Jun 18, 2019

Two Cambridge museums shortlisted for national Family Friendly Museum Award

Two of the University of Cambridge’s museums, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and Museum of Zoology have been shortlisted for the prestigious Family Friendly Museum Award, it was announced today.
Category: General
Posted by: Sarah
Charity Kids in Museums awards the prize annually to one museum, gallery, historic home or heritage site in the UK that goes the extra mile to provide a great experience for families. It is the only museum award to be judged by families.

Throughout April and May, families across the country voted for their favourite heritage attraction on the Kids in Museums website. A panel of museum experts then whittled down over 800 nominations to a shortlist.

Liz Hide, Director of the Sedgwick Museum said: “I'm absolutely delighted that Cambridge's own 'Dinosaur Museum' has been shortlisted for Family Friendly Museum of the year. It is a fantastic acknowledgement of our efforts to create a warm welcome for all our visitors, especially families of all shapes and sizes, knowing that some might expect a university museum to be dry and intimidating. We look forward to welcoming many more families over the summer, and are always keen to hear visitors' suggestions for how we can keep improving.”

The Sedgwick Museum and Museum of Zoology, both of which offer free admission to visitors, are vying against four other museums in the Medium Museums Category, and against 15 other museums for the overall Family Friendly Museum Award.

Jack Ashby, Manager of the Museum of Zoology said: “We are absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for this award. Before re-opening last year we consulted extensively with family groups, ensuring that we created a Museum which is welcoming and accessible with displays that are interesting and informative for all ages. Our events programme offers many family friendly events, such as our Zoology Live! festival this weekend. To be shortlisted is a great achievement and shows how hard our staff and volunteers work to ensure all visitors receive a warm welcome.”

There will be plenty of opportunity for families in the region to take part in the Museums’ events, with both present at the popular Big Weekend event in Cambridge (5 – 7 July), and as part of the University of Cambridge Museums Summer at the Museums programme, which offers over 140 low-cost or free events for families during the school summer holidays.

Emmajane Avery, Chair of Kids in Museums, said: “It’s great to see two Cambridge museums in our Family Friendly Museum Award shortlist – it was impossible to pick just one! To make it to the shortlist in our most competitive year yet is a fantastic achievement and a testament to the hard work staff at the University of Cambridge have put in to create an enjoyable experience for families. We were pleased to see both museums doing work to engage families from outside the city, who might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit.

“We felt Sedgwick Museum did a brilliant job of making its subject matter accessible to children and providing activities for all ages, even collaborating with a local teenage fossil collector.

“Families have clearly been a focus for the Museum of Zoology’s redevelopment and they are obviously delighted with the results. We received a lot of positive family feedback, particularly about the popular Zoology Clubs.

“We wish both museums the best of luck in the next stage of the competition.”


The museums will now be visited by undercover family judges who will assess the museums against the Kids in Museums Manifesto. Their experiences will decide a winner for each award category and an overall winner, our Family Friendly Museum of the Year 2019.

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London in October.

Follow the Family Friendly Museum Award on Twitter by following @kidsinmuseums and #FamilyFriendlyMuseum.

The Family Friendly Museum Award has been made possible by funding from Arts Council England and is kindly supported by Edwardian Hotels London.

Monday to Friday
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My name is Andrew Simpson and I am a gallery volunteer at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and a recent MGeol graduate in Geology with Paleobiology from the University of Leicester. My main interest is in vertebrate palaeontology, however, I like writing about all facets of palaeontology, from evolutionary history to fossil lagerstätten.

Science, like any organism, is constantly changing over time with scientific theories evolving to fit the best available evidence. This phenomenon is prevalent throughout the scientific world but can be very clearly seen in Palaeontology. There are many instances of reconstructions of extinct life being different in the past than they are today. One example, represented in the Sedgwick Museum, is the Carboniferous arthropod Megarachne ("Great Spider"). Once thought to be the largest spider ever, further research in 2005 found it to instead be a medium sized species of freshwater sea scorpion (though I don’t think this makes Megarachne less unsettling to look at!)

However one of the most interesting cases of an extinct animal whose palaeontological reconstruction has changed with new discoveries is the Cambrian arthropod Anomalocaris ("strange shrimp"). The Cambrian, from an evolutionary perspective, was a renaissance. New body plans and weird evolutionary experiments were emerging. Some animals became extinct soon after they appeared. Some, like the trilobites, survived for an amazingly long period of time. While others would evolve into the main animal groups alive today.
Anomalocaris is one of these weird wonders. It was discovered in 1892 by Joseph Whiteeves in the Burgess Shale formation in Canada. The original fossil looked shrimp-like but with no clear headparts. For a long time this was the only known description, its lifestyle a complete mystery. Later in 1911 the palaeontologist Charles Walcott, who also worked on the Burgess Shale, discovered a fossil which looked like a primitive jellyfish. He gave it the name Peytoia nathorsti.
Now you may be wondering "I thought you were going to be talking about Anomalocaris? Why have you wondered off topic?" Well this is where it gets interesting! In the early 1980s, Cambridge University palaeontologist, Harry Whittington, saw something astounding whilst preparing another Burgess Shale fossil. As he chipped away at the rock he noticed two Anomalocaris "shrimps" attached to the head of a larger body of another creature. Not only that, but a Peytoia fossil was attached to this same head. It became clear that the Anomalocaris shrimp and the Peytoia jellyfish were not separate species, but all part of one large Cambrian animal.

Anomalocaris was the top predator of its day. At around a metre long it was the largest animal the earth had seen to that point. After identifying its prey using large compound eyes, it then used its prongs to grab its prey. Anomalocaris then held its prey close to its mouth-parts so they could break through the hard exoskeleton. anomalocarids were widely successful, ranging across the globe from Canada to China and living from the Early to Middle Cambrian. While most anomalocarids were predators, a filter feeding species was described in 2014 and named Tamisiocaris borealis ("sieve shrimp").
So anomalocarids, the strange shrimps of the Cambrian, really are one of the most fascinating group of arthropods known. They are a great example of the evolutionary variety that has evolved on this planet.

Andrew Simpson

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.