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Behind the beetles and big bones

Dinosaurs, the magnificent Victorian building or a visit as a child spring to mind when you think of the Natural History Museum in London. But the real business of the museum is science. This means active research into areas as diverse as meteorites and human evolution. More than 300 scientists work behind the scenes. Whether it is the possibility of life on Mars, fossilised human remains, drugs from sponges, or medically important insects, the museum probably has an expert working on it.

Science means maintaining the nation's collection of 68 million life and earth science specimens. And it also means promoting the public's understanding of science and giving people access to ideas. This is achieved by events such as National Science Week, and through the museum's exhibitions.

Second only to science comes education. Actors, workshops and tours add to the potential for learning. A visit can motivate children and stimulate their desire to know more, as well as develop their observation and questioning skills.

"Natural history" is not in the national curriculum. But there are many concepts in the science curriculum - with several in geography and other subjects - which are well represented in the museum. Its new Earth Galleries have been designed to reflect the activity of science, the work of scientists, in asking questions about the Earth and trying to find answers.

The museum is much more than a curious building and a pleasant day out for children.

Roy Hawkey is head of education at the Natural History Museum.Tel: 0171 938 9123

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