And the next talk is…

How to fossilise yourself
Speaker: Camilla Nichol
Sunday 11 May 2014, 11.30am to about 1.00pm

As always, there will be tea, coffee and scrumptious cakes available to purchase from the café if you wish, but the talk is totally free.

Do join us: the more, the merrier!

How ‘Earthlings’ have fun looking for life in a MARS analogue site

Speaker: Liane Benning
Sunday 13 April 2014

Would you want to be an astronaut on a trip to Mars? This was a question put to us by Professor Liane Benning from the University of Leeds. We considered the work necessary to design and build – and then employ – the instruments looking for life, such as the Mars rovers. We learned about extreme conditions, and the places on Earth used for the years of testing it takes before instruments are ready to deploy. We thought about what ‘life’ might actually look like (hint: not little green men), and discussed the dangers humans would face on a mission to Mars.

Parasites and rhinoceros poo

Speaker: Andrew Stringer
Sunday 9 February 2014

This time we met a man who collects Black Rhino poo for his research. Following a brief history of epidemiology, we learned about the ‘charismatic’ parasites (nematodes and tapeworms) that Andrew Stringer studied in his work to determine if their abundance of transmission in rhinos was due to methods and environmental circumstances or (as proven) to density of the host. The speaker then talked about the Oxpecker bird and its advantageous relationship with the rhino, and a theory that this is only a recent development as a defence against humans. We heard about the Red Queen hypothesis, the conservation conundrum, and alongside some amusing anecdotes we had a demonstration using a teapot, a coffee cup and a shopping bag. Only at Café Sci, folks.

Alfred Russel Wallace: the other Darwin?

Speaker: Heather Mikhail
Sunday 12 January 2014

An excellent start to the new year! This week Heather Mikhail, a biology curatorial trainee at Leeds City Museum, gave us a comprehensive talk on the life and work of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a biologist and so much more, who was one of those (along with Charles Darwin) to discover evolution by natural selection. Rather than trying to cram into one paragraph the enormous amount of information that we were given, this week I’m going to cheat and send you to the Alfred Russel Wallace website instead.

Bird skin collections: not a freaky trophy but a valid scientific resource

Speaker: Laura McCoy
Sunday 8 December 2013

Leeds Museums Discovery Centre: ‘home to over a million wonders’, according to the website, and always expanding. Today one of the curators talked to us about her project to computer catalogue all the bird specimens. The Centre has some 3,500 bird skins (slightly stuffed purely for research/science purposes) and mounts (posed as in real life), collected over the last 200 years. Owing to problems at the previous storage centre – with pests, damp, heat, you name it – they have been stored away in sealed boxes until this year-long project to find out what they have.

We learned about the development of taxidermy, as increasing knowledge was gained about the species, and the secrecy in the methods behind it. I had never heard of holotypes before: the single example of an organism used to formally describe the species. The Centre has quite a number of these, it seems, especially among their very good mollusc collection. We discussed the advantages of physical examples of birds rather than photographs (particularly obvious when we saw the raven, below, which was far bigger than expected), the interesting social understanding to be gained from collections through history, and their developing uses, such as collecting DNA. We also got to look closely at some beautiful specimens. I leave you with a few photos.

A Raven
Raven.

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A Goldcrest
Goldcrest.

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A Greater Bird of Paradise

Gter Bird Paradise

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