Digitising the collections

Prof Ian Owens

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum

'Digitisation of data will help to address some of the world's greatest challenges - it also helps governments and companies quickly make informed decisions on how to minimise our impact on the natural world.'
Prof Ian Owens, Director of Science

We are embarking on an epic journey to digitise one of the world's most important natural history collections: 80 million specimens spanning over four billion years of history. The Museum plans to digitise 20 million specimens over the next five years.

The data will help to address some of the world's greatest challenges. How can we make crops resilient to environmental change? How do we combat diseases? How is climate change affecting pollinators? How do we sustainably extract minerals for new green technologies?

We are starting with collections that will help our scientists ask big questions about environmental change, food supplies for future generations, ecological responses to short-term climate variations and mass extinctions.

Scientists are perfecting the high-speed imaging of herbarium sheets from flowering plant collections belonging to the Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. They will analyse the pictures and specimen labels of wild relatives of crop plants, such as the tomato, potato and aubergine, to track the evolution of tolerance to environmental extremes and response to short-term climate change.
The Museum is digitising our country's amazing collection of dinosaurs, flying reptiles, prehistoric fish, sharks and mammalian ancestors from the Mesozoic era. The data will help scientists answer crucial questions about mass extinctions and how species were distributed across our nation millions of years ago.

Explore more groundbreaking discoveries made using the Museum's collections - Still discovering >

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  • Title: Digitising the collections
  • Creator: Prof Ian Owens
  • Subject Keywords: Still discovering