Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Harwell to host £180 million State-of-The Art Research Centre for the Natural History Museum

Harwell Science and Innovation Campus will become home to a new £180 million science and digitisation centre for the UK’s Natural History Museum, the government has announced in its 2020 Budget.

Harwell Campus is a partnership between the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Harwell Oxford Partners and U+I. The new facility will be a world-leading sustainable base for natural sciences research and international collaboration, establishing a world-class research centre that will strengthen the UK’s position in tackling global challenges including climate change, resource scarcity, biodiversity loss and emerging diseases.

The location of the new facility at Harwell, close to STFC’s Central Laser Facility, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source and the UK’s national synchrotron Diamond Light Source, will open up opportunities to collaborate with the unique science community already based on the campus. The campus is home to a scientific community of over 6,000 people and thrives on its proximity to the UK’s national laboratories managed and developed by STFC.

Open to scientists and researchers from around the world, the new facility will house around 40 percent of the Museum’s collections as well as laboratories, digitisation suites, technology-enabled collaborative research spaces, computing, conservation laboratories and workspaces for digital scholarship. It will be an additional site to the Museum’s existing locations within London and Tring.

Angus Horner, Partner and Director at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus recently (13 March 2020) said:

“Working collaboratively, we can place the UK at the forefront globally of developing both sustainable food production technologies and environmental stewardship strategies. This is just one example of the benefit to the UK of today’s announcement.”

Natural History Museum Director Sir Michael Dixon recently (13 March 2020) said:

“The centre will allow our 300 scientists to further their research into the biggest challenges facing the planet and humanity – from global and national biodiversity loss and sustainable land use to food security, disease transmission and ensuring we have the right natural resources available for transition to a zero-carbon economy.

“Future-proofing our collection has never been more urgent. Its vast scale explains our past, helps us chart a path for the future and the data that can be generated from it will inform future environmental policies and plans.”

The development of new world-class accommodation will allow the Museum to move collections currently at risk of deterioration and irreparable damage from being housed in functionally and physically-obsolete 20th century buildings to facilities which meet international collection standards. The new centre will enable the cataloguing, protection and expansion of the collection for future generations, providing space and facilities to ensure information, such as critical molecular data, is preserved and extracted.

The new centre will also enable an acceleration and enhancement in the digitisation of the Museum’s collections, unlocking access for the global scientific community to unrivalled historical, geographic and taxonomic specimen data gathered in the last 250 years.

Demand for data from the Museum’s collections is significant. Over 4.5 million specimens have been digitised and released openly onto the Museum’s Data Portal. While this is only 5 percent of the collection, over 21 billion records have been downloaded from over 275,000 download events, and 490 scientific publications have cited Natural History Museum data over the last five years. The more data the Museum releases, the more use and onward impact can be seen.

The investment reflects the Government’s commitment to spend 2.4 percent GDP on research and development, and to deliver the UKRI Infrastructure Road Map.

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