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Illuminating Nature

'Illuminating Nature' was displayed from 21-23 October 2021 in our Oxford Road window. It was part of the Corridor of Light Festival.


This installation featured a number of stunning shells from our collection, including cowrie shells, keyhole limpets and star turban shells, which all glow a brilliant, florescent pink and show just how magical nature can be.  


Did you know that Manchester Museum has the fourth largest mollusc collection in Britain, with 166,000 lots, and an estimated 750,000 individual specimens?!


Tom Pettini, a scientist from the University of Manchester, has been studying our mollusc collection. He is looking for new sources of fluorescence from nature. There could be a treasure trove waiting to be found within the vast museum collection.

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Fluorescence is a natural phenomenon. Rocks, minerals, plants, fungi, bacteria, animals - even duck-billed platypus – can all glow bright colours. These mollusc shells emit pink light when they absorb energy from invisible ultraviolet light, highlighting striking patterns and intricate details.

Fluorescence is a vital research tool in biology and medicine.  It is used to highlight specific microscopic structures and molecules that would otherwise be invisible, and helps in the  study of diseases such as malaria and cancer. Many of the fluorescent molecules currently in use were first identified in nature.


Images © Tom Pettini, The University of Manchester

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