History of Science Museum to tell Oxford University's Covid story - Museums Association

History of Science Museum to tell Oxford University’s Covid story

Collecting project will document university's crucial response to pandemic
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Eleanor Mills
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A glass safety cabinet used to grow, infect and harvest cells for the Covid-19 Oxford vaccine, which has now been acquired by the HIstory of Science Museum
A glass safety cabinet used to grow, infect and harvest cells for the Covid-19 Oxford vaccine, which has now been acquired by the HIstory of Science Museum

Oxford University’s History of Science Museum is embarking on a journey to collect artefacts from the institution’s invaluable research into Covid-19.

The History of Science Museum has joined forces with the Bodleian Libraries to collect the stories of the pandemic and the extraordinary responses to the global challenge across Oxford University.  

A dedicated collecting Covid curator and archivist will be appointed at the History of Science Museum working in close partnership with a dedicated archivist at the Bodleian Libraries to jointly lead this two-year project.

The new roles have become possible thanks to a recent grant award from the EPA Cephalosporin Fund, which supports scientific education and research at the university.

These two newly created posts will identify, collect, catalogue and preserve these objects and stories of Covid for future research, displays and public engagement. Oxford University staff and students, and anyone connected with the university’s response to the pandemic, are invited to share objects, documents and personal stories from this period.

So far, the project has been promised a range of materials and memories of the pandemic, including:

  • Equipment used in the development and delivery of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, including a vial used to administer the second dose to professor Sarah Gilbert.
  • A prototype ventilator developed by a team in the Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences division of the University.
  • A bottle of beer that a local brewery created especially for the Oxford Vaccine Group to thank them for their essential work.
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One of the objects already acquired is a glass safety cabinet, from the labs of the university's Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility at Churchill Hospital, used to grow, infect and harvest cells for the Covid-19 vaccine.

The cabinet was initially passed to the sustainable resourcing company UniGreenScheme in Wales for recycling when the facility’s labs were refurbished earlier in the year, but a keen-eyed member of sustainable company recognised its potential significance and got in touch with the Science Museum Group in London who in turn alerted the Collecting Covid project in Oxford. The cabinet now has a permanent home in Oxford.

The museum has already acquired artist Luke Jerram’s glass sculpture of a single nanoparticle of the vaccine, made one million times the size. Public responses to the sculpture are invited.

Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials, said: “I am enormously proud to be collaborating with the History of Science Museum and the Bodleian Libraries, which are so uniquely placed to share the stories of Oxford science and to shine greater light on our endeavours to make the world a better place.”  

Silke Ackermann, the director of the History of Science Museum, said: "We are delighted to be working together with the Bodleian Libraries so that we can share the stories of Oxford science with the wider public and academics alike.”

Susan Thomas, the head of archives and modern manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries, said: "The sorts of materials and memories we hope to uncover through this project are surprisingly vulnerable to loss. It is timely to start the process of gathering these things to make sure they survive to inform future research and reflection.”

The two new roles of curator and archivist for the project are open for applications.

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