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The Tank Room

Tank Room

Specimens preserved in formaldehyde
Curator Oliver Crimmen
Curator Oliver Crimmen and a basking shark
Specimens preserved in formaldehyde
The preserved head (and teeth!) of a basking shark
Oliver Crimmen prepares a specimen for preservation
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What floats in a million glass jars?

Will specimens from the past change our future?

On five miles of shelves holding tens of thousands of glass jars, over a million specimens float suspended in alcohol and formaldehyde. This is the museum's vast "Spirit Collection" that includes species discovered on the expeditions of Captain Cook and Charles Darwin.

Here, while examining the pickled remains of a deadly shark, curator Oliver Crimmen uncovered a secret that has helped competitive swimmers win Olympic gold.

The secret is revealed in Museum Secrets: Inside The Natural History Museum.

From Past to Future

The tank room is a vast repository of the past. But that's only part of the story.

When Oliver Crimmen examined a shark specimen, he discovered a property of the shark's skin that explains its ability to move through the water at amazing speed. Swimsuit makers caught wind of the idea, and within a few years Oliver's discovery was incorporated into swimsuits known as "Fastskin" – worn by winners of Olympic gold.

What makes the shark's skin so special is...  no wait... we won't spoil it. You'll have to watch the broadcast episode.

In the meantime, we invite you to discover why a repository of the past is of value to the future in this Web Exclusive Video: Worthy Specimens.

Inside the Tank Room

Wonder what it takes to preserve a specimen for posterity? To find out, we invite you watch Oliver Crimmen go through the steps in our Pop Up Video: Preserve a Fish.

And if you'd like to walk through dark rooms where millions of specimens float suspended, we invite you to watch our wordless Web Exclusive Video: Tank Room Tour.

Further Questions

What does the Fastskin swimsuit look like?  In 2008 the manufacturer unveiled a Fastskin design called the LZR Racer that looks very impressive in this Reuters video.

Beg to Differ

When Fastskin swimsuits were introduced into competitions, there were objections from competitors and sports fans who felt high tech suits provided an unfair advantage. FINA, the organization that oversees the sport, flirted with the idea of banning Fastskin (and similar technologies) but eventually relented to pressure from swimwear manufacturers and athletes. Want to know if your swimsuit is approved for competition?  Check out FINA's 2011 Appoved Swimsuit Page.

1 Comments


Natty Antlers • #105 • 2018-04-01 11:05:33
Hope the swimsuit manufacturers acknowledged your discovery, free speedo\'s for life perhaps?