Access is available to NHM’s 70 million natural history specimens, including 800,000 type. The specimens are stored in secure storage units and well-organised in accordance with taxonomic groupings. This includes the Darwin Centre (Phase 1 & 2) a state-of-the-art facility housing 23 million zoological specimens in alcohol, plus all the majority of the entomological and botanical specimens. The Darwin Centre has dedicated desk space for visiting researchers.
Please note: The Natural History Museum is currently preparing for the development of an ambitious new science and digitisation centre. The centre is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the future of the Museum’s collection, transform the study of natural history and widen access to the collections for researchers and partners to tackle urgent global challenges. You can find out more about the plans here (https://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/harwell.html).
To allow us to prepare and carry out the move, visitor access to some collections and facilities may be temporarily affected. The final decision on which collections and facilities will move to the new centre will be taken in July 2021, after which we will provide more updates on access changes.
We do not currently anticipate that this will affect visitors for the 2021 SYNTHESYS+ call.
A summary of NHM collections is shown below, specimens also include embryonic material used for the study of plant and animal development. NHM is a world leader in this field of research; frozen tissue and DNA collections. Researchers are permitted to use these collections in line with the NHM destructive sampling policy (please contact your proposed host for a copy). Such a diverse accumulation of specimens is unrivalled in Europe.
|Department||Collection highlights and staff expertise|
|Life Sciences: Botanical collections||
6 million specimens of bryophytes, ferns, seed plants and slime moulds
117,250 primary types
Comprehensive, type-rich collections of lichens, bryophytes and algae, strong in Old World pteridophytes European, Macaronesian, North African, Himalayan and Central American vascular plants
UK national collections and exceptionally rich in historical collections worldwide
Systematics of all cryptogamic plant groups except non-lichenised fungi.
Plant evolutionary and developmental studies
Conservation and biodiversity analytical methods
Nomenclature and typification
Tropical seedling biology
|Life Sciences – Microbial collections||
Algal collections: The Museum’s collection of algae is one of the largest in the world, with more than a quarter of a million specimens from around the globe. These account for about 5 per cent of the botanical collections.
Lichen collections: The collection consists of about 400,000 specimens and at least 10,000 type specimens.
Diatom collections: over 300,000 specimens that have been added from the early 19th century to the present day; include freshwater, brackish and marine representatives and are extremely geographically and taxonomically diverse, with all major diatom groups – both fossil and recent – represented
|Earth Sciences – Ocean Bottom Deposit collection||
40,000 worldwide localities
Most comprehensive British collection of seabed samples and cores.
All the oceans are represented, in the approximate proportions Atlantic 40%, Pacific 35% and Indian 25%.
The most important component is the Sir John Murray Collection, which includes the HMS Challenger 1872-76 sea-bed samples.
|Life Sciences – Vertebrate collections||
Avian anatomical collections include skeleton and spirit collections, together totalling around 33,600 specimens
The world-renowned avian skin collection at the Museum hosts almost 750,000 specimens.
Bird eggs and nests collections
Systematics and evolution of Reptile, Amphibian and Fish groups
Zoological collections are exceptionally strong for Europe and areas formerly under British colonial administration
Biogeography and Conservation through use of computer programmes (e.g. WORLDMAP) to develop methodologies for assessing biodiversity indicators
Recent climate change
|Life Sciences – Invertebrate collections||
Arachnids: Araneae, Amblypygi, Uropygi, Schizomida, Palpigradi, Ricinulei, Acari, Opiliones, Scorpiones, Pseudoscorpiones, Solifugae
Insects: Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Orthopteroid, Lepidoptera, Siphonaptera, Diptera, Hemiptera
Exceptionally strong for the British Isles, Europe, Commonwealth countries and the former British Empire
Named insect specimens of two-thirds of valid insect genera and over half of the valid described species in the world are represented
Systematics of insect disease vectors and insect pests of humans and domestic animals.
Myriapoda: Chilopoda, Symphyla, Pauropoda, Diplopoda
Bryozoa (c.500,000 lots) and unknown lots of Entoprocta: these collections have good British, European, Asiatic, Antarctic and Australasian collections.
Onychophora collection (c.49 species)
Tardigrada collection (30 species)
Historical marine collections
Bioinformatics- Molecular and cellular evolution of parasitic protists.
Deep sea biology of Nematodes
Soil macrofauna diversity, the role of diversity in soil ecosystem processes; biodiversity assessment protocols.
Evolutionary radiation of Molluscs.
Systematics of Parasitic Worms (trematodes, helminths and schistosomes) in humans and domestic animals.
Systematics and biology (including phylogeny and ontology) of Crustacean groups
|Earth Sciences – Meteorite collections||
World-class collection of meteorites strong in Chondrites and non-Antarctic Martian meteorites
about 2,000 individual meteorites in about 5,000 registered pieces.
|Earth sciences – Ores collection||
More than 15,000 ore specimens a valuable resource for the field of economic geology.
Comprehensive collection of ore suites from deposits no longer accessible.
|Earth sciences – Rock collections||The rock collection contains around 123,000 sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks collected around the world during the past 250 years.
Unique collection of a wide variety of c.16,000 British and European building and decorative stones.
Our material is of particular interest to igneous petrologists and other researchers because many specimens originate from distant or difficult-to-reach locations.
|Earth Sciences – Mineral collections||
World-class mineral collection containing half the mineral species known in the world of which 10% are primary types
Environmental mineralogy, soil mineralogy and soils research and clay mineralogy.
Crystallography and Mineral structures
|Earth sciences – Micropalaeontology collections||
Type and figured material from well over 2,000 scientific publications
An estimated 650,000 slides, residue bottles and samples
Millions of individual specimens
Over 106,600 type and figured specimens of which an estimated 51,500 are primary types.
Great geographical breadth that is in part linked to the UK’s colonial past.
|Earth Sciences – Palaeobotany collections||
Our collections are among the most important palaeobotanical collections worldwide with respect to geographic, stratigraphic and historical coverage
There is a particular abundance of fossils from British Carboniferous coal measures, Yorkshire Jurassic, Eocene London Clay, some ex-British colonies, such as Australia, South Africa, India and Canada
|Earth Sciences – Fossil invertebrate collections||Fossil annelid collection contains around 14,000 specimens, with all 6 classes of annelid represented, across their entire geological range
Brachipod collectionBest collection of fossil bryozoans in the world, with over 750,000 specimens
Our large fossil echinoderm collection contains a wide representation of all classes of echinoderm, including a collection of carpoids that is probably the best in the world.
The fossil mollusc collection comprises more than 5 million specimens and includes historically-important material, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin during the voyage of HMS Beagle.
Substantial collection of fossil sponges (Porifera), containing an estimated 71,000 specimens.
|Earth Sciences – Fossil vertebrate collections||
Fossil mammal material from across the globe, including a diverse collection of Mesozoic mammals and an abundance of type and figured material.
All major reptile clades are represented, and we care for one of the world’s most important dinosaur collections.
Fossil amphibians: Late Devonian to Pleistocene collection, including type specimens of temnospondyl amphibians, microsaurs, nectrideans, frogs and salamanders
Collections represent the full stratigraphic range – Pre-Cambrian to Recent.
Holdings of historical and monograph material are particularly strong.
Palaeobiogeography (Amphibia and Reptilia) and Palaeogeography
Phylogenetic analysis at high systematical level
Digital imaging (including CT reconstruction)
|Library and archives||
The largest natural history reference collection in the world
Over one million volumes, with the oldest dating from 1469
25,000 periodical titles.
All Users will have access to the basic equipment they require to complete their research, such as stereo microscopes. In addition, Users can apply to access state of the art technology to assist their research.
The Molecular Biology Labs (MBL) are a top-of-the-range facility fully equipped for Sanger, Illumina, Nanopore and SMRT sequencing. A specialist team are available to help users in all aspects of Nucleic acid sequencing from experimental design through to troubleshooting and Bioinformatics. For more information please see our MBL website.
Analytical, Imaging and Structural Facility (AIF): encompasses state-of-the-art analytical, high-resolution, low-voltage and environmental scanning electron microscopes; electron probe microanalysis; laser ablation with ICPMS; cathodoluminescence; confocal microscopy; atomic absorption, inductively coupled plasma atomic emission, inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy and infra-red spectroscopy; X-ray diffraction facilities; palaeontology imaging suite; micro- and nano-CT. This facility enables visitors to conduct research on a diverse range of research questions including: microtaxonomy; water quality; sewage treatment; soil contamination by radioisotopes and heavy metals; pollution, bioindicators; mineral chemistry and structure; ore and rock genesis; meteoritics.
The Palaeontology Conservation Unit, is one of the leading centres for museum conservation in the world, and is unique in Europe. It prepares, maintains and undertakes remedial treatment on all museum specimens and can offer training in best practise to Users. The Unit also conducts research into new methods of conservation.
The Museum has a site license for the alignment programmes ‘Sequencher’ and ‘Lasergene’ and access can be provided to the programme ‘GeneMapper’ which is used for fragment analysis. Computing resources include a 30-node Beowulf cluster and other Unix, PC, and Macintosh hardware, phylogenetic software, and a dedicated full-time Molecular Biology Computing Officer to support Users.
All Users will be able to bring personal laptops and connect these to the museums intranet (after a virus screening). Alternatively there are computers available for visitors to use.
NHM’s research is organised into five major scientific challenges:
1. Digital Collections
2. Discovery, Origins and Evolution
4. Anthropocene and Sustainability
5. Science, Society and Skills
By studying modern horseshoe crabs, researchers have been able to build up a picture of how some extinct arthropods such as trilobites may have fed on hard-shelled prey.
Shedding light on how the Columbian mammoth came to be.
Genetic and fossil records do not reveal a single point where modern humans originated, researchers have found.
A breakthrough in domestic production could bring down the carbon footprint of lithium-ion batteries.
A meteorite from the birth of the solar system could tell us more about how life flourished on earth.
Radiodont eye fossils inform scientists of the role of vision in evolution.
The world needs wheat cros that are bountiful, disesase resistant and able to thrive in soil without fertilisers.