Arts Council PRISM award will ‘preserve fascinating scientific instruments’ for the new institute

26 February 2015

The Francis Crick Institute has been awarded almost £20,000 to preserve 150 historically important scientific objects.

Some of the objects are related to notable scientific figures, such as Nobel Laureates Francis Crick and Peter Medawar, and Frank Hawking, father of Stephen Hawking.

Arts Council PRISM England is providing £19,420 to help conserve the collection of scientific instruments, most of which are currently based at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in Mill Hill, North London. NIMR is the largest and oldest of the Medical Research Council's institutes. A smaller number of objects will come from Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute.

Staff from both institutes will move into the new Francis Crick Institute at St Pancras during 2016.

The objects in the collection include, a microscope used by Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Medawar; Frank Hawking's electrophoresis equipment; an infusion pump (invented at NIMR in the 1960s); and an early model of a ribosome, signed by Peter Medawar and Francis Crick.

The collection is of particular interest because it has been preserved by active research staff who considered the objects to have historical significance in their work. It includes several unique items handmade by the NIMR engineering workshops for use by the Institute's researchers. Some of these became the basis of later commercial instruments, such as the insulin infusion pump and the cell counter.

The grant will be used to assess, document and conserve the objects for future display and public engagement activities. Previously, the collection has been stored at the NIMR in a number of different locations including out buildings, labs and the library store.

Jim Smith, Director of NIMR said: "This collection of scientific objects is historically important but it is poorly preserved, patchily documented, and in danger of being lost. By carrying out this project we will greatly improve the physical condition and future preservation of these objects."

Nick Booth, Curator for Teaching and Research at UCL, which has been supporting the project, said: "The organisations that make up the Crick have been in existence for many years, and I am really pleased that the historically important instruments that help us tell their stories are being preserved. The Crick is an exciting development for science in the UK, and I'm delighted that it is looking forward while remembering what has come before. I hope that the work and stories of past scientists can help inspire future developments."

On completion of the project, the collection will be in a suitable state for use in exhibitions, learning and public engagement at the Crick. Recommendations from the treatment reports will be used to inform the future care and preservation of the collection at the Francis Crick Institute.

Some of the items in the collection will be put on permanent display at the Crick when its new building opens in 2016. The conservation work will also make it possible for objects to be loaned to other heritage and education organisations.



  • The Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM) Fund awards grants towards the costs of acquisition and conservation of items or collections which are important in the history and development of science, technology, industry, and related fields.