Volunteer Project: Thinktank

Introduction   Aim   Volunteers   Contact


Thinktank, as part of Birmingham Museums Trust, has established a three-year long project which will improve the documentation and condition of the city’s natural science collection. The collection was formed in the early 20th century and is an important regional resource within the West Midlands.

This project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and stems from an overarching project called We Made It. We Made It comprises of a major new gallery redevelopment, opening in February 2013, and a range of participatory projects to engage with local communities.

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The team measuring a specimen.


Over the next three years the Natural Science Volunteer Project aims to:

  • Improve the documentation, preservation and condition of Birmingham’s natural science collection;
  • Prepare the collection for future exhibits (specifically a renovation of the Wildlife Gallery, planned at Thinktank within the next four years);
  • Provide greater access to the collection though public engagement; and
  • Provide opportunities for participation with the collection.

The majority of this extensive collection is housed at Birmingham’s Museum Collections Centre (MCC) where much of the project will be based.

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The project is largely volunteer driven, providing short-term opportunities every summer and long-term positions that extend over the three year period. Highly skilled volunteers have been recruited for 2012 with backgrounds across the natural sciences, including geology, botany and entomology.

Sarah King

Sarah has PhD in palaeobotany form the University of Birmingham and has volunteered at a number of museums, including the Lapworth Museum of Geology, Bristol City Museum and Dudley Museum. She also works at Soho House, another site within the Birmingham Museum family. Sarah has experience of handling, documenting and displaying palaeontological, geological and botanical specimens. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the team. Find out more about Sarah here.

Sarah measuring a taxidermied rabbit.

 Lukas Large

Lukas has a background in genetics but his passion lies in the natural sciences. He runs a scientific illustration blog, researching naturalists and collections, and has his own small collection of specimens. He is also keen photographer and illustrator of Natural History specimens. Although he works full time, Lukas is giving up most of his annual leave this year to be involved in the project. Follow Lukas on Twitter.

Lukas photographing a specimen.

Laura Hamilton

Laura is a geology undergraduate currently studying at the University of Birmingham. She has experience of fossil preparation for the Lapworth Museum of Geology, working with ammonites, belemnites and other smaller specimens. Laura also makes jewellery using fossilised specimens. Her Brummie’s Guide to Birmingham is unrelated but worth a look. Follow Laura on Twitter.

Laura searching through records whilst a fight breaks out between a mongoose and a snake.

The team take their role seriously, as Sarah explains:

This work is important so that there is a better understanding of the range and depth of the collection for future exhibitions and research. Collections are useless if you don’t know what’s in them.”

Though full for this year, we will be recruiting new volunteers every year in late Spring, advertised through the volunteering section of the Thinktank website.

The summer of 2012 focused on the mammal and bird collections. These are comprised of around 6500 bird specimens and almost 1000 taxidermy and skeletal mammal specimens. The favourite find of 2012 was this arctic fox which was found  “so cute.”

The “cute” Arctic Fox.

The summer of 2013 focused on the entomology collections. The Carlier collection of beetles, butterflies and moths was identified as an important collection and volunteers documented 3,179 specimens from this collection. Two volunteers decided to continue long term and are now undertaking a review of each drawer of the entomology collection, which consists of over 50 cabinets. Work also continued on the mammal collection, and 190 mammal skins were documented.

In addition to their work in the stores, our volunteers have been carrying out public engagement activities. These will allow members of the public to find out about their work and explore the natural science collection for themselves. Check the What’s On section of the website for dates and times.

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The Natural Science Volunteer Project is being documented through the We Made It blog.

For more information please contact:

Lynsey Fairweather, Participation Coordinator     e  Lynsey.fairweather@thinktank.ac  Lynsey’s Twitter

Luanne Meehitiya, Natural Sciences Curator e Luanne.meehitiya@birminghammuseums.org.uk 

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