It’s difficult to imagine a large science museum that doesn’t feature the latest and greatest visual technologies – interactive displays, touchscreens, and IMAX theaters, but the Houston Museum of Natural Science (www.hmns.org) was teaching the community about science for decades without any of these tools. Established in 1909, the Houston Museum was a popular destination from the start and has maintained this reputation for over a hundred years, evolving and expanding with the times.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science started out as a small exhibition in the City Auditorium in downtown Houston but has long since acquired its own independent facilities consisting of several different sections, including a planetarium, a butterfly zoo, and a massive theater, along with the permanent exhibits that are a staple of any science museum.
The Burke Baker Planetarium opened in 1964 and gives a much more comprehensive and exciting look into space than the typical exhibit. The dome theater features the computerized SkySkan DigitalSky starfield projector, the most advanced in the world, and simulates stars, planets, and other celestial objects in a full-dome 3D experience. The planetarium keeps attracting people to come back because it adds one upgrade to its full-dome system each year, making sure every visit is even better than the last.
The full-dome theater isn’t the only place at the Houston Museum of Natural Science that gives visitors an unforgettable viewing experience. The Worthan Giant Screen Theater has 394 seats and surpasses IMAX viewing with incredibly high-definition 3D movie projections onto a massive 60 foot x 80 foot screen. Since its opening in September 1989, nearly 13 million people have experienced the Giant Screen, which shows movies that range from depicting the adventure of building America’s first transcontinental railway, featuring vistas of the Canadian Rockies, to being taken thousands of years into a past Ice Age.
The museum also gives visitors a chance to experience things first hand in addition to seeing images projected onto a screen. The Cockrell Butterfly Center creates an entire world inside its rain forest conservatory. The conservatory, a 3-story glass structure, is built around a 50-foot waterfall and is filled with living butterflies and exotic plants. After walking through, the Brown Hall of Entymology gives background information on the butterflies seen in the conservatory as well as explains the importance that all insects have in our world.
No science museum, though, is complete without the traditional exhibits. There are several permanent exhibits in which visitors can learn about our planet’s rich history (literally rich – the gem vault displays an elaborate collection of precious jewelry and some of the world’s rarest gems are featured in the Gems & Minerals exhibit!) as well as exotic places and animals that exist on our planet right now, such as African wildlife.
A great deal of the museum’s popularity, though, is attributed to its numerous special and guest exhibits. Past exhibits have included Chocolate: The Exhibition, Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Dinosaur Mummy CSI, and ROBOTS, to name a few of the incredibly diverse displays that have passed through the halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Besides simply providing a unique one-time learning experience for the community, the Houston Museum of Natural Science also has several educational outreach programs for both teachers and students of all ages. Teacher workshops provide educators with new hands-on science activities to bring back to their classrooms. Children are invited to participate in summer camps, and adult learners have the opportunity to attend distinguished lectures and cultural dining experiences. Whatever the role, whatever the age, whatever the interest – there is a place for everyone to learn at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Images courtesy of www.hmns.org