First objects arrive at the Science Museum’s new home near Swindon

Science Museum in Swindon

The first of 300,000 historic items from the Science Museum Group Collection have arrived in their new home, an innovative collection management facility at the National Collections Centre at the former RAF Wroughton Airfield near Swindon in Wiltshire.

This new facility provides the stable environmental conditions essential for the long-term preservation and care of its internationally significant collection.

At 90m wide and 300m long, the facility is equivalent in size to 600 double-decker buses. It features conservation laboratories, research areas and photography studios alongside a vast storage hall with 30,000 metres of shelving ready to house the collection.

The new facility enable the museum to better store, conserve, research and photograph its unique collection, while improving the process of displaying items in its five museums and increasing the number of items it will be able to loan to UK and international institutions.

Although the complex process to study, record, photograph, digitise and pack 300,000 historic objects has been underway for several years, it is only in the last few weeks that objects have been moved from the Blythe House object store in London into their new home.

One of the first objects to arrive was a model of the influenza virus (magnified 5 million times) made for William Graeme Laver, a virologist working on an influenza treatment.

Another early arrival was a toy duck used by scientists to identify potential landing sites on the remarkably duck-shaped comet 67P/ Churyumov–Gerasimenko for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission.

After a ten year, 6.4 billion km journey the Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet in 2014 and the duck was used by Open University scientists when discussing where the Philae lander should touch down on the comet.

Other objects recently unpacked include lancets presented to vaccination pioneer Edward Jenner, spectacles created by Snapchat and a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, made locally in Swindon.

Over the next two and a half years, 300,000 objects will be transported from London and carefully unpacked in their new Wiltshire home.

Hundreds of larger historic objects already housed at the National Collections Centre – including an inert Polaris missile, a revolutionary Leyland Titan double-decker bus and a record-breaking balloon gondola used to study the stratosphere – will also be moved into the building, increasing access to these incredible items.

These larger items will be housed in the vast open space which is covered by a colourful floor grid.

Designed by Sam Jacob Studio, the floor grid enables the museum to more easily organise and store these huge items. The grid, together with other colourful architectural additions, will help people find their way around the huge facility.

Each square in the grid is 3.6m by 3.6m (not much smaller than the average UK living room), which gives a sense of just how massive the space really is.

The colossal and complex collection move will finish in early 2024, when the facility will open for public tours, school and research visits.

Thousands of incredible items from the collection will be accessible to the public for the first time in their new home. This is particularly exciting for Wiltshire residents, who will have an internationally significant collection on their doorstep.

Sustainability is at the heart of the new facility, which is our most energy efficient building. Its highly insulated and extremely airtight design allows the environmental conditions needed for the collection to be maintained with minimal energy use.

The new collection management facility was designed by the architects GWPA and constructed by Kier.