More than 13M museum specimens moving to new U-M facility


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 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 former U-M president and museums director Alexander Ruthven, was completed in 1928.

Janet Hinshaw, collection manager of the bird division at the Museum of Zoology, and workers from Corrigan Moving Systems examine a drawer of quail specimens that will be moved to an off-campus facility. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photo)

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 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.

Dolphin vertebrae at the Museum of Zoology. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

“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 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 adjacent to the Ruthven building. The $261 million biological sciences building will house the Museum of Natural History along 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 also are curators at the Museum of Zoology and the 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.

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.

Bret Pollington of Corrigan Moving Systems wraps a dolphin skull at the Museum of Zoology. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

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 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 LSA Dean Andrew Martin.



  1. Jennifer Sporer
    on June 9, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Wow, super cool.

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