Just over a third of the Natural History Museum’s collections will move to a new state-of-the-art research facility at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

The Natural History Museum will be relocating 27 million specimens to a new science and digitisation centre.

The new centre aims to help ensure the collections and the vast data contained in them are safe, accessible and digitally available for researchers all over the world, strengthening the UK’s position in tackling global challenges including climate change, biodiversity loss and emerging diseases.

Dr Tim Littlewood, executive director of Science at the Natural History Museum said: “We are in a race against time to find evidence-based solutions to the major challenges facing our planet. We need accurate big data on nature to measure global change and inform future policies and this new centre will allow us to generate and process that through a major acceleration of our digitisation programme.

"We are proud that the Government has recognised the critical role both our global collections and research expertise can play in tackling the planetary emergency through this major investment in the natural sciences."

In addition to digitisation, the centre will enable the museum’s 300 scientists to develop and work with existing and new partners to apply the latest innovative technologies such as AI, imaging and genomic analysis to the collections to gain a better understanding of natural diversity, how it responds to change and how we can address the planetary emergency.

It will house the Natural History Museum’s vast mammal collections, non-insect invertebrates (such as corals, crustaceans, molluscs, and worms), molecular collections, and ocean bottom sediments, totalling over 27 million specimens, as well as over 600m3 of accompanying library material.

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These scientifically critical collections contain vast data on the natural world and how it has changed. From a microscopic ‘water bear’ that can survive in outer space to the remains of magnificent whales, the specimens cover millions of years and every ocean and land mass of the planet.

Stuart Grant, chief executive of Harwell Science and Innovation Campus said: “We’re looking forward to over 27 million specimens of all shapes and sizes from an Irish Elk to Darwin’s barnacles, arriving at their new home, here at Harwell Campus.

“As a world-leading science and innovation community, the new digitisation centre will be an incredible addition to Harwell’s collection of renowned national facilities, enabling the Natural History Museum to future-proof collections-based research and allowing scientists to solve the challenges and planetary pressures that we face.”

More than 4.8 million specimens have already been digitised and made accessible through the museum's data portal, resulting in 27 billion records downloaded, more than 400k download events and more than 1000 scientific papers citing the digital collection.

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