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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Office of the Assoc. Director
for Science

Research and Collections


Feather identification expert Roxie Laybourne, amidst a portion of NMNH's bird collection. Photo by Chip Clark.

Research & Collections
Botany - Algae
Photo by Chip Clark.

The collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) comprise the majority of the Smithsonian's collections, both in scope and in size, representing over 90% of the Institution's collections. These collections serve as primary reference materials for exploring and understanding the solid Earth and planet, biological and cultural diversity, evolutionary relationships, biological conservation, and global change. They help us to interpret our biological origins, our cultural heritage, and what the future may hold.

NMNH's collections are special resources that allow the museum to make unique contributions to answering significant scientific questions and responding to national mandates, priorities, and concerns. As such, the collections play a vital role in advancing scientific knowledge, addressing societal issues, and increasing the scientific literacy of our nation. The ongoing and intensive scientific consultation of these reference collections also provides critical information links to other collections throughout the world, establishing the NMNH as an important international user facility. (view more photos)

National Museum of Natural History Policy on Access and Benefit Sharing and Awareness of the Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol affect the work of natural history museums, the acquisition of collections and their use, and external collaborations. Accordingly, it is important for the NMNH to have a clear statement on access and benefit sharing. NMNH has approved the following statements on Access and Benefit Sharing and Genetic Resources for the museum's use. It is complemented by the document Awareness of Convention on Biological Diversity.

The policy was developed in consultation with the Smithsonian Office of the General Counsel, the Office of the Under Secretary for Science's Senior Policy Advisor, Executive Director of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, the Associate Director for Science, the Chief of Collections and representative NMNH researchers.

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 The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) encourages donations of specimens, samples, objects or materials that are either of known origin or are solicited. NMNH complies with all U.S. export and sanctions laws, as well as fish, wildlife and other regulations applicable to the importation and exportation of specimens and research materials. All specimens, samples, objects or materials shipped to NMNH must be properly licensed if applicable and otherwise comply with U.S. law. By way of illustration, please check the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions programs and lists and do not ship specimens and research materials that originated in a sanctioned country even if such specimens and research materials are not currently located there. The museum discourages unsolicited shipments.  If you are considering making a donation please contact the museum in advance.  If you have questions, please contact the Collections Manager of the appropriate museum department.

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