Monday, December 31, 2012

My work attachment at RMBR

While my colleagues are already enjoying their long deserved holidays, I set aside two weeks of my holidays for a MOE Teacher's Work Attachment programme. I have chosen the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) for my work attachment programme.

My work attachment period was 3 - 14 December 2012.
I chose RMBR as it was one of the places which I was interested to find out how specimens, after collected from sites, are processed, preserved, document and kept in a biodiversity museum. Furthermore, the work description posted for this organisation allows me to work with the available specimens to create educational materials.

However the museum's gallery was closing soon in view of the big house moving to the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, set for completion in 2014. There was not much of a need to create educational materials at the moment.

I spent my two weeks of work attachment in the wet collections section of the museum, helping out Siong Kiat, the wet collections' curator. Wet collections refers to specimens (mostly marine animals) that requires storing in preservation liquids such as ethanol and formalin (formaldehyde). Majority of the specimens I worked with are stored in 75% ethanol.

Here's the blog post from RMBR about my work attachment stint with them.
Image capture of the blog post.
Apart from the days of working in the wet collections research room, I got a chance to help change the dinosaur bones in the public gallery. Here I am with the leg bones of the triceratops, after changing and ready for viewing.
Triceratops' leg bones
The biggest takeaway from this work attachment is understanding better the importance of the type specimen. A simple way to explain type specimen can be found from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:

In taxonomy, the science of identifying, naming, and classifying species, the primary type specimen (or sometimes a series of specimens) serves as the scientific name-bearing representative for any animal or plant species. A secondary type specimen is a specimen of the type series other than a primary type. A primary type is the objective standard of reference for the identification and naming of species.
Type specimens are important to scientists that study the classification of organisms and to all studies of comparative biology.

In any natural history museum, the value of the museum is actually determined by the number of type specimens it has, not the number of valuable exhibits. The number of type specimens tell other scientists how active the museum is in scientific research.

There are a few kinds of type specimen: Syntypes, Lectotype, Paralectotype, Holotype, Paratype, Hapantotype, Neotype and Allotype. More information about each kind of the type specimen can be found on the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.

Is it boring doing very similar things each day at the museum?
Nope, I was able to look and examine in closer details the specimens collected from various sites, which most of them I have been to.

Was it enjoyable doing working at the museum?
Sure it was, I had a lot of fun in the museum.

Would you like to do it again if there was such opportunity?
Yes. And if I have the time, I won't mind volunteering.

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