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More than 13M U-M museum specimens moving to state-of-the-art facility

Bret Pollington of Corrigan Moving Systems wraps a dolphin skull at the U-M Museum of Zoology. Mounted heads of several African bovids -- a common eland, a waterbuck and a gerenuk -- are on the wall. Images credit: Daryl Marshke, Michigan PhotographyBret Pollington of Corrigan Moving Systems wraps a dolphin skull at the U-M Museum of Zoology. Mounted heads of several African bovids -- a common eland, a waterbuck and a gerenuk -- are on the wall. Images credit: Daryl Marshke, Michigan PhotographyANN ARBOR—Movers have begun hauling more than 13 million museum specimens from the University of Michigan's zoology, paleontology and anthropology collections to a state-of-the-art collections and research facility, a process that will take about 20 months.

The specimens are being moved to the university's research museums complex on Varsity Drive, about 5 miles south of the U-M central campus. The Varsity Drive facility has been home to the U-M Herbarium since 2001.

"The unification of these biodiversity and cultural museums will facilitate cross-disciplinary interactions, with the potential for new academic directions and improved stewardship of our invaluable collections," said Herbarium Director Christopher Dick. "The enlarged facilities will also provide new spaces for specimen-based classroom activities.

All four units last shared a roof more than 70 years ago, when the herbarium was located in the Ruthven Museums Building, the current home for much of the zoology, paleontology and anthropology collections. The Ruthven building, named for a former U-M president and museums director, was completed in 1928.

The main reason for the move is to rehouse the research collections of the four museums in a single location that is in compliance with modern safety and environmental standards, said Diarmaid O'Foighil, chair of the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Roughly $35 million has been spent over the past six years to renovate 97,000 square feet of space at the Varsity Drive facility and to pay for the collections move.

The renovated space features:

  • Environmentally controlled collection space, with temperature and humidity conditions optimized for each collection.
  • Preparatory laboratories, research space, museum libraries and offices.
  • New archival metal specimen cabinets and compact storage for specimen and paper collections.
  • A demonstration room for teaching and public programs.

"We are looking forward to inhabiting our new facility, as it provides ample space and the resources to conduct important research to document patterns of change in biodiversity through time and to understand the underlying causes of that change," said Priscilla Tucker, director of the U-M Museum of Zoology.

Dolphin skulls, vertebrae and other assorted bones at the U-M Museum of Zoology.Dolphin skulls, vertebrae and other assorted bones at the U-M Museum of Zoology.The move of the museum collections to Varsity Drive is happening while U-M's new Biological Sciences Building is under construction on a central-campus site adjacent to Ruthven. The $261 million biological sciences building will be the new home of the U-M Museum of Natural History and will be shared with two biology departments and the Museum of Paleontology.

The 300,000-square-foot BSB, scheduled for completion in 2018, will house the research laboratories, offices and classrooms of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. Several EEB faculty members are also curators at the Museum of Zoology and the University Herbarium.

"A robust functional relationship will persist between the Varsity Drive museum complex and the Biological Sciences Building because curator faculty members will have their offices and labs at BSB but will do much of their museum work at Varsity Drive," O'Foighil said.

Workers from Corrigan Moving Systems moving a drawer filled with quail specimens at the U-M Museum of Zoology.Workers from Corrigan Moving Systems moving a drawer filled with quail specimens at the U-M Museum of Zoology.The Biological Sciences Building will contain a subset of material from the zoology, paleontology and anthropology collections for on-campus research and teaching purposes, he said. Potential transportation links between the two locations are being explored to facilitate access for the graduate and undergraduate students who will work there.

The collections being moved to Varsity Drive include 8.2 million specimens from the Museum of Zoology, about 3 million artifacts from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology and 2.2 million specimens from the Museum of Paleontology.

About 5 million specimens from the Museum of Zoology's "wet collection"—animals preserved in jars of alcohol—were moved to Varsity Drive in 2012. The U-M Herbarium contains 1.75 million specimens.

"These collections are the result of the work of thousands of scientists for over one hundred years, and the move to Varsity Drive will allow us to preserve that legacy for generations to come," said Andrew Martin, dean of the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

 

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