About Ivan

Ivan is the Director of Marketing at HMNS, and he writes whenever the feeling strikes him.

Come Party at the Museum with Party Smarty!

Today’s post is by Alex Pivateau, the Museum’s Birthday Party Manager!

Does your child love to stroll amongst jaw-droppingly gigantic dinosaurs?

Does he or she enjoy exploring outer space in our Planetarium?

Party Smarty

Or perhaps he or she loves to watch butterflies excitedly flap their beautiful wings in the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

If your child loves coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, allow us to host their birthday party here for an engaging party they won’t forget!

Party Smarty at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is our birthday party program that hosts fun and educational birthday parties. Children learn about natural history and the world around us in an entertaining and visually stimulating way.

In our 90-minute party format, your child chooses a specific theme, and we focus his or her party around that theme. 20-30 minutes are for welcoming guests, while kids do crafts and activities. 30 minutes are allotted for either a tour of the dinosaur hall, entry to the Butterfly Center, or a movie in the Planetarium. Then we come back to the party room to eat cake and sing Happy Birthday!

Party Smarty Gift Bags

Each HMNS birthday party comes with a decorated party room (with special focus on the theme of the party), 6 6-ft tables, table covers, chairs, two parking passes to our garage, and a party coordinator who is in charge of supervising crafts, leading the tour, cutting/passing out cake, and transporting items to and from your car. Balloons, silverware, invitations and thank you cards are available for an extra fee.

We also have add-on presenters to help enhance the party to be even more fun and memorable! We have balloon artists, face painters, magicians, exotic animal presenters, and chemistry demonstrators who can come in to the party to create an extra fun time.

Party Smarty Presenter

We host parties both at our main location downtown and our branch in Sugar Land.

Please call 713-639-4646 or e-mail us at birthdays@hmns.org for more information about our birthday party program—Party Smarty!

Black Hills Institute

Today’s post is by Sami Mesarwi, a member of the Museum’s marketing staff who recently traveled to South Dakota to visit the Black Hills Institute. 

If the company you work for had to send you on a business trip anywhere you wanted to go, where would it be?  Paris?  London?  Shanghai?  How about Hill City, South Dakota?  Probably wouldn’t be a first choice for too many out there… And while I would have said the same before my trip to the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research (and I probably still wouldn’t be able to pass on Paris), this paleontological-Mecca should definitely be in the running for you dino-die-hards out there.

Black Hills Institute Outside Facade
The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research

I’ve always loved dinosaurs. 

In fact, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is still one of my all-time favorite books (I may have grown up thinking that Crichton’s logic used in the novel to try and resurrect dinosaurs using the DNA found in preserved mosquitoes, as well as amphibians to fill in the holes, was flawless, but I’ve come a long way since then).  So, going on this trip seemed like it was going to be quite enjoyable from the start.  Our mission was simple enough: to go up and get some photos of the fossils that will eventually be on display in the museum’s upcoming new paleontology hall, opening summer 2012.

A coworker and I took the trip up to South Dakota in April, a time when Houston weather had consistently already warmed up to 90+ degrees outside.  However, surprising to all of us on the trip, we were greeted by snow in South Dakota!  Even though it was April, it was a Winter Wonderland—the color of the snow that covered the ground literally blended in with the sky’s horizon. Needless to say, it was pretty cold.  But I was able to get some pretty nice still shots out of it.

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland!

Day one of our trip to South Dakota was a whirlwind of sights and sounds from within the Black Hills Institute. 

Everyone met up inside the Institute with the famed Peter Larson, the Yoda (though not quite as old) of casting fossils and of T. rex.  He gave us a brief history of his background and of the Institute while in the main lobby area, a who’s who of dinosaurs from several different eras.  In addition to the infamous SUE the T. rex, there were examples of Triceratops, Struthiomimus, Acrocanthosaurus, what seemed like an infinite amount of ammonites, and so much more, all filling an area about the size of an average backyard in the suburbs.  It was amazing—I’ve never seen so many dinosaurs in a compact area before.

Pete Larson
Pete Larson in the zone.
Dino Showroom
The Black Hills Institute Showroom

Onwards we continued to the prepping areas (a separate building from the museum itself), showcasing a few dinosaurs in the development and mounting stages. Pete told us about several of the specimens we’d be getting here at HMNS, before all of the paleontologists on hand broke into a discussion about the immaculate condition some of the fossils were in (I can’t give away too much about what in particular we’re getting—you’ll just have to wait and see!).  Before this trip, I thought I could hold my ground pretty decently well in matters of dino-speak.  But boy was I wrong.  Being surrounded by so many accomplished and literally world-renowned paleontologists (including Pete Larson, Dr. Robert Bakker, and so many others) was really very exciting.  But also quite humbling.

Pete then took us to the casting/molding area, where several Black Hills employees were diligently working to create some very impressive casts of fossils that they had.  They poured the liquid silicone rubber into the two mold halves, and, with some of the smaller ones, fastened them together with—interestingly enough—Legos! Turns out those colorful, little building blocks aren’t just fun to play with, but are also way more practical than you would think…

Pete Larson Bob Bakker
Pete Larson and Dr. Bob Bakker examining a recent find.

Our second (and final) day of the trip allowed for us to talk up close with Pete himself. 

Pete told us all about the Black Hills Institute itself and how it came to be—in 1974, as an earth science supply house, providing teaching specimens for colleges and universities, before branching out into doing museum exhibits.  In fact, as Pete points out, the products coming out of the Black Hills Institute can be found on every continent in the world (though he was mindful to exclude Antarctica from the list—hardly as impressive now, if you ask me).  After he answered our countless questions, Pete allowed for us to roam around the Black Hills Institute at our leisure, getting some shots of whatever it is that we wanted.  We took still shots of some of the specimens that will be making an appearance in the new paleontology hall, as well as some of the stars of the show.

After that, we grabbed a quick lunch at the corner bistro before heading back home to Houston.  Though we did make a quick stop on the way back… As we were only about 15 miles away from Mount Rushmore, we went ahead and visited the famed monument on our way to the airport. Quite breathtaking, I must say!  To me, the tranquility of the park where the monument is located, coupled with the remarkable stature of the presidents whose faces are forever immortalized in the mountain’s façade, were equally as impressive to me as the mountain goat we saw.

Mt. Rushmore
Mount Rushmore.

All in all, the trip to Hill City, South Dakota was so much cooler (both, literally and figuratively) than I originally anticipated.  While the city itself isn’t exactly the largest out there (population: 948), or the most exotic of your travel destinations, it should absolutely be a front-runner for all of you dino-enthusiasts out there.

Flashpoint of Empires – The Archaeological Rediscovery of Jamestown

Today’s post is written by Amy Potts, the HMNS Director of Adult Education. 

One of our country’s most important historical cities was lost.  But, Jamestown has been re-discovered -thanks to archaeologist Dr. William Kelso!

Dr. Kelso will be giving a lecture on his Jamestown discoveries at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Wednesday, November 16 at 6:30 p.m. The lecture is co-sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America – Houston Society with support from Thompson & Knight Foundation. Following the lecture Dr. Kelso will sign copies of Jamestown, The Buried Truth. For tickets and more information, click here.

Dr. Kelso began directing excavations on Jamestown Island at the behest of Preservation Virginia.  Jamestown’s incredible rediscovery lies in the correction of a historical myth previously thought to be true – that the site of the original Jamestown settlement of 1607 had washed into the James River long ago. The archaeologists used primary source material to estimate the location of the fort on Jamestown Island, such as the Zuniga Map, created by a Spanish spy of the same name, and the accounts of original colonists, such as William Strachey, Captain Ralph Hamor, and John Smith.

Dig Site with Dr. William Kelso
Dr. William Kelso

Upon analysis of these sources and other buildings, the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists discovered the postholes of the original fort; discoloration in the soil left the evidence of the palisades and bulwarks that once formed the fort wall. After expanding the dig, the archaeologists were able to validate that the Jamestown Fort had only begun to wash into the James River, but was instead covered inadvertently by a Confederate earthwork during the American Civil War. Throughout this excavation, the team discovered evidence of fort buildings, artifacts, and the remains of settlers.

The discovery of a well within the limits of the Jamestown fort is important due to the artifacts found in the well.

Wells that had stopped providing (or never provided) drinkable water were frequently filled in with the refuse of daily life, which gave the archaeologists the opportunity to look at a concentrated collection of stratified artifacts. Tobacco pipes, pottery sherds, and combat armor all help date the excavation site to the early 17th century, giving even more support to the positive identification of the fort.  In this case, curator Beverly Straube was able to substantiate evidence regarding the professional work done by the original settlers. Goldsmiths, bricklayers, masons, perfumers, tailors, fishermen, coopers, blacksmiths, glassmakers, carpenters, and tobacco pipe makers are among the dominant professions for which there is archaeological evidence.

William Kelso, one of America’s foremost historical archaeologists specializing in early American history, serves as the Director of Research and Interpretation for the Preservation Virginia Jamestown Rediscovery project. Previously, Kelso served as director of archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg’s Carter’s Grove, Monticello, and Poplar Forest, as well as Commissioner of Archaeology for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. During his time at Monticello, he was one of the first to make early colonial slave life the focus of archaeological research. Dr. Kelso earned a B.A. in History from Baldwin-Wallace College, an M.A. in Early American History from the College of William and Mary, and a PhD in Historical Archaeology from Emory University.

Crime Lab Detective Update

Today’s post is from Keegan Chetwynd, an employee at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciene at Sugar Land.

Over the past few weeks many of you have had the opportunity to visit our Crime Lab Detective exhibit.

We have had the privilege of hosting several events involving community law enforcement agencies. We have decided to put together a few articles on different law enforcement functions within the community; this first article will be focused on the Sugar Land Police Department and their role within our community as high visibility crime prevention specialists. We will also be taking the time to examine several of the more interesting pieces of equipment in use by the department.

Since Sugar Land was first declared a “General Law” city in 1959 the police department has been an integral part of the community, in fact, one of the very first substantial expenditures undertaken by the city in 1959 was a $3000 Police Car that was fully equipped by the standards of the time. Traffic signage, street lights, a typewriter and an adding machine were also among the early expenditures. The annual budget for running the city totaled only $52,000 at the time, it now tops out above $52 Million, and the police department has grown to reflect these changes. The police department presently employs 176 people who, through hard work and dedication have made Sugar Land the safest city in Texas.
To get a better picture of how the inside of their department works on a regular day, I met up with Sergeant Jimmy Surratt who had agreed to take me on a behind the scenes tour of the station, and to bring me along for 2 shifts in his cruiser. Jimmy has been a career policeman, having started work in 1986 for the Wharton County Sherriff’s Department. He has been with the Sugar Land police department since 1992. When asked why he first decided to become a police officer, he expressed that it had been the result of a strong desire to assist members of the community, and it must be mentioned that this is a sentiment well echoed within the department in Sugar Land.

Jimmy and Justin
Officer Jimmy and Justin

The City of Sugar Land is divided up into 6 beats, the first of which extends north of Highway 90 to the edge of the city.

The second beat is what amounts to the Sugar Land business district along Highway 6 and Highway 59. Beats 3, 4 and 5 are predominantly residential neighborhoods to the East, South and West sides of the city respectively. The Sixth is actually listed within the department as Beat 9, and it represents a special patrol area within the Town Center area. Our museum is located right in the heart of Beat 5.

Because of the supervisory role of Patrol Sergeants we were able to move between several areas, and were able to respond to a number of incidents throughout the course of the 2 shifts. In one instance there had been an attempted burglary in a residential area, there was some indication that the burglars themselves were wearing work overalls and had been driving what looked like a service van. This is a particular sort of crime that has been observed with some regularity in the more affluent communities in the United States, in some instances the criminals are even able to disguise themselves as Postal workers or Linemen for the power companies. In a sentiment that is echoed by the department’s crime prevention strategies Sergeant Surratt encourages anyone who finds a suspicious person in their community to call the non-emergency police line @ 281-275-2020 and to try and provide specific details about the suspicious actions of the individuals, and most importantly, if possible, try to record the license plate information on their vehicle.

When the police observe a visible trend in crime within their community, one of the first suppression options is to create an impact team. It is comprised of a group of officers who are being specially tasked to handle the rising frequency of the specific type of crime. One of the more basic ways that an impact team is able to thwart burglars is often by persistent patrols in areas that are being frequented by suspicious persons.

Police Chase
Police Chase!

An interesting side effect of having a well-staffed and well-motivated body of officers is that the majority of them have had the opportunity to go through additional training, beyond what is required by the state. In fact several members of the Sugar Land Police Department have had the distinct privilege of attending the F.B.I.’s international training course hosted at their facilities in Virginia. Lt. Justin Joyce is among the chosen few, and in describing his experiences within the program, it was abundantly clear that the objective of the course was to raise global law enforcement standards, to promote cooperation between agencies, and to expand the knowledge base of those in attendance.

I also found it very interesting to note that contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, a Crime Scene Investigation unit is not always called to the scene of every crime that happens. In most instances the police officers in our community are fully trained in evidence handling and collection techniques, and are more than capable of spear heading an investigation. The Crime Scene Unit is generally processing the harvested evidence within their lab. They will only be called out to the field at the request of an on-scene commander; discharged weapons, high dollar theft, and harm to other human beings are generally the sorts of crimes that require their onsite expertise. The Crime Lab in Sugar Land is known for its finger printing capabilities, but DNA is not cost effective to do in-house, and so it is sent away to a state facility. Our exhibit Crime Lab Detective does place a strong emphasis on finger prints, and so I have developed a strong appreciation for anyone who is able to do comparisons without the assistance of a machine. The Lab in Sugar Land does have a fully functional AFIS (Automated Finger Print Identification System) which is able to help them with this task.

Crime Scene Vehicles
Crime Scene Vehicles

As promised we will now take a look at some of the equipment in use by the department currently.

If you live in the Sugar Land area you may have noticed that there is a change occurring. The older Crown Victoria’s are starting to disappear from the streets, and are being replaced with the highly visible Tahoe, but among the Tahoe’s parked behind the station there is a smattering of something altogether more sinister and aggressive in appearance.

Sugar Land Police Charger
Sugar Land Police Charger

The Dodge Chargers in use by the police are 2006 models, and are fully decked out with the factory police conversion package, including the 340 Horse Power, 5.7 Liter Hemi V8 engine and all of the other hardware needed for its role as a Traffic enforcement vehicle. Although the vehicle itself weighs almost 2 tons it is agile, with precise steering and a rear wheel drive system that is favored by police. It also has a silhouette which is similar to a number of vehicles common on today’s roads, and when painted in subdued markings it has proven itself exceedingly useful in the apprehension of drivers who would otherwise hide their recklessness in the presence of a squad car. Inside the Charger there is the regular suite of police additions, including radios, equipment racks, and the computer system that is used to track the vehicles, and also to relay call information to the officer, and allow him to see more information on persons of interest. As would be expected from modern law enforcement vehicles there is also a system which monitors the actions of the officer during a traffic stop, for his own safety.

There is however one piece of hardware onboard the new Chargers that might not be as easily recognized – The License Plate Recognition System. As the car moves through the streets of Sugar Land it is actively scanning all the vehicles around it with the cameras mounted on the trunk. It is supported by a computer that runs a complex algorithm which is able to determine license plate numbers from the camera images. It can determine plate numbers even when they are skewed by perspective. These License plates are then matched against a list of outstanding warrants and stolen vehicles, and if a match is made the officer is alerted, and is then able to perform a traffic stop.  It is quite likely that as technology further improves, we will start to see these systems on more police cars around the country.

Charger 1
License Plate Recognition System

To learn more about how the police are able to apprehend criminals, and to try your own hand at crime solving, come visit the Crime Lab Detective special exhibit!