The Virtual Natural History Museum – Bringing Evolutionary Education out of the Stone Age


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Walacea titles-01

In 2012, the Earth Science Teachers’ Association (ESTA) of the UK wrote an open letter to professional palaeontologists asking for their help in producing teaching materials for their classrooms. They were having difficulty in gaining access to enough fossils or high quality replicas to help illustrate their lessons.

They suggested that the provision of good quality, copyright-free images of fossils would be “extremely beneficial to school teachers”, and “the development of interactive web-based resources and palaeontological-themed games and activities” would help to capture the imagination of school pupils.

To answer this request, we came up with The Virtual Natural History Museum (V-NHM): an educational, multimedia-sharing website with a fun and engaging interface.

Museum Front

Collections-01

Museums aren’t just public displays, they also play an important role in research, education and the curation and conservation of artefacts. Behind the scenes, natural history museums contain large collections of fossils which they keep safe and make available for research. Most of these collections contain more specimens than they’d ever be able to exhibit (putting this into perspective, the Natural History Museum, London, displays several thousand fossils of their collection of 8 million), whilst some have no public displays at all!

This leaves the vast majority of the world’s fossil collections behind closed doors.

Recently, many museums have started to digitise their collections, making online catalogues of the specimens they possess. These are made available to researchers, who’ll use the images to examine specimens instead of having to visit in person. The pictures and 3D models held online are a fantastic resource, but they aren’t intended for public use; their existence is rarely advertised and they just appear as searchable databases.

The V-NHM project is intend to give a public-friendly interface to these resources and begin to open up the unseen 99.9% of fossils to teachers, students and anyone interested in prehistoric life.

Our website will integrate all the available collections into one ‘master museum’, allowing us to build the largest natural history collection in the world.

We’re also going to include as many different kinds of multimedia resource from as many different sources as we can, including pictures, diagrams, videos, interviews and models. We will be able to grant access to live-streamed conferences and will have a large collection of lectures available on demand. We’re even going to produce a whole library of original multimedia especially for this project.

Exhibition Hall

VNHM-01

What would be the best way to display virtual fossils? In a virtual museum of course!

The V-NHM will be an enormous computer game museum.

This unique user interface will allow you to explore the displays using an avatar, in the same way you would do in a real museum. It will work straight from your web browser, without the need to download any software and will be completely free to use.

Since the V-NHM is all digital, it will have no physical constraints, meaning there will be no limits to how big it can be, or the number of specimens that can be put on display. Importantly, since it’s online, it can bring the collections, inspiration, learning and enjoyment directly to you, no matter where you live. No longer will you have to travel for days to see a world-class collection.

The V-NHM will contain all the facilities of a world-class natural history museum, from collection stores and laboratories to lecture theatres and education suites. The only difference is that you’ll have full and unrestricted access to everything. If you want to visit our CAT scanner or our Acid Prep Lab, then go right ahead! There are no closed doors in this museum! In this respect, the V-NHM will be able to teach more about the roles museums play in society than a visit to a real museum ever could.

Inside, you will be able to interact with other users as well as virtual staff, research scientists and historical figures in a vibrant and permanently-populated environment. Exploration of the V-NHM’s collections will be positively encouraged with challenges and achievements.

We aim to make the V-NHM as fun as a giant computer game filled with dinosaurs should be.

Cinema Room

Education-01

But this is all about education, so how are we going to address the needs of the Earth Science teachers?

The V-NHM has got to be more than just passively educational, so we’ve therefore teamed up with the ESTA and other academic and educational bodies to ensure that the exhibits we display are relevant to what is being taught in schools. This means that the multimedia you see and the information you read will all help teach you palaeontology.

Addressing the need of teachers specifically, we’ll include a simplified user interface to give them access to the resources they need quicker.

We will initially be targeting the OCR and WJEC Geology curricula for the UK, but also intend to roll out our resources to cover all English-speaking countries. Eventually, we hope to be able to include the curricula and languages of as many countries as possible.

To ensure scientific accuracy, all of the V-NHM’s displays will be written by professional palaeontologists and can easily be updated. This will mean that the V-NHM will always contain the most up to date information of any natural history museum.

Ammonite details

About-01


DaveMDave Marshall, University of Bristol, UK

Dave is a PhD student studying the evolution of chelicerate arthropods. He also works as a micropalaeontologist on oil rigs, helping them date rocks. He is founder and presenter of the Palaeocast palaeontology podcast. Way too much of Dave’s time is spent playing computer games.

LauraSLaura Soul, Department of Paleobiology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.

Dr Soul is a research and outreach fellow currently studying large scale patterns in the morphological evolution of North American mammals. She also organises citizen science projects at the museum and is a Palaeocast co-host.


Claire Morley

Claire has an MSc in Palaeobiology in which she studied changes in the shell structure of modern and pre-industrial Antarctic clams in relation to ocean acidification, using finite-element analysis. She is also interested in outreach work and has contributed several projects with exhibitions and local schools. Currently she is working as a freelance video games artist and developer, with a particular interest in pixel art and claymation.

Partners-01

We’re already partnered up with many educational bodies, academic associations and institutions, ensuring that everything in the V-NHM is produced to the highest standard and is of benefit to the classroom.

The Earth Science Teachers’ Association

The Palaeontological Association

Geologists’ Association

The British Geological Survey

Manchester Museum

Bristol University, School of Earth Sciences Collection

GB3D

Virtual Fossils

Paleo Zoo

Dr. Ruth Richards, OCR

Funding-01

We start this crowd funding campaign having already secured over 50% of our costs through an Outreach and Engagement Grant from the Palaeontological Association and a grant from The Curry Fund of the Geologists’ Association. These academic bodies believe in the project and the benefit of what we are trying to create.

We hope you do too. Please take a look at the funding perks and thank you for anything you can contribute.

Funding-01

 Funding breakdown-01-01

Overfunding-01

If we are overfunded, the additional money will be used to increase the number of facilities within the museum. We will install a time machine so that we can run fieldtrips in the past, allowing the user to explore ancient environments filled with animated organisms. We will also record more multimedia with experts looking at the use of cutting-edge analytical equipment and techniques.

We also intend to use the V-NHM to target the curricula of other countries. If enough money is raised we will work on the localisation and translation of this project.

Perks-01

 £1 Thanks

If everyone who likes the idea of 16-bit dinosaurs contributed one pound, we’d have a lot of pounds very quickly. By contributing anything to this project, you’ll get our thanks and your rightful place on our V-NHM wall of fame.

1. Thanks

£5 E-Postcard

For our backers that contribute £5 or more, we’ll email you a special thanks with an exclusive e-postcard featuring a wonderful scene created by our resident pixel artist.

2. E-postcard

£7 Custom Wallpaper

Donate £7 or more and we’ll also send you a pixel art wallpaper for your desktop.

3. Wallpaper

£10 Postcard print

Our first physical reward. We’ll print off a limited run of our pixel art and pop it in the mail. This piece of card will then go on an adventure, meet lots of mail people and ride in a whole host of vehicles as it works its way to you!

4. Postcard

£25 Limited Edition Print

A preposterously-proportioned print of palaeontological pixels. Comes in its own tube. Once emptied, it makes a good model coprolite.

£30 Exclusive Backers T shirt

Be the envy of all your friends with a fetching palaeo-themed tshirt with a unique design by our palaeo artist!

6. Tshirt

£40 Avatar distinction

You’ve contributed a fair amount and quite rightfully you want to show that off! What better way to do so than strutting your stuff through the V-NHM in your backer-only virtual clothing? Let everyone see that you were responsible for making the world’s best website possible.

£50 Sponsor a specimen

Donate $60 or more and we’ll let you sponsor your favourite specimen, just like you can do in the zoo. Now, don’t all rush to get GSM 32393!

8. Specimen

£75 Sponsor an exhibit

Can’t choose which your favourite Ordovician trilobite is? We can’t blame you, it’s a tough call. So why don’t you just sponsor them all?! Pledging this amount will allow you to sponsor a whole group of organisms.

9. Exhibit

£100 Sponsor a period

Can’t choose what your favourite group is either? Well, just sponsor everything from that period then! We’ll put a lovely bronze plaque beside the entrance to your chosen floor with your name on it.

10. Period

£150 Avatar NPC 

“If you love the V-NHM so much, why don’t you stay there forever?” Well now you can! Donate this much and we’ll put you in the museum permanently. This non-playable character (NPC), of your approximate likeness, will walk around the museum for the rest of eternity. Walk up and say hi!

11. NPC

£250 Statue and plaque 

Become immortalised in our museum, forever on display yourself. Donate this sum and we’ll craft a statue of you and place it in a prominent position in the museum.

12. Statue

£500 Curate an exhibition 

When you go to your local natural history museum, it’s likely they’ll have on a special exhibition. These are touring exhibits that bring something new and fresh to everyone who visits. Donate this amount and we’ll work with you to create your very own temporary exhibition*. Fancy a detailed look at feathered dinosaurs? How about an exploration of trace fossils? What would you display?

£1000 Permanent exhibition 

This is it, top of the pile. If you donate £1000 to this educational project, we’ll put our heads together and create a wonderful exhibition of your choice*. The [Your Name Here] Exhibition will be a permanent display of everything you love about past life.

14. Permanent

Exhibition will run for 2 months.

*Whilst we will try to accommodate any request, due to the availability of resources, it may not be immediately possible for us to put together an exhibition on some topics.

Select your pledge amount

£

CONTINUE
  • 8 Backers

    Thank you: If everyone who likes the idea of 16-bit dinosaurs contributed one pound, we’d have a lot of dollars very quickly. By contributing anything to this project, you’ll get our thanks and your rightful place on our V-NHM wall of fame. (approx US$1.40)

  • 6 Backers

    E-postcard: For our backers that contribute $5 or more, we’ll email you a special thanks with an exclusive e-postcard featuring a wonderful scene created by our resident pixel artist. (approx US$7)

  • 7 Backers

    Custom Wallpaper: Donate £7 or more and we’ll also send you a pixel art wallpaper for your desktop. (approx US$10)

  • 51 Backers

    Postcard print: Our first physical reward. We’ll print off a limited run of our pixel art and pop it in the mail. This piece of card will then go on an adventure, meet lots of mail people and ride in a whole host of vehicles as it works its way to you! (approx US$14)

  • 20 Backers
    All gone!

    Early Bird Limited Edition Print exclusive to backers: A preposterously-proportioned print of palaeontological pixels. Comes in its own tube. Once emptied, it makes a good model coprolite. (approx US$34)

  • 5 Backers
    Limit of 80 — 75 remaining

    Limited Edition Print exclusive to backers: A preposterously-proportioned print of palaeontological pixels. Comes in its own tube. Once emptied, it makes a good model coprolite. (approx US$50)

  • 20 Backers
    All gone!

    Early Bird Exclusive backers T shirt: Be the envy of all your friends with a fetching palaeo-themed tshirt with a unique design by our palaeo artist! (approx US$40)

  • 6 Backers

    Exclusive backers T shirt: Be the envy of all your friends with a fetching palaeo-themed tshirt with a unique design by our palaeo artist! (approx US$55)

  • 1 Backer

    Avatar distinction: You’ve contributed a fair amount and quite rightfully you want to show that off! What better way to do so than strutting your stuff through the V-NHM in your backer-only virtual clothing? Let everyone see that you were responsible for making the world’s best website possible. (approx US$55)

  • 7 Backers

    Sponsor a specimen: Donate £50 or more and we’ll let you sponsor your favourite specimen, just like you can do in the zoo. Now, don’t all rush to get GSM 32393! (approx US$70)

  • 6 Backers

    Sponsor an exhibit: Can’t choose which your favourite Ordovician trilobite is? We can’t blame you, it’s a tough call. So why don’t you just sponsor them all?! Pledging this amount will allow you to sponsor a whole group of organisms. (approx US$100)

  • 7 Backers

    Sponsor a period: Can’t choose what your favourite group is either? Well, just sponsor everything from that period then! We’ll put a lovely bronze plaque beside the entrance to your chosen floor with your name on it. (approx US$140)

  • 3 Backers
    Limit of 100 — 97 remaining

    Avatar NPC: “If you love the V-NHM so much, why don’t you stay there forever?” Well now you can! Donate this much and we’ll put you in the museum permanently. This non-playable character (NPC), of your approximate likeness, will walk around the museum for the rest of eternity. Walk up and say hi! (approx US$200)

  • 3 Backers
    Limit of 20 — 17 remaining

    Statue and plaque: Become immortalised in our museum, forever on display yourself. Donate this sum and we’ll craft a statue of you and place it in a prominent position in the museum. (approx US$250)

  • 1 Backer
    Limit of 6 — 5 remaining

    Curate an exhibition: When you go to your local natural history museum, it’s likely they’ll have on a special exhibition. These are touring exhibits that bring something new and fresh to everyone who visits. Donate this amount and we’ll work with you to create your very own temporary exhibition†**. Fancy a detailed look at feathered dinosaurs? How about an exploration of trace fossils? What would you display? (approx US$690)

  • 1 Backer
    Limit of 5 — 4 remaining

    Permanent exhibition: This is it, top of the pile. If you donate £1000 to this educational project, we’ll put our heads together and create a wonderful exhibition of your choice*. The [Your Name Here] Exhibition will be a permanent display of everything you love about past life. *International shipping surcharge of $10.00 applies. †Exhibition will run for 2 months. **Whilst we will try to accommodate any request, due to the availability of resources, it may not be immediately possible for us to put together an exhibition on some topics. (approx US$1385)

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General Overview

Select your pledge amount

£

CONTINUE
  • 8 Backers

    Thank you: If everyone who likes the idea of 16-bit dinosaurs contributed one pound, we’d have a lot of dollars very quickly. By contributing anything to this project, you’ll get our thanks and your rightful place on our V-NHM wall of fame. (approx US$1.40)

  • 6 Backers

    E-postcard: For our backers that contribute $5 or more, we’ll email you a special thanks with an exclusive e-postcard featuring a wonderful scene created by our resident pixel artist. (approx US$7)

  • 7 Backers

    Custom Wallpaper: Donate £7 or more and we’ll also send you a pixel art wallpaper for your desktop. (approx US$10)

  • 51 Backers

    Postcard print: Our first physical reward. We’ll print off a limited run of our pixel art and pop it in the mail. This piece of card will then go on an adventure, meet lots of mail people and ride in a whole host of vehicles as it works its way to you! (approx US$14)

  • 20 Backers
    All gone!

    Early Bird Limited Edition Print exclusive to backers: A preposterously-proportioned print of palaeontological pixels. Comes in its own tube. Once emptied, it makes a good model coprolite. (approx US$34)

  • 5 Backers
    Limit of 80 — 75 remaining

    Limited Edition Print exclusive to backers: A preposterously-proportioned print of palaeontological pixels. Comes in its own tube. Once emptied, it makes a good model coprolite. (approx US$50)

  • 20 Backers
    All gone!

    Early Bird Exclusive backers T shirt: Be the envy of all your friends with a fetching palaeo-themed tshirt with a unique design by our palaeo artist! (approx US$40)

  • 6 Backers

    Exclusive backers T shirt: Be the envy of all your friends with a fetching palaeo-themed tshirt with a unique design by our palaeo artist! (approx US$55)

  • 1 Backer

    Avatar distinction: You’ve contributed a fair amount and quite rightfully you want to show that off! What better way to do so than strutting your stuff through the V-NHM in your backer-only virtual clothing? Let everyone see that you were responsible for making the world’s best website possible. (approx US$55)

  • 7 Backers

    Sponsor a specimen: Donate £50 or more and we’ll let you sponsor your favourite specimen, just like you can do in the zoo. Now, don’t all rush to get GSM 32393! (approx US$70)

  • 6 Backers

    Sponsor an exhibit: Can’t choose which your favourite Ordovician trilobite is? We can’t blame you, it’s a tough call. So why don’t you just sponsor them all?! Pledging this amount will allow you to sponsor a whole group of organisms. (approx US$100)

  • 7 Backers

    Sponsor a period: Can’t choose what your favourite group is either? Well, just sponsor everything from that period then! We’ll put a lovely bronze plaque beside the entrance to your chosen floor with your name on it. (approx US$140)

  • 3 Backers
    Limit of 100 — 97 remaining

    Avatar NPC: “If you love the V-NHM so much, why don’t you stay there forever?” Well now you can! Donate this much and we’ll put you in the museum permanently. This non-playable character (NPC), of your approximate likeness, will walk around the museum for the rest of eternity. Walk up and say hi! (approx US$200)

  • 3 Backers
    Limit of 20 — 17 remaining

    Statue and plaque: Become immortalised in our museum, forever on display yourself. Donate this sum and we’ll craft a statue of you and place it in a prominent position in the museum. (approx US$250)

  • 1 Backer
    Limit of 6 — 5 remaining

    Curate an exhibition: When you go to your local natural history museum, it’s likely they’ll have on a special exhibition. These are touring exhibits that bring something new and fresh to everyone who visits. Donate this amount and we’ll work with you to create your very own temporary exhibition†**. Fancy a detailed look at feathered dinosaurs? How about an exploration of trace fossils? What would you display? (approx US$690)

  • 1 Backer
    Limit of 5 — 4 remaining

    Permanent exhibition: This is it, top of the pile. If you donate £1000 to this educational project, we’ll put our heads together and create a wonderful exhibition of your choice*. The [Your Name Here] Exhibition will be a permanent display of everything you love about past life. *International shipping surcharge of $10.00 applies. †Exhibition will run for 2 months. **Whilst we will try to accommodate any request, due to the availability of resources, it may not be immediately possible for us to put together an exhibition on some topics. (approx US$1385)