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Canid skull from the US Exploring Expedition (1838-42), treated with mercuric chloride.

Canid skull from the US Exploring Expedition (1838-42). The skull had been treated with mercuric chloride as a preservative during the expedition. Later exposure to ultraviolet radiation from window light or fluorescent lamps caused the mercuric chloride to convert to mercury sulfides and metallic mercury.

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The Conservation Team tests lasers as a tool in removing agents of deterioration from museum objects. Photo by Marlene Yandrisevits

We ensure that the 145+ million objects in our collections endure for future scientific research and public enjoyment.

The collections at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) are acquired and preserved to serve the Smithsonian’s mission to increase knowledge. They are held in trust for research, exhibition, education, and publc enjoyment now and for future generations. To ensure that our unparalleled collections remain useful for these functions over time, conservation at the museum endeavors to prevent damage and, when necessary, treat objects and specimens across all scientific departments. The conservation staff determine procedures for maintenance and long-term preservation of the collections, and oversee safe installations of external loans and the museum’s holdings for public exhibitions.

The NMNH represents 90% of the Smithsonian Institution’s collections and forms the largest, most comprehensive natural history collection in the world. These collections are crucial tools in understanding the diversity of life on Earth, and the geology and chemistry of our planet and its neighbors in the solar system. Conservation plays the critical yet difficult task of ensuring the utility of the museum’s over 145 million items, which are inherently and inevitably subject to decay over time, to facilitate continued scientific research, understanding, and literacy.

Conservation Science
Conservation Science
The Team
Conservation Team
Inside Looks
Inside Looks

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