Houston Museum of Natural Science
|Houston Museum of Natural Science|
|Public transit access||Museum District|
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is a science museum located on the northern border of Hermann Park in Houston, Texas, USA. The museum was established in 1909 by the Houston Museum and Scientific Society, an organization whose goals were to provide a free institution for the people of Houston focusing on education and science. Museum attendance totals over two million visitors each year. The museum complex consists of a central facility with four floors of natural science halls and exhibits, Burke Baker Planetarium, Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Wortham Giant Screen Theater (formerly known as the Wortham IMAX Theatre). The Wortham IMAX Theatre logo has a Square with an Earth in the eye. The museum is one of the most popular in the United States and ranks just below New York City's American Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, in most attendance amongst non-Smithsonian museums. Much of the museum's popularity is attributed to its large number of special or guest exhibits.
The initial museum organization was called the Houston Museum and Scientific Society, Inc., and was created in 1909. Originally located in the City Auditorium building in downtown, the museum moved to a building within Houston Zoo in 1929. The museum's primary collection was acquired between 1914 and 1930. The museum's now extensive education programs began back in 1947, and by its second year, it was already hosting 12,000 children a year.
The current facility in Hermann Park was constructed in 1969. In 1988, the Challenger Center was opened in memory of the space mission; the simulator's aim is to teach visitors about space flight. The Wortham IMAX Theater and the George Observatory (offsite) were opened in 1989. The museum's high attendance levels have allowed the museum to begin plans to expand and more than double its floor space in the next few years. The new exhibits are most likely to focus on dinosaurs and astronomy.
Also new for the museum are the openings of satellite locations. In March 2007, HMNS opened the HMNS Woodlands X-ploration Station, located in the Woodlands Mall. The facility is home to an interactive Dig Pit, where children can excavate a triceratops, a variety of living exhibits, dinos, and minerals [- the Woodlands location has permanently closed].
HMNS celebrated its 100th year in 2009. During the year, they offered a multitude of family programs, lectures, free events, and kids' classes as part of the Fun Hundred Celebration.
In March, 2012 the Wortham Theater was converted from 70 mm film to 3D digital and renamed the Wortham Giant Screen Theater.
In June, 2012 HMNS opened a new 230,000 square foot wing to house its paleontology hall, more than doubling the size of the original museum. The new Hall of Paleontology contains more than 60 large skeleton mounts, including three Tyrannosaurs Rex skeletons and three large Quetzalcoatlus.
Permanent Exhibits 
- The Foucault pendulum, demonstrating the Earth's rotation. The length of the pendulum's cable is over 60 feet (18 m) long.
- Cullen Hall of Gems & Minerals, featuring a large exhibit of over 750 crystallized mineral specimens and rare gemstones.
- Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault, showcasing some of the most exquisite finely cut gems in jewelry.
- Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife exhibits animals and wildlife native to Texas. The hall contains a video wall that displays the plants, animals and topography of the seven biotic regions of the state.
- Evelyn and Herbert Frensley Hall of African Wildlife, a display of taxidermied animals, including one of only two forest giraffes exhibited in North America. Opening in 1969, the hall allows visitors to explore the seven biomes of the continent of Africa. Over 120 specimens, including 42 species of birds and 28 species of mammals are on display.
- Strake Hall of Malacology, with many specimens of mollusks.
- Alfred C. Glassell Jr. Hall of Paleontology, showing many fossils, including an 85-foot (26 m) long Diplodocus skeleton, the only mounted Diplodocus hayi in the world. The hall contains over 450 fossils and fossil replicas. Robert Bakker serves as Visiting Curator of Paleontology.
- John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, showing more than 50 cultures worth of pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts.
- Welch Chemistry Hall, with interactive chemistry related displays and a periodic table of elements with a sample of each element.
- Weiss Energy Hall, with displays themed around energetics, petroleum geology, and oil exploration. The hall consists of 12 sections which include the Energy Explorations Theater, the Geovator (which takes visitors on a simulated trip to the bottom of a 7,285 ft (2,220 m). well), the Energy Excursions Theater and the Alternative Energy Sources exhibit.
- Isaac Arnold Hall of Space Science contains exhibits and artifacts of the manned and unmanned space programs. The Challenger Learning Center, which offers a realistic mock-up of Mission Control, is adjacent to the hall.
- Fondren Discovery Place is an exhibit designed to allow children to investigate science in action. Children are encouraged to touch all exhibits which includes a working replica of the Corliss Steam Engine and a simulated broadcast weather studio. This area also contains a replica of the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
- Cockrell Sundial, which opened in 1989, is one of the world's largest (right side of image above). It includes lenses on a special chrome ball on top of the gnomon so that at solar noon on the equinoxes and solstices, sunlight shines though and casts an image of the Sun. Large sunspots can be seen by holding a white card in the beam and moving until it is focus.
- Earth Forum, which opened in 2002, is a computer-aided and hands-on exhibit teaching about Earth and its processes. The "Earth Update" software was developed by Rice University with NASA funding.
Opening in 1964, the Burke Baker Planetarium presents a range of science and astronomy shows. The planetarium is equipped with the SkySkan DigitalSky starfield projector that can simulate stars, planets, comets, nebulous objects and other special effects. in 1998, it was upgraded to fullview, making it the first in the U.S. (and third in the world) to have multiple projector digital image capability. That allows it to show fulldome movies about space science and also on earth science, life science and other topics, many of which were created by HMNS staff, featuring music by Shai Fishman, recorded and produced at Fish-i Studios - http://www.fish-i.com. A digital stereo sound system also enhances planetarium's special effects. Its outreach program "Discovery Dome" takes the planetarium experience on the road, reaching over 40,000 students per year in classrooms and special events in portable digital domes.
Cockrell Butterfly Center, a butterfly zoo located in museum complex. Opening in 1994, the center is housed in a three-story glass building filled with tropical plants and butterflies. The center exhibits a large range of live butterflies, including the migratory monarchs and their tropical cousins. The CBC was reopened in May 2007 after being overhauled to make the exhibit more interactive; there are now games for children and a live insect zoo in the Brown Hall of Entomology.
Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, a 396-seat theater presenting various 3D digital films on its 60x80 foot screen.
George Observatory, an astronomy observatory equipped with three domed telescopes, including a 36-inch (910 mm) Gueymard Research Telescope and a solar telescope. The facility is located south of Sugar Land, Texas at Brazos Bend State Park. The observatory also houses the Challenger Learning Center for Space Science Education.
- Sumners, Carolyn, and Patricia Reiff, "Creating Fulldome Experiences in the new Digital Planetarium", NASA Office of Space Science Education and Public Outreach Conference, ASP Conference Series Volume 319, p. 374-376, 2004, ISBN 1-58381-181-8.