Academy Job Shadow Days report

Lauren Romijn at the Westerdijk Institute

Lauren Romijn, archivist in the Collection Processing and Access department of the International Institute for Social History (IISH), shadowed Trix Merkx, laboratory assistant at the Westerdijk Institute.

It was all extremely technical in nature! Trix started by giving me a tour of the laboratory. It’s very different to the work environment that I’m used to at IISH. I found it interesting to learn more about the practical side of fungi storage.

Trix showed me three ways of storing fungi. The first was the old-fashioned way, in tubes or trays with a nutrient medium suitable for fungus growth. Every fungus thrives at a different temperature and requires a different amount of light, so this is a very labour-intensive method.

The second way is in nitrogen boxes. Racks of fungi are suspended just over the nitrogen to keep them cold. This is a more sustainable method of storage and is less time-consuming for the lab staff. The third way is to dehydrate the fungus with milk so that the fungal spores can be reused after adding milk. Just like instant coffee!

After a fungus study has been completed, a sample of the fungus is deposited in a fungus library. The Westerdijk Institute’s library is very popular. It receives fungus samples from around the globe. I found the system of localising and storing fungi really fascinating. We don’t have a mandatory submission or storage system at IISH.

Trix and I then went to SchimmelLAB at Utrecht University Museum. SchimmelLAB is a fungus exhibition organised as part of Westerdijk Year, a series of celebrations marking the one hundredth anniversary of Johanna Westerdijk’s appointment as first female professor in the Netherlands. It was a beautifully designed exhibition, with some fun displays, for example how to make dresses out of fungi. I think it's especially enjoyable for children, because I can imagine that fungi aren't exactly considered ‘cool’!

Information on soil samples in the SchimmelLAB exhibition