Darwin Centre opens on 15 September 2009

16 July 2009

Get ready to experience the Natural History Museum’s metamorphosis when the landmark new Darwin Centre opens to the public on 15 September 2009.

A huge spider is installed in the Darwin Centre, one of many spectacular specimens you will see from

A huge spider is installed in the Darwin Centre, just one of many spectacular specimens on view when the building opens 15 September 2009.


The Cocoon journey is one of the highlights. Visitors will discover huge tarantulas and metre-high poisonous plants, and hundreds more spectacular specimen displays and interactive activities. 

And, for the first time, visitors will see into the hidden world of scientific research, where real Museum scientists are at work on cutting-edge research.

The Cocoon journey takes visitors deep into the 65-metre-long, 8-storey-high cocoon building, which is at the heart of the Darwin Centre. It protects the 20 million insect and plant specimens in world-class storage conditions.

Up to 2,500 people a day will visit this new exciting public space and the telephone lines are taking advanced bookings for the free timed slots, from today (telephone number is at the bottom of the page).

‘For many years, hundreds of Natural History Museum scientists have been working behind the scenes to better understand our planet,’ says Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum. 

‘Now, through the Darwin Centre, not only will our visitors really understand for the first time why the work of our scientists is so important, they will actually be able to interact with real specimens and real scientists, which we hope will really bring the experience to life for them.’

Scientists in action

Visitors will encounter real scientists and get an insight into their work, which may include collecting and naming new species to organising collections that are being used to help fight malaria or monitor climate change.

Decoding DNA

Visitors will see into state-of-the art laboratories where plant and insect DNA is being studied. So, one day scientists may be investigating mosquitoes and malaria, and the next day, the origin of the British bluebell.

Preparing specimens

A microphone lets visitors talk directly to scientists in the specimen preparation area. They could be pressing plants collected from the streets of London or sorting through beetles from the jungles of Central America.

Looking closer

In The Sackler Biodiversity Imaging Laboratory, visitors will see scientists using herbscan machines. These create high-quality images of delicate paper-mounted dried plants. The resulting digital images can then be shared with colleagues around the world.

Diversity of life

Spectacular insect and plant displays are revealed in the Cocoon journey, such as a huge wall over 2 floors adorned with hundreds of specimens. 

Visitors get a glimpse of the 70 million specimens looked after at the Natural History Museum, including many historically important specimens, such as insects collected by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

Understanding and inspiration

Dr Dixon concludes, ‘With so many issues facing the planet at this time, we hope that visitors will go away with a real sense of awe and wonder at nature, a better understanding of why the work of the Natural History Museum is so relevant, now more than ever, and be inspired to share in our collective responsibility over the future of the planet.’

Cocoon is supported by GlaxoSmithKline and Anglo American.

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Further information

  • Book your free Cocoon visit in advance by telephoning +44 (0)20 7942 5725 now
  • Visit the Darwin Centre
  • Find out about the science of the Darwin Centre
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