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 278,000 annually

The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) is a museum located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. The museum shows exhibits of natural history subjects, with an emphasis on Utah and the Intermountain West. The mission of the museum is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it.[2] The new building, named the Rio Tinto Center, opened in November 2011.[3]


The George Thomas Building, former home of the museum on the University of Utah's President's Circle.

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, in the University of Utah's Research Park 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City. The move also resulted in a change of name to the Natural History Museum of Utah.[4]

The Rio Tinto Center is a 163,000-square-foot building set in foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. The building's highest point is a round structure on the back or east side which houses the Native Voices gallery. The architects for the building were Ennead Architects from New York City and GSBS of Salt Lake City. Ralph Appelbaum Associates designed the exhibits.[3]

Collections and research[edit]

The Natural History Museum of Utah has more than 1.3 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.

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.


1,000,000 objects.[5]

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.


12,000 vertebrates, 4,000 invertebrates, and 7,000 plants.[5]


140,000 specimens.[5]

Vertebrate zoology[edit]

30,000 mammals, 20,000 birds, and 18,000 reptiles.[5]


3,700 minerals.[5]


123,000 specimens.[5]


25,000 specimens.[5]

Permanent exhibitions[edit]

The Museum has ten permanent exhibitions.[6]

  • Past Worlds
  • Great Salt Lake
  • Life
  • Land
  • First Peoples
  • Gems and Minerals
  • Native Voices
  • Sky
  • Our Backyard
  • Utah Futures

Special exhibitions[edit]

The Museum houses a special exhibition gallery with rotating special exhibitions.

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. ^ "Mission and Values". Natural History Museum of Utah website. Natural History Museum of Utah. March 23, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Maffly, Brian (November 14, 2011). "Natural History Museum of Utah: Rio Tinto Center designed with a sense of place". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g 0423. ORO Editions. 2013. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-935935-81-0. 
  6. ^ "Exhibits". Natural History Museum of Utah website. Natural History Museum of Utah. March 23, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]