Evolution, architecture, viagra, arguments(again) and beautiful things.

The Natural History Museum, South Kensington, (London). If you’ve never been, you should go. If you’ve not been lately, go again.


This is one of those buildings and establishments that I can never get enough of. To say that I am in love with this building would be an understatement. If I could have a perfect job, it would be here, I don’t know doing what- but this place is literally, beautiful science.

So if you’re in South Kensington, kicking your heels, pop in for half an hour. It’s free after all.


Yes, there be giants of all sorts, I mean there’s a hulking great blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling, but I wanted calm today.

What’s down there I wonder?

 I had decided to meet one of my old PhD students for lunch, now an incredibly successful researcher at the NHLI at Imperial College, round the corner.

Dr Blerina Ahmetaj-Shala

We wandered through gemstones, meteors, crystals and chatted overlooking a stegosaurus fossil.

In The Vault, aside from the precious stones, were all the types of crystals and rock formations and there were so many amazing colours. ( A valuable  trip for when I get to telling you about the chemistry of colour).

I stayed on after lunch to lead to the Darwin centre, also containing The Cocoon.

I suppose a lot of people don’t find a white cocoon of tranquility and beauty as sexy as a simulated earthquake or the fossilised bones of a terrifying predator that lived 35million years ago, but inspiration often comes in moments of quiet.

It showcases the work researchers do, even having windows overlooking their labs- which must be disconcerting for the poor researchers.

It looks at the ordering, investigation and analysis of species and specimens. It shows the work that current researchers are carrying out, the expeditions and  why they’re taking them.

This for me is natural history at its finest. Promoting new discoveries and outreach programmes. If you can dip in and out of the museum, then I recommend taking bites at a time. It can be overwhelming if you don’t.

All of this organisation of plants and animals into a taxonomy and a Tree of life was espoused by Darwin. Part of Darwin’s work on his hypothesis of the Origin of Species  however, was based around close observation of chaffinches. How on earth do you get a lightbulb moment from a chaffinch?


Following his voyage on The Beagle (1831-1836) to the Galapagos islands at the age of 22, (life expectancy  in those days was 40), Darwin had collected many bird specimens, and travelling from island to island was initially interested in geographical distribution of the bird types.

Timeline of the 1820’s to put it in context……..

  • 1821- Napoleon dies on Saint Helena
  • 1822- Rosetta stone gets translated
  • 1823- Macintosh invents waterproof cloth
  • 1825- Aluminium discovered
  • 1826- First photographs created
  • 1828- American Democratic party created
  • 1829- First Oxford boat race, first typewriter, first braille book

When he returned, with the help of an  ornithologist, he discovered this important finding: That rather than a variety of bird (he was looking at mocking birds), that in fact each island he had travelled to had a different SPECIES on it. He then went back, probably quite excited, to the original data collections and asked all the other people from the expeditions, for their information,  trying to reconstruct locations from where he had discovered the different species and piece together what was going on. What was going on?

Firstly: If you’re asking yourself whats the difference between a ‘variety’ and a ‘species’- well here’s an example:

Cats exist as different species: Lion, tiger, lynx, cheetah,pussycat. Within that Species (lets say tiger), there are different varieties: Bengal, Siberian, South China etc.