100 years – 100 Objects: Azurite

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Joel, the Museum’s President and Curator of Gems and Minerals. He’s chosen spectacular objects from the Museum’s mineralogy collection, which includes some of the most rare and fascinating mineral specimens in the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org– throughout the year.


Tsumeb Mine, Tsumeb, Namibia

 The Tsumeb mine has produced the world’s finest azurite crystals, of which this large 11-cm crystal group on green smithsonite is one of the best examples. The highly lustrous, elongated crystals with perfect terminations, on a contrasting base, admirably fulfill the requirements of connoisseurship.

Marvel at the world’s most spectacular collection of natural mineral crystals in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org


Think it’s good luck when a ladybug lands on your hand? Do you delight in dancing fireflies lighting up the night? Are you gaga for grub worms? Then, my friend, you’ve caught it…Beetle-mania! I know what you’re thinking; ladybugs and fireflies are beetles? Isn’t a grub a worm!  Don’t fret if you can’t name them all. Coleopterans (members of the beetle family) are a widely diverse group of organisms that make up a quarter of all animal species known to science.

scarab beetle
Creative Commons License photo credit: llisa

Beetles, like all insects, have an exoskeleton made of chitin. (Side note: THIS is the reason they crunch if you accidentally step on them!) They have six legs and can come in all the colors of the rainbow. Scarabs, in particular, are sought after by collectors for their brilliantly hued, glossy forewings. Think you’d need to visit an ancient Egyptian tomb to see a scarab? Think again! Just turn on your porch light and open your door around the sixth month of the year and try to keep the June bugs out.

Lady Beetles (Coccinellidae)
Creative Commons License photo credit: jpockele

Beetles are not just fun to look at (though they really, really are); they provide invaluable services to many human professions. Gardeners, landscapers, and farmers use beetles to help in pest management. For example, some species of lady beetles, commonly known as ladybugs or ladybird beetles, are aphidophagous, meaning they eat aphids. Other beetles prey on parasites, such as caterpillars, and even eat fly eggs.

Forensic entomologists can use beetles to identify a post mortem interval. Insects like beetles and flies are among the first to discover a corpse. Members of the Scarab, Carrion, and Carcass beetle families arrive at the scene to help break down the carrion and to eat the larvae of the flies that got there first. (Side note 2: Look up some info on blow flies to learn more, especially Chrysomya rufifacies, the hairy maggot blow fly! My favorite.) Dermestids, or Skin/Hide beetles, are among the last wave to arrive. Because of the very predictable development times of these beetles, forensic entomologists are able to count backwards to estimate the postmortem interval, and can sometimes do so to within a few hours.

Now that your brain is full of beneficial beetle facts, go look under a rock and see what you find! Don’t be surprised if you like it. If you want more, come to the Entomology Hall in the Cockrell Butterfly Center and discover the world beneath your feet!!!

Soak up the sun – make a sunprint at home!


This summer, we had a really fun camp for 10-12 year olds called Freeze Frame. Campers learned about a variety of photography processes and how the technology has progressed over the years. One of the things they learned about was Cyanotypes or the blueprint process.

Generally, people will associate the word “blueprint” with architectural plans or layouts, but the term came from the fact that a process similar to cyanotyping was used to make inexpensive copies of plans without a huge investment in technology. 

The Freeze Frame class created cyanotypes by treating both cotton t-shirts and cotton rag paper with cyanotype chemicals, and then using either photographic negatives or opaque objects to block the sun and expose the treated surface to the sunlight.

In this video, Xplorations Summer Camp Educator Andrea Gilbert
walks us through the Freeze Frame camp!

Today, you can easily buy pre-treated paperto create a sunprint of your own, you can find it at your local arts and crafts store (here in Houston you can find it at Texas Art Supply).

By following the simple instructions included with the paper – and being careful to keep your paper in the dark until you’re ready to expose the photosensitive surface with your design on top – you can create all sorts of fun images! For my first example, I used a die-cut paper elephant and some random bits of hardware to create an image. My second example uses tracing paper (this is more like creating a blueprint from a technical drawing on vellum). Any flat, opaque objects will do but these are just what I happened to have lying around!


After only a minute or so, I could see that the paper that started out blue indoors was quickly fading to white… after about 2 full minutes I flipped all of the hardware off and carried the sheets back indoors. 


To fix the image, I soaked the exposed paper in water for just a minute, the colors reversed to white images on a blue background, the sunprints lay out flat to dry and voila!   


Now, head outside and make a sunprint of your own! What natural objects can you find to use for design elements — sticks, leaves, shells? What other flat items can you think of that will block out the sun?

If you like sunprinting, don’t forget to sign up early for Xplorations Summer camp next year and check out Freeze Frame for more adventures in photography!

It’s a rock-n-rolling weekend with The Chromatics

sonia-and-ballet-2This Friday, we are partying like its 1989 as The Chromatics put on a show full of pure energy that will keep you on the dance floor under the dinosaurs all night long. This totally awesome band is known as the 80s super-group of the 21st century.


Don’t let another Friday night bite the dust without you here at Mixers. Find yourself walking on sunshine while enjoying our cash bars and Audi Lounge, which open at 6 p.m. The totally righteous performance begins at 7 p.m. at the smartest scene in town.


This week: The Chromatics


August 7: Take a trip through the decades with Commercial Art

August 14: It’s salsa night again at the Museum with Grupo Batacha

August 21: Get ready for heart-pounding rhythm and blues with Yvonne Washington & the Mix