Athena’s priceless find on work experience

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An Oxfordshire 6th-former managed to unearth a priceless collection of butterflies while she was on a work experience placement at a museum.

An Oxfordshire 6th-former managed to unearth a priceless collection of butterflies while she was on a work experience placement at a museum.

Athena Martin (pictured), a year 13 pupil at Wood Green School in Witney, arranged to do a four-week work placement at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History over the summer. 

She then proceeded to uncover hundreds of priceless specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, the eminent Victorian natural historian.

Athena, 17, joined the museum through the Nuffield Research Placements programme, an initiative that supports youngsters who are studying science by giving them practical work experience.

She is studying for A levels in biology, chemistry and maths and is writing an Extended Project Qualification dissertation entitled What is the Impact of Wallace’s Collection of Butterflies on Scientists?

The museum asked her to search through 3,340 drawers of butterflies – with the aim of finding specimens collected by Wallace. 

The project was part of the museum’s programme to commemorate the 2013 centenary of Wallace’s death. After painstakingly reading the undersides of the tiny, handwritten labels pinned to each insect in the drawers, Athena managed to find more than 300 of Wallace’s butterflies.

“I spent two weeks and three days looking for the specimens,” said Athena, who hopes to study zoology at university. “It felt really good to have found all of them as it took quite a long time. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.”

One of Athena’s most exciting finds was a butterfly called Dismorphia. Wallace collected this in the Amazon and it is significant because most of his other Amazon specimens were lost at sea in 1852.

For more on the Nuffield Research Placements, visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org/nuffield-research-placements

 


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