Bell Museum of Natural History

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Bell Museum of Natural History
Bell Museum of Natural History exterior.jpg
The Bell Museum in 2011
Established 1872 (1872)
Location University of Minnesota
Coordinates 44°58′40″N 93°14′0″W / 44.97778°N 93.23333°W / 44.97778; -93.23333Coordinates: 44°58′40″N 93°14′0″W / 44.97778°N 93.23333°W / 44.97778; -93.23333
Type Natural History of Minnesota

The Bell Museum of Natural History is located at the University of Minnesota. The museum's new location on the St. Paul campus opens in 2018. Their world-renowned Minnesota wildlife dioramas,[2] numerous animal specimens from all over the world in the first natural history museum discovery room in the U.S., and a 120 seat digital planetarium theater will be highlighted features of the new facility. The museum's former location in Minneapolis is now closed as the work to move to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus began in January 2016. The museum is part of the University's College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences.

About the museum[edit]

The museum was established by state legislative mandate in 1872 to collect, preserve, skillfully prepare, display, and interpret our state's diverse animal and plant life for scholarly research, teaching and for public appreciation, enrichment, and enjoyment. Its governance belongs, by state legislative designation, to the University of Minnesota. It is a familiar point-of-entry to the resources of the University of Minnesota and a gateway to the natural wonders of our state. The Bell Museum serves young and old alike as they seek to find—and better understand and appreciate—their own place in a living, changing world.

The Minnesota Planetarium Society (MNPS) was a Minnesota-based organization for the promotion of an education in astronomy. The Minnesota Planetarium operated from 1960 until it was closed in 2002 (Minnesota Planetarium Wiki). When the Minneapolis Central Library was torn down in 2002, the former planetarium was closed with the understanding that it would be rebuilt as part of the new library. In September 2011, the Planetarium Society merged with the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History.

New Building Details The Bell Museum is in the process of developing a new facility to house their public collections, a 120-seat digital planetarium, and serve as a public gateway to University of Minnesota research. The new museum is under construction on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota. The facility will expand capacity to host the many visitors and school groups that visit the museum each year. New enhancements include outdoor learning landscapes, a dedicated parking lot, and new permanent and temporary exhibit galleries. The estimated project budget of the new facility and moving is $64.2 million. In the 2014, the Minnesota Legislative session passed the bonding bill which included $51.5 million in funding for the new facility.[2]


With more than 4 million specimens, the Bell’s scientific collections have provided opportunities for research and teaching since the museum’s inception in 1872.[3] The museum recently launched the Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas, an online, searchable interface integrating over 5 terabytes of data from the Bell Museum on birds, mammals, fishes, plants, and fungi to enhance research capacity to perform a range of activities from biological surveys to conservation planning. ( This database currently contains over 400,000 scientific records and as many as 175,000 high-resolution images with plans to expand entries and specimen photographs.

Amphibian and Reptile Collection
The Amphibian and Reptile Collection is a diverse collection that has a heavy focus on the upper Midwest region and represents one of the best collections of herpetological material for this region.

Bird Collection
The Bird Collection Collection specimens come from the upper midwest and the majority of these are from Minnesota. In addition to this research collection, the Bell Museum maintains a dedicated teaching collection that is actively used in courses at the University.

Fish Collection
The Fish Collection contain specimens from the Menage expedition to the Philippines in the 1890s; fish from Hawaii collected in the early 1900s; and many other specimens from across the continental United States.

Fungi Collection
The Fungi Collection comprise about 10% of Minnesota fungi, and the remainder are from North America and elsewhere.

Lichen Collection
The Lichen Collection is one of the largest lichen herbaria in the US, and one of the few fully digitalized in the world. It houses collections of lichens worldwide.

Invertebrate Collection
The Mollusks and Crustaceans Invertebrate Collection house freshwater mollusks collected in Minnesota, and represent an important Upper Midwest Collection. The invertebrate collection holds the old Minneapolis Library collection of Indo-Pacific mollusks.

A diorama in the Mammal Collection

Mammal Collection
The majority of the Mammal Collection are standard, dry skin and skull preparations, but the Bell has a reasonably large collection of full skeletons and a growing collection of fluid preserved specimens.

Vascular Plant Collection
The Vascular Plant Collection contains samples of vegetative parts, cones, fruit, and seeds.


Elk diorama, set at Inspiration Peak northwest of Alexandria, Minnesota

The Bell Museum's dioramas bring nature within your reach. Two floors of the current Minneapolis location display dioramas that feature Minnesota's habitats, along with the birds, animals, plants and insects that populate them. Meet moose, elk, bear, beavers, cranes, fish, and more. The dioramas serve as an opportunity to learn animal facts, observe animal behavior, and find out how species survive. Constructed between 1920 and the late 1940s, the Bell Museum's dioramas illustrate what Minnesota was like before the ax and plow. Visitors can discover what has changed, and what remains the same. Renowned artist, Francis Lee Jaques completed backgrounds on nine of the large dioramas and ten of the medium-size dioramas. Jacques grew up in Minnesota where he pursued his passion for painting and illustrating nature. Through his art, Jaques communicated a deep understanding and appreciation of nature to millions of people. (

Touch and See Room
The Touch and See Room came into being in 1968. Public Education Coordinator Richard Barthelemy, known as Bart, realized that young and old visitors alike wanted to get their hands on all the beautiful and exciting specimens that are traditionally behind glass in museums.

Bart started by sitting down with groups and passing around bones and furs and feathers and such and talking with them about what was there. He teamed with Dr. Roger Johnson from the University of Minnesota's Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education to figure out how to make the experience work at its best. Shortly after Touch and See opened, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. visited the Bell and then launched its famous discovery room. It has been said that the Touch and See Room

Rainforest Gallery
“Under the Fig Leaf” is a living rainforest and active research project managed by the museum's Curator of Plants, Professor George Weiblen. Many of the plants were grown from seeds collected by Weiblen in tropical forests around the world like Papua New Guinea. Visitors can get a ground floor and canopy view of the mini rainforest and learn about related University of Minnesota research.

The museum’s former film screening room was retrofitted to house a halfdome planetarium theater. Museum staff lead audiences on a virtual voyage from the surface of the Earth to the edge of the known universe in an intimate environment, holding up to 15 people per show. All presentations are given live by a planetarium educator and allow for audience interaction, unless noted as "pre-recorded." (

The museum’s inflatable geodome is the traveling version of the ExploraDome that is brought to the school and locations across the state and region. It was the first geodome theater in Minnesota. Primarily used for educational outreach visits, the geodome also makes an annual trip the Minnesota State Fair for STEM Day.

Traveling Exhibits
The Bell Museum of Natural History develops and circulates exhibitions on a broad range of topics. With these exhibitions, the Bell seeks to instill a greater appreciation of our natural world and promote a better understanding of contemporary ecological issues. Although many of the exhibitions are designed for small-to medium-sized spaces, the Bell’s exhibits have traveled to museums of all sizes throughout the United States and Canada. Most of the exhibits require gallery installation, but several are self-supporting, lightweight, and easily assembled. These are ideal for bookings in either museum or non-museum settings, such as visitor centers, schools, and libraries.


The museum has a variety of programming and events that caters to varying age groups. Science labs, summer camps, Cafe Scientifique, Saturday with a Scientist, Sensory Friendly Saturdays, After Hours and Bell Social are several of the offerings that spark an interest and appreciation for science, technology, art, engineering and math. The museum also has an Auditorium which now serves as classroom space for University of Minnesota students. The museum also cosponsors the Sustainability Film Series, with environmentally-focused documentary screenings each Spring semester.


  1. ^ March 1, 1872 the Minnesota legislature
  2. ^ Allman, Laurie (2010). "Through the Looking Glass". Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Yeo,Sara (2010). "The Bell Museum of Natural History: 2016 ComSHER Field Trip". ComSHER (Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk). Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 

External links[edit]