Darwin Centre staff move into cocoon

06 March 2009

The first group of Natural History Museum scientists have moved in to the new high-tech labs of the Darwin Centre’s state-of-the-art cocoon building.

The botany and entomology laboratory scientists are the first Museum staff to swap their old offices and labs for the new high-tech molecular laboratory suite in the second phase of the Darwin Centre building project.

Over the next seven months, more than 200 staff, volunteers and students will join them in this £78 million landmark building, which opens to the public in September.


In addition to the molecular laboratory suite, the second phase of the Darwin Centre will also house the Sackler Biodiversity Imaging Lab and medical and veterinary laboratories. This adds an additional 850 square metres of specialist labs to the Museums science facilities.

Lab scientists’ work

The equipment will help scientists carry out important research. From developing tools for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources worldwide to researching issues like disease, climate change and threats to the Earth’s biodiversity.

The staff will also be looking after the 20 million specimens. They will be housed in the protective cocoon at optimum environmental conditions. These are used by thousands of researchers all over the world each year.

In September 2008, installation of the 3.3km of collection cabinets began. This involves a year of production and installation where the steel cabinets are fixed to mobile compactor rails to make the most efficient use of space.

Specimen move

From the end of March, the move of the 17 million entomology and 3 million botany specimens begins. These include many valuable and historic specimens such as the cocoa plant collected by Sir Hans Sloane in Jamaica in the 17th century.

Freezing treatment

Each of the 3 million plant specimens will be frozen for 5 days in giant 40-tonne freezers to kill any pests that feed on the collections. The temperature in the freezers is lowered to minus 30C on the first day and slowly increased again after 72 hours. This process kills pests and their eggs without damaging the specimens themselves.

Public opening

As the staff move in, work continues on getting the public areas ready for the opening in the autumn. There will be a public self-guided tour through the upper floors of the spectacular 8-storey cocoon where people can see scientists at work and get a taste of the Museum’s role as a world-class science research centre.

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Further information

  • Find out more about the Darwin Centre
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