Grant Museum of Zoology becomes 21st century ‘museum laboratory’

27 January 2011

Grant Museum

In March this year the Grant Museum of Zoology moves to a new, more spacious and more public home, in the Rockefeller Building on Gower Street. It retains its Victorian cases, crammed with specimens, and these look spectacular in the new space, but – due in large part to the generosity of donors to the UCL Annual Fund - the approach to visitor interaction is very much of the 21st century.

The new Grant Museum will be a ‘museum laboratory’, a space where visitors – the public, students and academics alike – will use objects to tackle big questions in the life sciences and engage with the way museums work. Museum staff have worked with colleagues in UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), Centre for Digital Humanities and Public Engagement Unit to develop unique interactive labels.

iPads now sit next to the historic displays, each posing a provocative question: “What makes an animal British?”, “Should animal and human remains be treated any differently in a museum like this?” and “Should science shy away from studying differences between races?” Visitors can respond via the iPads, by scanning a QR code (a square bar code) with their smart phones, via twitter or at home on their computers. Questions can be changed at any time, and may in future be crowd sourced, opening up the potential for visitors and non-visitors to curate museum displays. In this context, museum specimens cease to be seen as relics of “old-fashioned” science, and become catalysts for discussion about live scientific issues. This approach is ground breaking and has already attracted widespread interest from other UK museums, and the potential for follow-on research projects.

UCL Museums and Digital Humanities teamed up with TalesofThings.com to create QRator, the iPad app behind the labels. The software development was supported by donations from alumni and friends to the UCL Annual Fund.

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