May 6, 2019

Volunteering for all

Elliott Cowie has chatted to Museum Administrator Sarah Hammond about his love of fossils and how his diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder plays a part in his day while volunteering at the Museum.
Category: 2019
Posted by: Sarah


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Cambridge and am 18 years old. I was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder at 3 and a half. Like some Autistic people I have had some obsessions as I grew up, my earliest one was Thomas the Tank Engine, before I moved onto Dinosaurs. I have also had a few interests like Star Wars.

What made you want to volunteer at the Sedgwick Museum?

I have a fascination for palaeontology and have been visiting the Museum numerous times over many years enjoying the collections on display. So, when an opportunity arose to volunteer, I jumped at the chance.

What is your role at the Sedgwick Museum?

I work in the gallery making sure everything is tidy and where it should be, and if any visitors have questions, I am available to answer them to the best of my abilities.

What kind of things do you do on a volunteer shift?

I keep interaction areas like the puzzle areas tidy after visitors have enjoyed them ready for the next visitor. Sometimes I have had to inform parents giving their children incorrect information about the exhibits, as I have good knowledge of the exhibits. I also make sure there is no litter left around.

Have you always been interested in Earth Sciences?

People on the autistic spectrum tend to get obsessive about some their interests, I have been interested in palaeontology for well over 10 years now.

Are you particularly interested in one area of Earth Sciences?

Palaeontology is my biggest interest, Dinosaurs being my favourite part of palaeontology.

Have you ever collected fossils yourself?

I do have my own fossil collection, some found by myself in Charmouth Bay on the Jurassic coast whilst on holiday, some given to me that other people have found, some have been birthday and Christmas presents and I also visit the fossil and rock stall in the Cambridge market and have purchased some of my collection there.

Do you have a favourite object in the Museum?

I enjoy most of the exhibits on display, but my favourite exhibits are the Archaeopteryx and the Deinonychus.

Deinonychus model

Why are these your favourite objects?

I have a fascination with feathered dinosaurs

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at the Sedgwick Museum?

I get time just to walk around one of my favourite museums, I get to talk to other people with the same interests as me and I am helping the Museum. My ultimate goal is to become a palaeontologist and I hope my volunteering will help me along this path. It is a place I feel comfortable and can be myself which is important for an Autistic person.


The Sedgwick Museum is currently advertising for gallery volunteers and we are looking forward to welcoming more people to the team over the summer to engage with our visitors and take part in other upcoming Museum projects.


Monday to Friday
10:00 to 13:00 & 14:00 to 17:00

10:00 to 16:00 


This week we reached a major landmark in the development of the Museum’s new Collections Research Centre. We’ve just been handed the keys to the brand new Colin Forbes Building, a purpose-built collections store to house our internationally important rock and fossil collections.  We now start the ambitious task of moving our rock collection – weighing more than 150 tonnes – from a variety of locations across Cambridge.  Bringing our collections together, and creating a space where we can welcome research visitors enables us to take a big step towards our aim of creating a world-leading centre for Earth Sciences collections research.

This summer, young visitors to some of our UCM museums have the opportunity to participate in an exciting artist-led treasure hunt. Hidden Tales: the Riddle of the White Sphinx, created by Mark Wells and Sorrel May, and illustrated by Jennifer Bell encourages families to explore our museums in a different way... Author Mark Wells tells all here.

Fifty years ago, Cambridge mineralogist, Dr Stuart Agrell was given VIP treatment and a police escort after flying into Heathrow from the USA because he was carrying a bag full of very precious rock material. The samples were amongst the most expensive ever collected as they had been retrieved from the moon by two of the American Apollo 11 mission astronauts. The programme of their investigation was a remarkable and unprecedented example of international scientific collaboration, which still continues.

Stuart Agrell on the underground with a carpet bag of rocks from the Apollo 11 missionGuess what I’ve got in my bag? 50 years ago, Cambridge mineralogist, Stuart Agrell nonchalantly carried some of the most valuable rocks ever collected back to Cambridge in his holdall. (© Mirrorpix, reproduced with permission)

Sedgwick Museum Collections Store

Find out more

Support this project

If you would like to discuss how you might contribute to the Sedgwick Museum Collections Store, please contact Professor Simon Redfern, Head of Department.

To make a donation to the Sedgwick Museum Collections Store please visit our online giving page.


'Tools of the Trade'
Available to purchase in the Sedgwick Museum shop

Tools of the Trade

Agostino Scilla's
'Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense'
English translation available to download.

Agostino Scilla download

Studying Earth Sciences at Cambridge University

Did you know?
The University of Cambridge is listed at the top of The Complete University's Guide 2016 for geology.

Discover more about studying Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge in this video featuring Museum Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology Professor Marian Holness and Sir David Attenborough