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Smithsonian dives in to add new ocean center

September 17, 2004|Jacqueline Trescott | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History announced Thursday the largest renovation in its nearly 95-year history, creating Ocean Hall, an unusual hybrid of public display and research.

Ocean Hall will cost $60 million and cover 28,000 square feet -- 3,000 more than the successful makeover of the Hall of Mammals last year. It will bring together for the first time all 50 of the museum's marine scientists and government specialists in what's being called the Smithsonian Ocean Science Initiative.

"Oceans are going to be the most important topic for the public in the next decade. They will be the rain forest issue," said Robert Sullivan, the museum's associate director for public programs. "The hall will be a provocative starting point for those discussions. We are going to do what has been impossible for a natural history museum. We are going to do what is current."

This project will be the most visible example to date of the mandate given to the Smithsonian last year to improve its science operations. A panel studied science throughout the museum and recommended more financial and moral support of scientific work, which includes saving endangered species and studying ice formations. The report also advocated bringing some of the research in its seven laboratories and field camps to the museum exhibitions.

The Natural History Museum has 186 scientists, the largest number of researchers at any museum in the world. Some are at the forefront of new discoveries.

Ocean Hall is scheduled to open in 2008.

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