Science in action
Do you know how our researchers work? What are their methods and tools? How do they help each other? Push the door of research...
The collections, a gold mine
Our collections are among the richest in the world with 67 million items. Anthropology, botany, zoology, mineralogy, palaeontology, prehistory, living organisms, books and archives... researchers use all these resources to retrace the joint evolution of the Earth and life, to identify the links of relationship between species and the interactions between humans and their environments. However, their management and conservation require daily, meticulous work. Specimens kept in drawers, tubes or sealed jars must be preserved, described, classified and annotated. For living collections of micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, micro-algae, etc.), the scientist must, for example, taper a micropipette with a flame until an incredibly fine opening is obtained, then suck up the micro-organisms one by one under a microscope, place them in small wells and repeat this work every two months to replace the culture medium!
The open-air lab
Field missions are the cornerstone of many of the projects. Scientific explorations allow us to find fossil and living samples or archaeological remains to be analysed. Collecting them requires real know-how. In situ, the reasoned collection of actual specimens or the extraction of sediments is carried out. They are sifted to unearth the smallest remains: bone fragments, crustaceans, sea urchins, insects, shells, teeth, seeds, etc. They are then sorted with a pair of tweezers under a magnifying glass and provide information about the environments and activities of the inhabitants of the past.
Other researchers, together with volunteers trained in ringing, study bird populations. They carefully capture wild birds and then release them after attaching a ring with an identification number.
At our two stations in Dinard and Concarneau, teams are interested in aquatic species and marine environments. Observations, experiments and analyses are required. Some do not hesitate to don a diving suit to inventory and monitor marine flora and fauna, or to install buoys in the middle of the ocean to follow the currents and collect physico-chemical or meteorological data. Everything helps when scrutinising ecosystems and their evolution!
The Museum posesses state-of-the-art equipment that is the envy of many scientific centres. Our research units rely on sixteen technical platforms for imaging, microscopy, particle analysis and dating, molecular characterisation, intensive computing, etc. These are invaluable devices for studying heritage objects such as fabrics or musical instruments, as well as for describing fossils trapped in rocks, the colouring of insect wings, the DNA of island specimens, humans, close species that preceded us, or the composition of archaeological remains.
There are, of course, more traditional methods, such as the reconstruction of a skeleton by combining anatomical specificities and hypotheses. All this is to offer the public the most scientific representation, in its morphology and posture, of a rare animal or one that has been extinct for millions of years!
Any volunteer in the field or on the Internet who participates in participative science programmes helps our teams. We have increased the number of initiatives in recent years with Vigie-nature, Vigie-ciel, Vigie-Terre, Herbonautes, Paléonautes. Find out more and get started! By sharing your day-to-day observations in the form of photos and descriptions, you can contribute to numerous databases on the nature around you. This information is very useful to scientists for monitoring populations or evaluating conservation policies.
One thing is certain: our researchers never work alone. Within the institution, they work in a collective and often multidisciplinary manner, forming numerous partnerships with specialists from all over the world. For example, in conjunction with other major museums, they are building a “One World" collection to better protect nature and improve the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). More recently, they have also joined the international "One Health" initiative, which consists of a global approach to human, animal and environmental health. The aim is to pool knowledge about nature in order to better prevent emerging diseases with pandemic potential.