Light Up Your Holiday at Jingle Tree in Sugar Land!

Through the doors of the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land, you usually see the towering display of a Tyrannosaurus rex. But these past few weeks, that sight has been amplified in the twinkling light of custom-decorated holiday trees.


When you walk through the front door of HMNS-SL, trees now surround the T. rex display.

The collection of trees are ready to go to the highest bidder through the museum’s Jingle Tree program, an annual online and live auction fundraiser that benefits the museum. From frilly to sparkly, these trees are a fascinating display of the creativity of the Fort Bend designers, volunteers and artistic visionaries who made them. Some even include wild themes that push the look of the traditional holiday tree to the limits. Check these out!


Trees with a traditional look offer a lineup of the best in ribbons and ornaments. It’s like a fashion show for tannenbaums!


Here’s a close-up of the white-and-silver accents on Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend!


Santa’s mischievous helpers are playing at the top of Elves Made Me Do It.



Wonderful hand-made paper roses and pinwheels in Flower Power!


This tribute to the natural world called Enchanted Forest comes with wood accents and, yes, antlers!

Now get an eyeful of these non-traditional looks.


Sleepy crescent moons make this tree, Love You to the Moon and Back a celestial beauty.


This tree, named SEAson’s Greetings, looks like it went snorkeling and brought back some friends!


Take a close look at this Star Wars tree. Yes, those are lightsabers, and yes, that’s Darth Vader at the top!


This tree, named Noelle, is the belle of the ball, showing off its fashion sense.


And finally, nothing says HMNS like dinosaurs! Plastic toys large and small cling to the branches in Dinotopia.

There’s many more where that came from, and you can see them all at the third and final tree-viewing event, the Jingle Tree Happy Hour. Come out Thursday, Nov. 19 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. to have some cocktails and bid on trees and other items in a live auction. Don’t miss the opportunity to take one of these gorgeous pre-decorated trees home for the holidays!

Editor’s Note: All photos by Kelly Russo.


Ecoteens build model artifacts for Block Party, opening soon

by John Pederson and Marce Stayer

The Aztecs, one of the greatest Mesoamerican cultures, had all the hallmarks of an advanced civilization. One of their most famous structures, the Templo Mayor, graces the Aztec portion of the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas. It is a fantastic temple complex, the main religious center of the Aztec capital, and is a feat of architectural genius.

Aztec pyramid complete!

A true-color version of a model Templo Mayor will grace the demonstration shelves of Block Party, HMNS’s new interactive exhibit. And it was built by Moran Ecoteens

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is building a new exhibit called Block Party inspired by the materials used in the construction industry. Curated models of exhibit hall pieces (and visitor-submitted ones) will be on display at the new exhibit. So when the Moran Ecoteens were presented the task of making some of them, an Aztec temple was a popular choice. An image of a temple as inspiration was printed out, and we were ready to build…or so we thought.

John and Connor constructing the pyramid

John and Connor solve building support problems while constructing the pyramid.

Turns out, not all toy building blocks are useful for this purpose. And after we grabbed enough bricks to make the first two exterior layers of the temple (e.g. the Step Pyramid at Saqqara has six “layers”), it was all we could do to prevent the third level from collapsing under its own weight. (To save bricks, we had only built the outside of each layer, leaving the inside hollow.) Eventually, over the course of several days, I worked out a system of struts, columns, and crossties to hold the layers together; the hollow inside was now full of scaffolding. This allowed us to construct a model with accurate dimensions, while reflecting realistic building techniques. The Aztec temple walls were stone encased in painted plaster; our temple reflects this with rigid supports enclosed by a decorative outside shell.

John P. and Aztec pyramid 2

John stands with his model Aztec pyramid built from plastic blocks.

Our multicolored model is the prototype of a future model of the Templo Mayor. The new one will be made of realistically-colored bricks and have a simpler brick-laying scheme, more similar to the Aztec inspiration. Hopefully, those who see it will appreciate both the spirit of the Aztec culture and the engineering genius that defines the monument.


Cream of the Science Crop: Becoming an Ecoteen

You might be wondering how you can get involved doing cool projects for the museum like the Block Party demos. Here’s some information and application advice directly from Marce Stayer, director of the Ecoteen program.

The Moran Ecoteens are the museum’s teen volunteer program, open to teens ages 14 to 17 and rising ninth grade through rising 11th grade. Teens may apply beginning in December by sending their contact information to Stayer. You’ll be asked to provide your name, street address, a phone number and an email where they can be reached. The first week in January, information packets and applications are sent out to all who apply. Applicants will be asked to include a résumé, a letter of recommendation from a current teacher and an essay on the teen’s favorite area of science. The essay can be related to artifacts in our permanent exhibit halls, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re interested, work hard to write well! We always receive more applications than slots available for this very competitive program.

Completed applications are due Feb. 28. As applications are turned in, teens are invited to schedule an interview. The process must be complete by the second week in March.

Dimetrodon skull and skull

Ecoteens built this model Dimetrodon skull for Block Party, as well.

Selected teens are required to volunteer for one two-week session during the summer. Xplorations summer camp runs on a two-week-on, one-week-off schedule and Ecoteens may choose from these two-week sessions. A new Ecoteen is required to volunteer in the classroom as his or her first assignment. At the end of each week, the teen’s performance is graded by his teacher and turned in to me. If his performance is satisfactory, the Ecoteen may volunteer for additional weeks and have opportunities to work in other areas.

In addition to classroom assignments, Ecoteens are trained to work the touch carts and permanent halls throughout the museum and some are allowed to work in the Special Exhibit halls. They are trained by master docents from the adult volunteer guild for these assignments. They also give science demonstrations to the classes during camp sessions. We have movable demos in Chemistry and Physics, we have a catapult and trebuchet demo, and this past summer, one of the Ecoteens wrote a biology demo called “Microscope Safari” and another created a Morse code demonstration.

Lastly, the Ecoteens help the Youth Education department by working on various crafts that are used during camp — wands and hats for Wizard Academy, belts for Star Warriors Academy, plaster footprints, teeth and claws for the various paleo classes, giant T. rex footprint cut-outs, complete skeletons made out of paper bones, and whatever the classes need. We also write and perform the CSI crime scene on Fridays and put on the Wizard Academy Triwizard tournament. In short, we jump in wherever we are needed!

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, now’s the time to ask for an application so you can get started and be competitive. Best of luck!

Editor’s note: John Pederson is a Moran Ecoteen Coordinator and high school student. Marce Stayer’s official title is Director of the Moran Ecoteen Volunteer Center.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 10/19-10/25

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! 

zahi hawass 2

Lecture – The Mystery of the Pyramids: Recent Discoveries by Zahi Hawass 
Tuesday, Oct. 20 
6:30 p.m.
No other manmade monuments command such curiosity, awe and veneration as the pyramids of Egypt. Recent discoveries have shed new light on these mysterious ancient wonders. From the Great Pyramids at Giza, the emblem of the Fourth Dynasty, to the older but lesser known pyramids of the Third Dynasty, these monuments have captivated people from around the globe. Dr. Zahi Hawass will provide fresh insight into the civilization that developed on the banks of the Nile during the fourth and third millennia BC. He will detail the world that existed around the pyramids, on the lives of the workers who built them, and on the court dignitaries who were granted the privilege of a burial place near that of their king. Dr. Zahi Hawass is Egypt’s leading archaeologist and director of excavations at Giza, Saqqara, Bahariya Oasis and the Valley of the Kings excavation sites. In this special lecture at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Dr. Hawass will reveal recent, important discoveries at Saqqara. A book signing of Pyramids: Treasures, Mysteries, and New Discoveries in Egypt will follow the lecture.

Lecture – Rock Art and Tribal Art in India by Jean Clottes
Thursday, Oct. 22
6:30 p.m.
India is home to thousands of painted archaeological sites with spectacular images. Dating from 10,000 years ago to historical times, distinctive themes are found in the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and historical periods. While researching this rock art, leading authority on cave art, Dr. Jean Clottes studied tribes who continue to use traditional arts for protection and ceremonial purposes. He and his team collected testimonies on these rapidly vanishing practices and their meanings. Clottes will share how the persistence of age-old traditions in these local tribes have helped interpret the rock art and explain its deeper meanings.

NEW Special Exhibition, Out of the Amazon: Life on the River, Opens Friday, October 23
The Houston Museum of Natural Science has an unparalleled Amazonia collection. Priceless pieces of the collection—ceremonial objects, masks, body costumes, headdresses and more—are showcased in the new special exhibition Out of the Amazon: Life on the River.

Savage Garden
Oct. 5 – 31
Discover the renegades of the botanical world at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. These baddies eat meat, defy death and break all the rules. Learn how they grew to be so nasty and why they act the way they do. It’s a Halloween season creep-show you don’t want to miss! But hurry — the show ends Oct. 31. 


Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 10/5-10/11

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 – American Intelligence, The History And Evolution By Vince Houghton
Tuesday, Oct. 6
6:30 p.m.
Dr. Vince Houghton, historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC will trace US intelligence tactics used before the American Revolution to today’s scientific and technological intelligence. His talk will include traditional espionage (HUMINT – HUMan INTelligenceôhe “spies”), technical collection (SIGINT – SIGnals INTelligence, IMINT IMagery INTelligence-spy planes, satellites, drones, the NSA), covert action (paramilitary action, assassination, propaganda, etc.), and counterintelligence (catching the other guys’ “spies”)

Cultural Feast – Terroir Wine Tasting, The Earth Science Of Wine
Wednesday, Oct. 7
7:00 p.m.
Providing wines their unique flavor and aroma, the environmental conditions-especially soil and climate-will be analyzed in an unusual lesson in Earth science. Goût de terroir will be introduced by Bear Dalton, Spec’s veteran wine buyer. This evening we will taste nine wines that will illustrate terroir. This look into the science and culinary history of wine will be hosted at Alliance Française de Houston. Bread and cheese will also be served.