Natural History Museum of Utah

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Natural History Museum of Utah
National History Museum of Utah.jpg
The Rio Tinto Center, home of the museum since 2011
Established 1963[1]
Location Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Coordinates 40°45′49″N 111°49′25″W / 40.76365°N 111.823505°W / 40.76365; -111.823505
Type Natural history
Visitors 78,000 [1]

The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) is a museum located at the Rio Tinto Center on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. The museum shows exhibits of natural history subjects, specifically about Utah's natural history. The mission of the museum is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. The new building was opened in 2011..

The Natural History Museum of Utah consists of a new 170,000 gsf (16,000 gsm),housing gallery space, classrooms, research laboratories, and a separate parking structure for 200 cars. The structure is intended to serve as a visual extension of its surrounding desert context. The project is intended to achieve LEED certification. The structural engineer for this project is Leslie E. Robertson Associates


The George Thomas Building, former home of the museum

The museum was conceived in 1959, when the University of Utah faculty committee decided to consolidate natural history collections from around its campus. The museum was established as the Utah Museum of Natural History on the University of Utah campus in 1963 by the Utah State Legislature.[1] It opened in 1969 in the former George Thomas Library and included specimens from the Deseret Museum as well as from the Charles Nettleton Strevell Museum that was located in the old Lafayette School on South Temple Street from 1939 until 1947.[1] In 2011 the museum moved from the old George Thomas Library location at 1390 Presidents Circle into the Rio Tinto Center, east of the main university campus on top of a hill at 301 Wakara Way. The move also resulted in a change of name to the Natural History Museum of Utah.[2]

Collections and research[edit]

The Natural History Museum of Utah has over 1.2 million objects in its collection that are used for research and education. The Museum's collections emphasize the natural history of Utah and are accessible to researchers from around the world. The majority of the collections are from public lands within the inter-mountain region of the United States.

NHMU collections are used in studies on geological, biological and cultural diversity, and the history of living systems and human cultures within the Utah region. The goal of the museum is to increase the collections while providing the widest possible access to that information.

Anthropology collection[edit]

Mesa Verde black-on-white mug, San Juan Anasazi, 1200-1300 AD
  • Archaeological collections of 3/4 million objects
  • Associated records from more than 3,800 sites
  • Ethnographic collections including more than 2,000 objects

The curator of anthropology is Duncan Metcalfe, and the collections manager is Glenna Nielsen-Grimm.

Biology collection[edit]

The curator of vertebrate zoology is Eric Rickart, and the collections manager is Rebecca Rowe. The curator of botany is Mitchell Power, and the collections manager is Ann Kelsey. The entomology collection is managed by Christy Bills.

Geology collection[edit]

The curator of paleontology is Randall Irmis, and the collections manager is Carolyn Levitt-Bussian.

Previous exhibits[edit]

The museum's former exhibit areas occupied almost 23,000 square feet (2,100 m2) on the first and second floors of the George Thomas Building, located on the University of Utah campus. The exhibits targeted three broad areas of the natural sciences: geology/paleontology, anthropology, and biology.

Part of the paleontology exhibit in the old building
Exhibits in the new building

Cooper Hall of Anthropology[edit]

  • 3,850 square feet (358 m2)
  • Renovated in 2003 to include Utah’s First Nations exhibit components originally developed for the 2002 Cultural Olympiad
  • Ethnographic highlights include pieces of the Tony Taylor collection and objects purchased by UMNH Collectors Council
  • Archaeological interpretation of Utah’s prehistoric cultures and sites in the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau
  • 60-foot (18 m) replica of the 4,000-year-old pictograph panel from Utah's Horseshoe Canyon

Earth science galleries[edit]

Geology/paleontology hall[edit]

  • 6,500 square feet (600 m2)
  • Four cast skeletons of Jurassic dinosaurs from central Utah
  • Allosaurus (dinosaur brain endo cast)
  • Two large murals, many sculptures, and 11 skeletons of fossil mammals
  • Depictions of geological phenomena and the formation of rocks with touch specimens

Norton Hall of Minerals[edit]

  • 2,240 square feet (208 m2)
  • 450 mineral specimens, including touchable amethyst geode and coal
  • "Romney Mine," a walk-in recreation of a 19th-century Park City lead-zinc-silver mine
  • Mining heritage of Utah, spotlighting mining areas and districts
  • Workable Geiger counter

Life science halls[edit]

  • 6,320 square feet (587 m2)
  • Marsh and mountain dioramas
  • Displays of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates of Utah

Dumke Gallery[edit]

  • 2,700 square feet (250 m2)
  • Changing exhibit gallery

Quinney Dinosaur Discovery Hall[edit]

  • 2,240 square feet (208 m2)
  • Hands-on dinosaur dig
  • Working fossil preparation lab
  • Wall mural of prehistoric life painted by children from Utah

Educational programs[edit]

The educational programs are organized by the School Programs Department. Development of school programs is closely tied to the public school system's core curriculum. The museum's educational programs include:

  • School Tours: The program includes self-guided groups moving among demonstration carts throughout the galleries.
  • Junior Science Academy: Workshops for fourth grade students tied to the core curriculum and held in the museum.
  • Youth programs: After-school, Saturday, and summer classes primarily for children in grades K-6, covering natural history and science.
  • Adult and family programs: Workshops, lectures, and special events intended for an adult and/or family audience in geology, archeology, and biology.
  • Youth Teaching Youth: A program with Glendale Middle School; youth from at-risk environments are trained to instruct elementary school classes using outreach kits. These middle school youth conduct all classroom outreach in the Salt Lake School District. As these students graduate to high school, they are offered internships in disciplines at the museum and throughout the university.


  • Museum on the Move: A total of 12 kits containing specimens and activities are presented by Museum educators in schools statewide. The kits use natural history topics to allow students to build science process skills and are tied to science core curriculum standards. Topics addressed by the kits include rocks and minerals, fossils, Utah animals, and Great Salt Lake.
  • Field Crates
  • Traveling Treasures
  • Teaching Toolboxes
  • Teachers are able to check boxes out for 2 weeks at a time
  • Scientist in the Classroom

Role at the University of Utah[edit]

The museum is part of the academic life of the University of Utah. The collections offer research opportunities and provide a learning laboratory for students. Museum programs expose students to many aspects of museum studies: educational outreach, exhibit design and fabrication development, public relations, and curriculum development.

The museum is a repository for collections that were accumulated by the university's departments of Anthropology, Biology, and Geology. The collections are held in trust for faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates who have access to the collections for research and teaching purposes.

In-service training is offered by the Utah Museum of Natural History Education Department; university credit can be earned with these courses, leading to salary lane changes for public school teachers. These courses are coordinated with the Academic Outreach and Continuing Education and the Department of Teaching and Learning. As the founder of the University’s Genetic Science Learning Center, the museum continues to partner in its teacher training program.

The museum meeting rooms are available for rental for on- and off-campus groups.


  1. ^ a b c "Museums in Utah". Donald V. Hague. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  2. ^ McKinlay, Michael Ann (November 13, 2011). "Museum makeover: Natural History Museum of Utah Rio Tinto Center will open November 18". Deseret News. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]