26 February 2021

Digital nature: Giant grant makes the natural history collections of Denmark accessible to everyone


DKK 30 million from The Ministry of Education and Research's Pool for Research Infrastructure will help to digitize the natural history collections of Denmark.

Photo: Anders Drud Jordan, Natural History Museum of Denmark

The national natural heritage of Denmark contains some of the most marvelous and rare animal and plant species, rocks and minerals from around the world. This priceless treasure has been collected over  more than 400 years and tells the story of the evolution of life on Earth. It also sheds light on climate change and the loss of biodiversity, making it an exceptional and indispensable resource in the work for the green transition that is crucial for a sustainable future. Now the collections will be digitized and made available to everyone in the largest Danish digital museum project ever. This is done through a grant of almost DKK 30 million from The Ministry of Education and Research's Pool for Research Infrastructure.

Photo: Anders Drud Jordan, Natural History Museum of Denmark

The grant will be used to make the large collections at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Natural History Museum in Aarhus, and the Science Museums at Aarhus University digitally accessible. The objects are scanned or photographed, and the images, together with the associated information, are collected in a database op for the public.

- The grant means that the Danish natural history collections can be utilized more efficiently and sustainably, both nationally and internationally. Open access to these data creates major benefits for research on climate change, biodiversity, nature conservation, food safety, disease spread and environmental impact. Digitization is a unique tool in the challenges that people face in the coming decades: targeted focus on a sustainable future for ourselves and the ecosystems on which we depend, says Professor Peter C. Kjærgaard, Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Data from the European natural history collections are invaluable and support countless discoveries, documented through tens of thousands of scientific publications from across the scientific field. Now the collections will be available to researchers, educators, students, institutions, companies, and everyone else with an interest in the diversity of nature.

- Effective and unhindered access to knowledge through digitization and Open Science are important goals for both Denmark and the EU. With the upcoming grant, we can make a major contribution to these goals, says Katrine Krogh Andersen, dean of the Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen.

The great importance of digitalization lies in the historical continuity of the collections. Many of the objects are hundreds of years old, but are still well preserved and often contain preserved DNA. They can therefore add a historical dimension to studies of how climate change and the increasing impact of humans have brought about changes to our nature and biodiversity, and they can help us gain a deeper insight into the underlying mechanisms.

- The digitization of the enormous natural history collections is a big step, as it enables researchers all over the world to work with this colossal knowledge bank around the clock. From now on, it will only require a computer and an internet connection to access hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge, stored in the large collections of natural history museums and universities across Europe. Data becomes open and accessible to all, and an important common resource is democratized. Not the least, this will be important for the many educational institutions, where students have access on an equal footing with international researchers, says Professor Nikolaj Scharff, head of research and collection at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Over the centuries, the collections have formed the background for many inventions and products. They are therefore important for our economy, health, teaching materials for students, as well as a significant resource and inspiration for the public in art, literature, and architecture.


DaSSCo - Danish System of Scientific Collections - is an integral part of the pan-European DiSSCo - Distributed System of Scientific Collections, which currently consists of 120 institutions in 21 countries. The goal is to make the more than 1.5 billion objects in all European science collections digitally accessible.

The total budget for DaSSCo is just over 61 million, and in addition to the funding from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, the funding comes from the participating museums and from DTU, the Technical University of Denmark, in Lyngby, that contributes with the development of the technical methods for scanning the museum specimens.

With DaSSCo, a very big step is taken in the digitization of the entire Danish natural history collections, and the project brings Denmark to the forefront in a European context.

Digitization contributes to meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and brings the museum closer to the EU Commission's and the Danish government's goal of creating more efficient and unhindered access to knowledge through digitization.

It is expected that researchers and other interested parties can be using DaSSCo from 2023.