Jack Ashby

Jack Ashby


Grant Museum of Zoology

Rockefeller Building
21 University Street
University College London
London WC1E 6DE

+44 (0)20 3108 2052




As the Grant Museum Manager (since 2011) I have strategic overview of our varied activities - developing the Museum as both a valuable academic resource and an excellent public venue, while caring for our collections responsibly. As well as a wide public events programme the collection is used in teaching almost daily. We are constantly developing new strategies to be a gateway for the University to engage with local communities, through co-curated exhibitions and research programmes.

I am heavily involved in UCL Museums' online engagement activities through our blogs and other social media platforms, and for a long time oversaw the Department's marketing activities on and off-line.

My childhood enthusiasm for natural history led me to study for a Zoology degree at Cambridge University. After graduating in 2003 I started my career in Science Communication at the hands-on science centre At-Bristol, running workshops in the Learning Department. 

I originally joined the Grant Museum in 2004 as the Learning and Access Manager, using the Museum’s fabulous specimens to establish a Learning and Access Programme. My role there began with the task of developing the museum spaces and services to be accessible to non-academic audiences for the first time, including schools, families and adults, as well as strengthening our ties with UCL Departments.

Alongside public engagement with science, I am interested in evolutionary biology and particularly the natural history of Australia and its mammals. I spend all my spare time searching out wild plants and animals across Britain and the rest of the world, preferably on foot. I spend a good amount of time on zoological fieldwork in Australia, mainly working on projects involving mammal ecology for NGOs, universities or government departments. The blog reports from this fieldwork are here.

From 2009-10 I worked as the Head of Learning and Access for all of UCL Museums & Collections as maternity cover. It allowed me to explore object-based learning and museum learning in a broader context, and work more widely with various parts of the University. My role was to have a strategic overview of learning and access activities in the museums and collections, as well as marketing and audiences, and to coordinate public engagement programmes that work across different units in the Department.


  • Natural Sciences (Zoology) MA, Cambridge

Research interests

  • Object-based learning
  • Engaging non-specialists with science
  • The ways in which people interpret natural history objects
  • Australian mammal ecology and conservation
  • Mammalian evolution
  • Conservation education

Conference presentations

  • 2016: London Museums Group Conference: Pinball Wizard: Gaming in Museums - "Pokemon Go and Museums"
  • 2016: Share Academy Conference: The Future of Collaboration - "Museums as Experimental Test-beds"
  • 2016: Beyond the Kangaroo & the Moose: 18th century science, art and exploration (The Hunterian, Glasgow): "Contrary to the general laws of nature – The mammals of Australia: zoology and politics."
  • 2015: Natural Sciences Collections Association Bone Day: "Bone Idols: Conservation in the Public Eye"
  • 2015: Natural Sciences Collections Association Conference. Museums Unleashed: using traditional and social media to communicate collections: "Fight at the Museum debate - filming and fees"
  • 2014: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections Conference: Historic Collections; Future Resources. Conference Presentation: "Major Study into the popularity of different disciplines in mixed museums find natural history comes out on top"
  • 2014: University Museums Group Conference. Digital Dimensions. Conference Presentation and Panel Discussion: Digital and Impact: QRator and the Grant Museum of Zoology"
  • 2013: The Shape of Things: New and emerging technology-enabled models of participation through VGC: "QRator and the Grant Museum of Zoology".
  • 2013: Digital Partnerships: Museums and Universities. "QRator and the Grant Museum of Zoology".
  • 2012: Natural Sciences Collections Association Conference. Use it or Lose it. Conference Presentation "How Museums can Support Higher EducationEngaging Universities with Museums".
  • 2012: Visitor Studies Group Conference. Audiences and Participation: What is the value of collaboration?. Conference Presentation. "QRator: Visitor engagement through social interpretation.
  • 2011. University Museums in Scotland Conference. Universities and Museums: New Rules of Engagement?. Conference Presentation. "Ask not what your university can do for you... Displaying research and sharing museum experience".
  • 2008. University Museums and Collections Conference. University Museums and the Community. Conference Presentation. "Beyond Teaching: Out of Hours at the Grant Museum".
  • 2007. Real World Science Conference. Engaging Secondary Science Students in Museums. Conference Presentation. Zoology at A-Level: Recruiting the Scientists of the Future.
  • 2007. Visitor Studies Group. Closing the Circle: Evaluation and Interpretation. Conference Presentation. "Data Collection at the Grant Museum".
  • 2006. Museums Libraries and Archives Council. Understanding Audiences Training Presentation. Visitor Evaluation at the Grant Museum".


  • Bailey-Ross, C., Gray, S., Ashby J., Terras, T, Hudson-Smith, A. and Warwick, C. 2016: Engaging the museum space: Mobilizing visitor engagement with digital content creation, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. doi: 10.1093/llc/fqw041 (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. 2015: The Grant Museum of Zoology at University CollegeLondon: Reinventing a university museum, Mnemòsine - The Journal of Catalan Museology. 8, 39-51 (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. 2014: The Importance of Natural Sciences, Museums Association 01/07/2014 (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. 2013: It’s Australia v England, in battle over Stubbs masterpieces, The Conversation 07/11/13. (Available here)
  • Carnall, M., Ashby, J. & Ross, C. 2013: Natural history museums as provocateurs for dialogue and debate, Museum Management and Curatorship: 28.1 Available here
  • Ashby, J. 2012: How Museums can Support Higher Education: Engaging Universities with Museums. NatSCA News - The Journal of the Natural Sciences Collections Association: 23
  • Hohnen, R., Ashby, J., Tuft, K., and McGregor, H. 2012: Individual identification of northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) using remote cameras. Australian Mammalogy (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. 2011: Order from Chaos: The new Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London. NatSCA News - The Journal of the Natural Sciences Collections Association: 21
  • West, C. & Ashby, J. 2011: How many animals are in the room? Creative Teaching & Learning: 2.1: 22-27
  • Ashby, J. 2011: Science on the Wild Side. New Scientist: 2812 (Available here)
  • MacDonald, S. & Ashby, J. 2011: Campus Treasures. Nature: 471, 164–165 (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. & Wood, C. 2010: Lessons in Learning: Primary schools, universities and museums. UCL, London (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. & Lanyon, E. 2010: Taking Partnership to Heart. GEM Case Studies: 4
  • Ashby, J. 2009: Beyond teaching: Out of hours at the Grant Museum. Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the International Committee of ICOM for University Museums and Collections (UMAC) (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. 2008: Myths and Monsters – the Animals of Legend. Rockwatch: 48
  • Ashby, J. 2007: Giving the People What they Want. Meeting Zoology Collections with their Audiences: A Case Study. NatSCA News - The Journal of the Natural Sciences Collections Association: 11 (Available here)
  • Ashby, J. 2007: Reaching families through museums in community libraries. GEM News: 107
  • Ashby, J. 2007: Conservation and Extinction: Past, Present and Future. UCL Science: 21
  • Ashby, J. 2006: Kingdom in a Cabinet: A Guide to the Animals of the Grant Museum. Grant Museum of Zoology Special Publications: London.

Press and media (selected)

Exhibitions curated (selected)

  • 2016: Skullpture at the Grant Museum (Grant Museum of Zoology). Read more about the artworks on the the blog. Co-curated with Kieren Reed (UCL Slade School). Twelve sculpture students from UCL’s Slade School of Fine Art have been invited to develop works in response to the Museum’s collections, science and history. The new artworks – which relate to death and decay, extinction, cloning, and animal behaviour – have been placed among the Museum’s own skeletons, skulls and specimens preserved in fluid. The exhibition engages with animal and human encounters and transforms the historic zoological museum in ways that will leave visitors questioning whether some of the installations are playful or serious.
  • 2015: Strange Creatures (Grant Museum of Zoology). When new regions are explored and the animals in them are discovered, how does the wider world get to experience these species? From the earliest days of exploration, art has been essential in representing creatures that are alien to people at home. The Strange Creatures exhibition explores the world of animal representations, featuring the painting of a kangaroo by George Stubbs which was recently saved for the nation. It was painted following Captain Cook’s first “Voyage of Discovery” and is Europe’s first image of an Australian animal. Palaeontologists and historians of science, exploration and art from across University College London tell stories from their own disciplines. Featuring medieval accounts of exotic creatures, art from the ages of exploration and empire, contemporary taxidermy and reconstructions of dinosaurs based on cutting-edge engineering principles, this exhibition questions how unknown animals are communicated to the wider public.Read more about the exhibition on the Strange Creatures webpage.
  • 2014: Subnature by Lan Lan (Grant Museum of Zoology). Scuptures and prints by emerging artist Lan Lan (UCL Slade School of Fine Art), who through the manipulation of original fish bone sculptures creates contemporary phantom creatures. Set amongst the Museum’s historic collections of skeletons, skulls and specimens in jars, the exhibition establishes a dialogue between natural history and its contemporary interventions – intertwining a Victorian collection with 21st Century digital techniques.The fantastical works take the form of cosmic bodies and marine animals, with some installations imagining a fictional future where energy plants rely on the phantom creatures.
  • 2013: Sculpture Season (Grant Museum of Zoology) Sculpture students from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL have been invited to create works in response to the Museum's collections. The brief is wide: they may place sculptures among the Museum's own specimens, take over entire cabinets, or make other spatial interventions. For more information read the blog about it, or the news piece with pictures. Co-curated with Melanie Jackson (UCL Slade School)
  • 2013: The Micrarium (Grant Museum of Zoology, permanent installation) The Micrarium is a place for tiny things - somewhere to come and explore the microscopic specimens at the Grant Museum. It’s often said that 95% of known animal species are smaller than your thumb, but have you noticed how most museums fill their displays with big animals? We intend to right this wrong, and in January 2013 we’ll be building a Micrarium. We have converted an old office/storeroom into a beautiful back-lit cave displaying some of the tiniest specimens in the collection, on wall-to-wall microscope slides. Museums very rarely display objects like this, and we are experimenting with an aesthetic way of doing so.
  • 2012: Buried on Campus (Grant Museum of Zoology) A huge mass of human bones was discovered in UCL during construction work in 2010. This installation displays the investigations undertaken to discover what they are and why they were buried. Remains of at least 84 individual people and many animals have been identified. Uncover where they came from and what we can learn from them in this unusual exhibition co-curated by UCL forensic anatomists and osteologists Wendy Birch and Christine King.
  • 2012: Art by Animals (Grant Museum of Zoology). Do animals make art? This exhibition includes paintings by apes and elephants and examines whether they are artistic works or just pointless lines on a page. Placing their handiwork alongside animal specimens and historical documentation we explore why some animal creations are considered valuable and creative, while others are dismissed as meaningless. Co-Curated by Michael Tuck and Will Tuck.  Images, videos and more information can be found here.
  • 2010: A Crucial Difference: Celebrating Diversity in Nature (UCL North Cloisters). In natural history there are no duplicates – every specimen is unique. For students and researchers at UCL, the existence of several examples of the same specimen type is crucial to the way their subjects are taught and studied. For a scientific theory to be tested many samples must be collected and analysed. It is only by understanding the variation within a group that its limits can be determined, and its relationships described. Exhibition website available here.
  • 2007: Future Fossils by Mervine (Grant Museum of Zoology). How everyday objects like TV remote controls and Lego would look in millions of years if they were fossilised was the subject of this unique exhibition. Working with the artist Mervine, the exhibition ‘Future Fossils’ fused art with science to challenge the legacy of modern life that will be laid down in future fossil records – and raised questions about the state of the planet in an imaginative and thought-provoking way. Press release available here.