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Between a rock and a Pounds 12m place

Dusty rows of stones are soon to be replaced with "the most exciting and inspiring Earth Science complex anywhere in the world".

London's Natural History Museum this month begins a Pounds 12 million transformation of its geology building after market research revealed visitors found the displays dreary and static.

Robin Cocks, keeper of palaeontology, said: "It is a unique opportunity to undertake such a major exhibition from scratch." Displays will be geared to the requirements of the national curriculum, and when the new-look museum opens next July, six 8ft-high marble statues - including one of an astronaut - will greet visitors.

The second biggest escalator in Europe will transport them through a huge revolving globe, past showcases of spectacular minerals, while laser and hologram displays will illustrate the processes which formed the Earth. The museum is putting up more than Pounds 4 million for the first phase, Pounds 1m has been donated by Rio Tinto Zinc, and the National Lottery Fund is being approached for Pounds 6m. The rest will be raised through sponsorship.

The redeveloped galleries will draw extensively upon the museum's collections of more than 9.5 million fossils, minerals, gems and meteorites.

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