Field Museum Is ‘On the Move’

Huge New Collection, Research Center Opens Sept. 12

CHICAGO, Aug. 30 /PRNewswire/ — How do you move more than two million ancient artifacts, priceless specimens and large, oddly shaped objects? Very carefully! In any event, The Field Museum will soon take on the huge job.

On Sept. 12, The Museum will officially open its new, climate-controlled, $65-million Collection Resource Center (CRC). Near that date, it will begin the gargantuan task of moving a significant portion of its vast collections — everything from mummies to meteorites and adzes to zebra skins — from overcrowded storage rooms into the new, long-awaited facility. The job is so big that it will take four years to complete.

“The two-story, 186,000-square-foot expansion is nothing less than the finest natural history collection and research center in the world,” said John McCarter, Field Museum President and CEO. “In addition to collection areas, it will include scientific laboratories, preparation areas, teaching facilities and workspace for visiting scholars. As such, it will provide a wonderful new scientific base for understanding our precious, world-class collections.”

Since many of the two million objects to be moved are especially large, the move will free up as much as one-third of The Museum’s current storage space, some of which will then be made available for public exhibitions.

Except for a few of the biggest objects that will be handled by professional movers, museum staff will move everything on carts through The Museum’s long corridors and public exhibition halls.

An immense amount of planning and packing has prepared the way. Objects have been cleaned, sorted and inventoried, and many have been repackaged in custom-made archival boxes.

Each item slated to be moved has a specific, designated place in one of the CRC’s 45,500 shelves, trays or drawers. Museum workers involved in the move have made timed, practice runs to better gauge the amount of time and effort the move will consume.

The heaviest object to be moved is a 9,000-pound Egyptian sarcophagus lid; the lightest would be, perhaps, a Native American bead or African fishhook. Anthropology, Geology and Zoology departments are transferring some of their collections to the new space. Only Botany will keep its entire collection in the original building, built in 1921 and containing one million square feet.

Base for Study

The new facility, located under The Museum’s east and southeast terraces, will house a variety of collections including totem poles and dinosaur bones. It will also house collections preserved in jars and tanks of fluid, parts of which are so heavy they were causing the original building to sink slowly.

But the state-of-the-art CRC is much more than a big storage facility. It provides more than 10 scientific laboratories, a darkroom, and x-ray equipment, a skylight for studying skins and furs in natural light, and special rooms for freezing and storing specimens of tissue, blood and DNA. Also, it includes conference and seminar rooms, as well as workrooms for students and scholars to study The Museum’s collections.

“Our scientific staff will use this center as a base to enhance their internationally acclaimed research on topics ranging from DNA to dinosaurs, and on the evolution of the earth, its inhabitants and human culture,” said Lance Grande, Field Museum Head of Collections and Research. “Also, the international scientific community will be drawn even more to the museum to study our collections and interact with our scientists.”

The new facility features innovative safety features, such as a fire-suppression system with hydrofluorocarbon gas as a first line of defense. Overhead water sprinklers would be used only as a last resort, since water would damage the priceless artifacts.

Another safety feature is “spark-proof” rooms for storing specimens preserved in containers of fluid, typically 70% ethyl alcohol. To prevent any chance of a spark, no outlets or computers are allowed in such rooms, and all light fixtures must be fully enclosed. Furthermore, tracks in the floor are equipped with leak-detection cables that would sound an alarm if even one drop of alcohol were detected. Fans would then automatically draw off the alcohol fumes. This minimizes the risk of an explosion should any fumes accumulate from the alcohol in the containers.

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