Wednesday 3 November 2010

Quekex 2010 - at the National History Museum

After the long tunnel from South Kensington tube station, you emerge into the light to see the glory of the Natural History Museum (NHM) - and the queues to the entrance! So we continued along Exhibition Rd to use the Geological Museum Entrance and walked straight in.

The minerals and rocks. The glittering jewels in the displays. The moon rock embedded in its transparent glass pyramid. These set the tone for what struck me at the Quekex; the Annual Exhibition of the Quekett Microscopical Club.

To get there we emerged fom the fossils of the Geological museum into a part of the NHMs bird display. Past the glittering feathers of hummingbirds, and the haughty gaze of the Dodo. We then turned right into the Quekex.

The Quekett horn was sounded. It pre-dates the glorious Victorian NHM, with its Dinosaur hall overlooked by the bearded Darwin. Milling around, bumping into old friends, here was also a chance to peer down microscopes and even take pictures.

Primed by the Geological Museum, I was attracted to the Allende Meteorite sample in Dennis Fullwood's display. The occasional glowing crystal in crossed polars as iridescent as opal.

The apparently grey ash from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano was a contrasting sample brought by Pam Hamer. Under crossed polars it revealed a scattering of glowing crystals amongst the remaining debris. It all looked so harmless now. Yet its abrasive nature to planes travelling at high speed had grounded flights in Europe at the peak of the volcano's activity.

Maurice Moss was showing slimemoulds, of which I have fond memories as a student. We had to keep one alive in a Petri dish. Unfortunately mine died when I overfed it on a cornflake. During their reproductive phase they produce fruiting bodies. Those of Physarum virescens reminded me of the Globular aggregates of mordenite, seen earlier in a basalt cavity.

What was particularly good about Maurice's exhibit was showing his copy of the book by Arthur Lister. It had the stunning illustrations of exactly the same slime mould fruiting bodies. These were drawn by his daughter and co-author, Guilema Lister, at the beginning of the 20th Century.

At the end of the day it was out through the grand front door of the NHM, under the watchful eye of a carved Pterodactyl gazing down from one of the window bays.

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