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Harwell to host £180 million State-of-The Art Research Centre for the Natural History Museum

12 March 2020

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.

STFC Director of National Laboratories Dr Neil Geddes said: “This announcement reinforces just what a unique community exists at Harwell, with dynamic and world-leading science and innovations supported by our facilities and scientists. It reflects the reputation STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has built up over many years as one of the UK’s leading research campuses.”

Angus Horner, Partner and Director at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus 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 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.

Notes for editors

Images and B-roll relating to the project can be downloaded here.

About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.

About Harwell Science and Innovation Campus

With a heritage of 75 years at the forefront of UK innovation and discovery, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus continues to drive scientific advancements to the benefit of the UK economy and to improve the human condition, centered around an open innovation community and culture.

The contribution that Harwell makes to the UK is significant - leading in research and achieving commercial success in key global markets, including Life Sciences, Space, Energy, Supercomputing, AI and Big Data. With 6,000 people employed across ~200 public, private, and academic organisations, and an estimated GVA of over £1billion, Harwell provides job creation and economic growth that benefits the whole country.

Harwell Campus is rapidly expanding via a private public partnership between Harwell Oxford Partners and U+I, plus two Government backed agencies, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (UKRI-STFC) and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

Last updated: 13 March 2020

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