Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 11/9-11/15

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 


Lecture – The Fastest Evolving Regions of the Human Genome by Katherine Pollard
Wednesday, Nov. 11
6:30 p.m. 
Although a child can tell the difference between a chimp and a man, identifying the specific DNA mutations that make us human is one of the greatest challenges of biology. The genomic sequence is approximately 3 billion letters long, with millions of mutations and rearrangements specific to humans. Using computational algorithms to compare our DNA to that of chimpanzees, other mammals, and Neanderthal and Denisovan fossils, we learned that the human genome did not evolve especially fast. Instead, it seems that a few mutations in critical places had big effects. Most of these “Human Accelerated Regions” are not genes, and science has no clue to their function when they were discovered a decade ago. New techniques in stem cell biology, genome editing, and high-throughput molecular biology are allowing us to discover the functions of the fastest evolving regions of the human genome and dissect how individual DNA mutations altered these functions to make us human. Dr. Katherine Pollard is a Senior Investigator at the Gladstone Institutes and Professor of Biostatistics and Human Genetics at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Pollard’s lab develops statistical and computational methods for the analysis of massive biological datasets, with an emphasis on evolutionary genomics of humans and the human microbiota. She pioneered the comparative genomic approach to scan genomes of related species to identify regions that are evolving with different rates or patterns in a particular lineage. Using this technique, her lab identified the fastest evolving regions in the human genome and in the DNA of many living and ancestral species.

This lecture is sponsored by The Leakey Foundation.

World Trekkers – Thailand
Friday, Nov. 13
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Last World Trekkers of the year! Featuring traditional Muay Thai boxing performances by Houston Muay Thai, Thai themed painting with Young Picassos, photo ops, a living Buddha statue, exotic animals, arts & crafts, food trucks and more, you don’t need a plane ticket to visit Thailand this year! Our World Trekkers program is a series of cultural festivals for the whole family. Buy tickets now!

World Trekkers generously underwritten by GDF Suez Energy Resources.

Cookies with Santa and Event Kickoff
HMNS at Sugar Land
Saturday Nov. 14
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
The event kicks off with our family friendly Cookies with Santa, Saturday, November 14. It’s your first chance to view the trees and catch Santa during an early holiday visit to Sugar Land. Be sure to bring your camera to snap some candids!


With Soil, Make Me Wine: The Dirt on Growing Great Grapes

I like wine. And I make my own. Not huge batches, mind you. Just about 30 bottles per month in the winter months. I learned the hard way the chemistry of wine. If you let the wine get too hot while it’s fermenting, it can radically alter the taste.  I let one of my batches get above 95 degrees a few times this summer. I was making a port and the flavor was ruined. The entire batch came out tasting like welches grape juice. Flat, tasteless, 20 percent alcohol-by-volume grape juice. I only inflicted a few bottles on my friends.


Good wine is a combination of science and art. There is the botany of the grapes. The meteorology of the climate. And the pedology. What’s pedology you ask? It’s the study of soil.  And since it is the International Year of Soils, we are going to get down and dirty with the effect of soil on one of my favorite drinks.

The ground beneath us is incredibly active. There are millions of different types of bacteria, fungi, and arthropods that give dirt everywhere its characteristics. If you’ve been taking the museum’s class on gardening and landscaping, you’ll understand the importance of the health of soil for plants. To briefly sum it up, good soil makes good crops. A shocking concept. But beyond that, what effects can the soil have on wine?


The effect of soil and climate on wine is called terroir. Wine tasters with a good palates say they can discern the flavor of the soil in the wine. Scientists have begun to examine a comparison of terroir to wines in an attempt to explain this phenomenon but so far have not been able to. That doesn’t mean that the flavor of the soil isn’t in the wine; it just means more scientists will have to drink more good wines. That’s a study I want to be a part of!

Good soils will encourage the vines to produce grapes instead of growing more vine. So the best soils need to provide lots of water at just the right time and then be able to drain it away. And the soil needs to keep the right nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium available to the vine, which can help intensify the flavors in the grape.


Tasting wine is about more than just “good” or “bad.” With an entire family of varietals out there in the world, it’s about what gives the wine its identity. Fans of wine, like me, like to get closer to the wine and the wine-making process through the quality of its flavor. And, oddly enough, tasting isn’t just about the taste. Wine Folly offers a five-step process to tasting wine, and explains a few things to be aware of. Here’s the basic process outlined in their blog.

  1. Look at the color. This goes deeper than just red and white. Ask yourself how it compares to other reds or whites in color. Gauge whether you can see through it. With practice, you can gauge whether the wine is bold, rich or viscous.
  2. Smell the wine, but swirl it around first to aerate it. Put the wine on the table and move the base in little circles, then shove your nose into the glass and take a big whiff. What do you smell?
  3. Taste the wine. Get enough of the wine to coat your entire tongue and roll it around in your mouth to maximize contact with all your taste buds. Don’t just think about flavor; think about texture and body, how it feels in your mouth. Does it have an alcoholic burn? Do the flavors match the smell?
  4. Decide whether to spit or swallow. You may have to drive later, or you may have 20 wines to taste and want to stay sober enough to think about all of them. If you hate the wine, spit it out. If you don’t want to waste it, swallow it. There’s no right or wrong choice.
  5. Think about the wine and formulate your own conclusions. Wine Folly states, “Wine tasting is a head game. Confidence and bold assertion can often make someone look like a pro.”


Join us for a Periscope wine tasting with local experts, curators, and myself on Wednesday, November 18 at 3 p.m. You’ll see some live wine tasting where we’ll talk about terroir and suggest some wine pairings for Thanksgiving. And to celebrate the International Year of Soils, join us for a film screening of the Symphony of the Soil at the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre Dec. 1 at 6 p.m.

Top 10 Most Popular Instagram Skeletons

Through the month of October, Houston Museum of Natural Science Marketing put together an all-out campaign to prep for Halloween, and we had a blast doing it. On Instagram, we took our creepiest skeletons, screened them through a black and white filter and blew out the contrast for a spooky look under the hashtags #31DaysOfSkeletons and #ChillsAtHMNS. Here’s the countdown of the top 10 shots with the most likes.

10. Day 23: Plesiosaurus, 152 likes



9. Day 8: Homo sapiens flying, 157 likes



8 (tied). Day 3: Lemur with large hands, 160 likes




8 (tied). Day 7: Deinonychus skull, 160 likes



7. Day 14: Psitticosaurus nest, 165 likes



6. Day 18. Woolly mammoth, 169 likes



5. Day 26: Saber-tooth cat, 170 likes



4. Day 9: Acrocanthosaurus, 195 likes



3. Day 2: Postosuchus, 196 likes



2. Day 11: Tyrannosaurus rex, 209 likes



1. Day 1: Gorgosaurus, 253 likes



Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 10/26-11/1

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 


Lecture – Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
Monday, Oct. 26
2:30 p.m.
Marilyn Johnson’s will offer an entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past. Johnson digs and drinks alongside archaeologists, chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu, and excavates their lives. Her subjects share stories we rarely read in history books, about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, children of the first century, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, mummies. What drives these archaeologists is not the money (meager) or the jobs (scarce) or the working conditions (dangerous), but their passion for the stories that would otherwise be buried and lost. Book signing of Lives in Ruins following lecture

Lecture – Amazonian Plant Biodiversity By Nancy Greig
Tuesday, Oct. 27
6:30 p.m.
The Amazonian basin has one of the highest diversities of plants in the world. Dr. Nancy Greig, director of the HMNS Cockrell Butterfly Center, will discuss some of the reasons for this great biodiversity with vibrant images of particularly interesting Amazonian species, including a number of plants involved in ant-plant symbioses. Following the lecture, the audience is invited to tour the Butterfly Center and Insect Zoo to view some living examples of plants and insects from the neotropical region.

Tricks, Treats & T.rex
HMNS at Sugar Land
Celebrate Halloween at HMNS Sugar Land and discover the scary side of science! Our annual Halloween Spooktacular returns for two days! Costumes encouraged both days.
Museum of Unnatural Science Haunted House – Friday, Oct. 30,  7 – 9 p.m.
Magical Pumpkin Maze – Saturday, Oct. 31, 10 a.m. – noon

Family Space Day
George Observatory
Saturday, Oct. 31
Make the George Observatory your pre-Halloween destination! Bring your trick-or-treaters to the George Observatory before the night’s festivities begin as we celebrate Family Space Day on Saturday, October 31. It wouldn’t be Halloween without costumes, so wear your scariest get-up as you sign up for our simulated spooky space flights.

Spirits & Skeletons
Saturday, Oct. 31
8:00 p.m. to Midnight
Calling all ghosts and ghouls, monsters and mummies, witches and werewolves: Houston’s favorite Halloween party — the one and only Spirits & Skeletons — is back at HMNS! With the entire museum open you can shake your stuff with a stegosaurus, grab a drink with a skink and get spellbound by bewitching gems, all to live music and your favorite hits played by DJs with fantastic food trucks parked right outside. Whether you go with scary and spooky or fab and kooky — dress up, party the night away at HMNS and we’ll put a spell on you!