specimens are clearly identified by labels, but sadly we were told much of the information associated with them has been lost, so our guides couldn’t tell us much about where they came from, apart from a story about the porpoise being barrowed up from the fishmarket in Sheffield!
Although the museum was only opened to the public in 2012, it’s been a teaching resource for over 100 years and is used with undergraduate courses on biodiversity and evolution. As with most museum collections, what’s on show is a fraction of the whole and we were told further displays are in development. The museum’s curator is Prof. Tim Birkhead.
The department also runs a ‘Be a Scientist for the Day’ programme. This offers primary students the chance to work in the labs to find out what it’s like to be a real biologist and to explore the museum. There’s plenty of information about the collections on the Museum website, worth looking at before a visit.
‘Ugh! I don’t like the crinkly bits!’ Joe Young, age 10.