Monday 20 June 2011


This summer my colleagues and I will be leaving our 30-year-old science labs and moving into a brand new state-of-the-art science block, although perhaps they'd be a little more state-of-the-art if the physics lab had vacuum or compressed air taps...! This has meant a lot of consolidation of materials. Where possible, specimens and resources have been donated to other organisations - a number of local schools are the proud recipients of some of our pickled animals, some charities have many of the textbooks, and skeletons and dried specimens have been split between staff and students as mementos of their happy times in the lab.

It has meant that I've been able to snaffle some absolute gems. For one thing, we are only taking the microscopes with built-in lights. So the models with mirrors and separate lights are going. I have two (one for me, one for my father), and some enterprising AS students who were in the right place at the right time have the others.

A microscope would be useless without anything to look at, so here is a representative histological set of animal and plant tissue. I shall have great fun with this!

There were several rock and fossil specimen trays going. I grabbed them all. If we ever offer an A-level in geology (or even a BTEC unit) then I will willingly return them. The most intriguing is this one, which appears to be from the Open University:

There are the usual rocks, mostly igneous or metamorphic. Lovely specimens of granite and basalt especially. An obligatory hand-lens is included, plus some odder kit. There is a little compass, some magnets and some iron filings. None of the rocks appear to be magnetic! So I'm wondering why I have this stuff. I know I spent much of my first year at university drunk, but I'm sure I'd remember using compasses and iron filings to identify rocks. I also have a little photographic slide with a lot of little white lines in an otherwise black film, and a green filter.

I've also, as you'll see, got a spectroscope. Now, I really don't remember ever using one of them to study rocks! This is a set from before my time, so had techniques changed before 1998, when I arrived at university?

I'm in two minds as to whether to make this my new field kit box (as the old one is falling to pieces), or to use it for my lunch when we move to the new staffroom...


  1. Wouldn't you powder the rock sample and drop it into a bunsen for the spectroscopy. I certainly remember doing that with copper and other metal powder at A-Level.

    As for the compasses and iron filings, its probably for playing with magnetite. Although its odd that you don't have a sample.

  2. I've clearly been spoiled by getting stuck in with thin sections and mass spec at uni - we'd never have bothered testing for cations with the rock samples we had.

    I'm going to have to go back and look at the specimens...!

  3. If Geology is no longer studied as GCSE (read O'Level for my age group) and you no longer study it for A'Level, how do students really know they want to study Degree level Geology! The learnig curve must be really steep in the first year. What A'level would be relevant?

  4. I didn't get to do geology as a stand-alone subject at all. Without a geology A-level or GCSE one would presumably need all three sciences - I imagine earth science students would struggle without a grounding in biology, chemistry and physics at least.

  5. I studied Biology Chemistry and Geography at A-Level and then did Palaeontology at Uni. The syllabus for the first year was much the same for all people taking the various courses offered (I didn't do Neotectonics, and didn't go anywhere near the Geophysics specialties, but then they didn't do genetics).

    So you could probably drop one science (not chemistry I suspect), and then choose either Maths or Geography.


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