London, England — If any center of scientific research can be sacred, the Natural History Museum of London is a holy of holies for paleontology. Its deep history, highly skilled researchers and staff, and magnificent architecture makes it a very special place. As I wrote before, it is a secular cathedral of science, particularly life science.
It is no accident the design of this building reflects a place of worship. Who do you think the white figure on the raised platform in the center is? He might as well be sitting on the altar.
Of course! A portrait on Darwin’s upper left, not visible here and probably rarely noticed, is of his colleague Alfred Russel Wallace.
This is Darwin’s view of the main hall and entrance of the museum. Six million visitors per year pass under his gaze.
This morning Paul and I worked with a scanning electron microscope to study particular fossils we had set aside for closer examination. Paul is the best scanning electron microscopist I have met.
This is the open stage and chamber of the SEM, with a brachiopod fixed in place by Paul for scanning. It is a complicated apparatus that can move the specimen in almost all directions in a vacuum under the electron beam.
The first specimen we worked with was one of the Jurassic snuff-boxes. This is part of Cassidy Jester’s Independent Study project and her continuing research with Tim Palmer and me. Paul and I are mystified by the pattern we see here in the cortex of the snuff-box.
These are two ferruginous ooids embedded in the cortex of the snuff-box. They show exactly the same mysterious irregular platy objects. Tim Palmer suggests they may be limonite, which is amorphous (without crystals). We’ll test that idea later with mineralogical and elemental analysis.
I was delighted to see my friend Jeffrey Thompson in the palaeontology section doing research for his dissertation at the University of Southern California. He made an earlier appearance in this blog when he was just a kid.
For lunch I met my former student and veteran of an Independent Study field trip to Israel Oscar Mmari (on the left) and fellow Wooster graduate Jubilate Lema on the right. Both of these young Tanzanians are now making their way in the world. Oscar starts this fall at Imperial College, and Jubilate is an economist working with an investment firm in Johannesburg, South Africa. We had a delightful meal and walk around the museum neighborhood.
My long day ended with an excellent dinner with Paul and Patricia Taylor at the Swan Restaurant along the Thames River. This was our view from the table. This will all seem a dream in just two days time.