New member: the University of Porto joins CETAF in the Portugal Consortium

The 55th General Assembly brought many good news to the CETAF Community: one is certainly the arrival of 4 new members for our Consortium. We already presented the Lithuanian Nature Research Centre, and it’s now time to travel to the opposite side of the continent, to Portugal. The University of Porto, Lisbon and Coimbra teamed up in a Portuguese consortium to join CETAF together.

Let’s have a chat with Maria João Fonseca, from the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto.

Main Building - Exhibition
Main Building - Ferreira da Silva Lab

How would you describe your Institution?
The Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto is a new museum with a centuries-long history. Settled in the northern region of Portugal, in the second largest city of the country – Porto –, the Museum is organized according to a multipolar structure, encompassing a core pole located in the facilities of the Historical Building of the Rectory of the University of Porto (currently under refurbishment but already open to the public), and another one that includes Porto’s Botanical Garden (opened since 1951) and the Hall of Biodiversity, a science centre fully devoted to biodiversity (opened since 2017). Putting it in numbers, the Botanical Garden’s four hectares harbour around 12,000 different exotic and indigenous plant specimens. Spanning across five floors, the Core Pole’s ca. 4,000 m2 harbour around 1 million specimens from historical and recently constituted zoology, herbarium, archaeology, ethnography, paleontology, geology and scientific objects collections, and a refurbished and fully functional Chemistry Laboratory dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. The building is under reconstruction, but the areas that have already been requalified, accounting for ca. 600 m2, are now being used as temporary exhibition space and will continue to be used for this purpose throughout the process. As for the Hall of Biodiversity, together with ca. 600 m2 of permanent exhibition space, ca. 500 m2 of temporary exhibition space allows to diversify the range of the cultural offer promoted by the Museum. Last year, the Museum received ca. 124,000 visitors. The Museum was formally established in December 2015 as the outcome of the merger between the old Museum of Natural History of the University of Porto and the Science Museum of the University of Porto – Faculty of Sciences. Its conceptualization and restructuring project aims to offer society a one-of-a-kind science advancement and engagement platform, structured as a science campus, focusing its line of action in three main fields:
• Conservation and preservation of cultural and scientific heritage;
• Research and development, especially collection-based and in areas related to natural, cultural, life and environmental sciences;
• Education, communication and outreach. The overarching mission of the Museum is to advance and disseminate knowledge about evolution, diversity and the confluence between the natural and the cultural worlds, by inspiring curiosity and enjoyment about life.

Hall of Biodiversity - The world
Galeria Biodiversidade
Which is the highlight, the main feature that characterizes your institution?

The Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto stands as a perfect hybrid between a university museum built upon science and natural history collections dating back to the 19th century and a science centre that is part of the national science centre network – Ciência Viva and that includes a Botanical Garden. It is a research institution committed to the promotion of science culture and intervention.

Which are the main collections hosted?
Zoology (vertebrates), ca. 10 736 specimens Zoology (invertebrates: insects), ca. 551 900 specimens Zoology (other invertebrates), ca, 24 268 specimens Herbarium, ca. 101 700 specimens Living Collections (Botanical Garden), ca. 5 525 specimens Palaeontology, ca. 2 358 specimens Mineralogy & Geology, ca. 4 174 specimens Extraterrestrial, 7 specimens Anthropology, ca. 126 027 specimens Heritage science collections, ca. 27 000 specimens.

Why did you decide to join CETAF?
CETAF is a reference infrastructure conveying and supporting taxonomy and systematic biology mostly at a European level, but with worldwide relevance. It is a forum for discussion, reflection, cooperation, capacitation and conjoint cooperation concerning pressing issues faced by institutions hosting biological and geological collections. The Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto hosts, although not too large, very diverse and relevant collections in these fields, representative of a wide and interesting scope of geographies and historical contexts. We believe that the integration of the Museum in this consortium, alongside its PRISC (Portuguese Research Infrastructure of Scientific Collections) partners – the Botanical Garden and Science Museum of the University of Coimbra and National Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Lisbon –, will not only enrich our academic community but also significantly contribute to CETAF’s goals and initiatives.

We also think so! What do you expect from this community?

One of the key values framing the vision of the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto is cooperation and networking. Working together with other museums, science centers, universities, research institutions and NGOs at national and international levels, at the Museum we unlock the power of collections, taking advantage of the expertise of researchers, educators, science communicators and artists, to describe bio- and geo- and cultural diversity, and raise awareness about current societal challenges, mobilizing our audiences towards the appreciation and protection of natural and cultural heritage and all of their diversity. As such, we are involved, as part of the PRISC consortium, in the European DiSSCo research infrastructure. And also, through the PORBIOTA consortium, in the European infrastructure Lifewatch. Likewise, it is part of ICOM, Ecsite and Science in University Musems networks. Moreover, we consistently engage in international collaborations with counterpart institutions in African Portuguese-speaking countries and Brazil, promoting joint initiatives that involve training programs and collaborative research endeavours. By joining CETAF, we expect to expand and diversify our network of partners, which will allow us to learn about current practices, concerns, challenges and solutions to issues that shape our everyday practice. We also hope to contribute to our practice. Overall, we expect that by integrating this community, we will be actively engaged and contributing to fostering knowledge exchange and capacity-building in this field.

Welcome on board Portugal!

Botanical Garden - Bosquete
Botanical Garden - Fish Garden

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