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September 10, 2009

New Darwin Centre Debuts Its Cocoon

by John Travis


On Monday, London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) will formally open its new Darwin Centre with a launch ceremony that will be attended by official and unofficial English royalty—HRH Prince William of Wales and Sir David Attenborough, the celebrated naturalist and TV host whose name is bestowed on a multimedia studio in the center. The glassed addition to the museum has drawn attention mostly for the massive “Cocoon,” an 8-story-tall oblong interior structure that will house the museum’s famous plant and insect collections—more than 20 million specimens. NHM's original Victorian building is now a landmark piece of architecture, notes Michael Dixon, director of the museum, and with the Darwin Centre, “we wanted to make an equally impressive statement about the future of the museum.” From a scientist’s perspective, the Cocoon is more than eye-catching; it’s central to the museum’s efforts to provide a more modern collection facility with improved environmental controls. The new Darwin Centre also significantly upgrades the lab facilities for NHM’s scientists and the thousands of visiting researchers who come to study the collections. And as with many new science museums, the Darwin Centre provides the public with more opportunities to watch scientists in action. “Our scientists have traditionally worked behind closed doors; … now, for the first time, we’re metaphorically throwing those doors open,” says Dixon.


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