Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Cocoon at the Darwin Centre

The Cocoon at the Natural History Museum's Darwin Centre is now open to the public. It's a concrete pod inside a tall space, curved to look like a silk-worm cocoon with a few loose threads engraved on it. Inside is a low-lit spiral walkway (you take a lift to the top and walk down) with many displays of leaves, branches, spiders, scorpions, beetles, nuts, fruit etc from the museum's collection. All the (17 million) plants and (3 million) insects are now housed in the centre of the Cocoon and you can glimpse filing cabinets through viewing windows. Researchers can make an appointment to examine the collection, but the public has to be content with admiring the selection on show, and looking over the shoulders of some of the museum's 350 scientists – there's a viewing window into one of their offices, and into a display case where real live boffins will demonstrate how to prepare specimens. At several points on the trail volunteers will talk you through what's on show, and answer your questions. There are also talking screens, videos, and recordings which spring to life as you pass. There's text on the walls, too, explaining such concepts as fieldwork and peer review.

The museum is also debuting its science theater, called after the greatest science communicator, David Attenborough. It has clinical white seats and many screens, so everyone has a good view of what the boffs are putting under the "visualiser" (it's like an overhead projector for objects). They enthusiastically show off meteorites from Mars or live, fluorescent scorpions. Another thrill was timelapse photography of a dolphin carcase being eaten by scavengers from an experimental underwater webcam somewhere off Sweden.

The Natural History Museum is at:

Cromwell Rd
London, SW7
020 7942 5000
Nearest tube (underground, metro) stop is South Kensington. Entrance is free, but to book a timed ticket for the Cocoon call 44 (0) 20 7942 5725, turn up in person or log on to www.nhm.ac.uk/darwin-centre.

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