BEYONDbones 500!

Well, the museum blog has been online for just over a year now. In that time the hard working, science loving employees at the museum have brought you 500 posts on fascinating science facts, special events, and exhibits on display here at the museum. From the far reaches of the night sky to the eating habits of the praying mantis; from how to draw a dinosaur to how to create your own butter.

We have given you an inside look at each of our special traveling exhibits; from Lucy’s Legacy to the Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story to Genghis Khan. Ever wonder what plants are best for attracting butterflies? Ory helped you pick some out. Can’t figure out if that rock you found is really a meteorite? James explained the difference. Having trouble identifying that spider or insect living under your couch? Erin and Laurie determined whether or not it was poisonous. Jaime let you know what bands were playing here over the summer and Kat Havens guided teachers through experiments for their classes in addition to the many other fascinating posts from the staff here at the museum.

I want to thank our curators who walked us through the exhibits, guest bloggers who expanded on the topic of their lectures, and the dozen of our other bloggers that have brought you 500 posts over the last year.

None of this would be possible though, without our loyal readers. And as we push on into our second year of BEYONDbones, we at HMNS would like to hear more from you. What do you want to read about? What topics are you most interested in? What is your favorite artifact on display at the museum? Please continue to comment on our blog and email suggestions to blogadmin@hmns.org

Just Another Day at the Office

Working in the museum’s permanent collections I focus on artifacts and specimens – after all, that’s my job.  But it’s not just the artifacts and specimens that tell a story around here.  It’s the people too.  Behind all the exhibits and public areas are many folks hard at work to make science and this museum relevant and memorable to you.

Lately, thanks to a recent staff luncheon given by the HMNS Guild and some quick conversations in the halls, I’ve been able to get caught up with my colleagues to find out what they doing behind the scenes.

In my own home department of Collections, Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout recently gave a lecture on the Birth of Christianity exhibit in the IMAX. (You can read blog posts by Dirk here.)

Dr. Dan Brooks just co-authored an article on the birds of the Pongos Basin in the Peruvian Andes, published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. (You can read blog posts by Dan here.)  Several HMNS specimens were cited in the article, which is very cool.  (Plus, I learned what a pongo is.  Look it up for yourself and impress your friends and neighbors.)

The anthropology section in collections storage has been organized and practically transformed by Beth.  She has ensured that all those wondrous artifacts are properly labeled, stored, and easily located.  You have no idea how much work this entailed!  Imagine having all of your stuff from attic to basement labeled and neatly put away – with a color-coded key map.  Truly, my cold registrar’s heart is warmed and I get a little misty-eyed just thinking about it.

Anytime you get an in-house phone call that begins with, “I hate to bother you but” you know that intro is going to end with “do you know where David Temple is?”.  And I do know for certain that he’s been up in Seymour working on the museum’s ongoing dino dig with Dr. Bakker (read his posts here).  I doubled-checked with his wife Nicole.

When I climb upstairs to run some mail through the meter I notice it’s pretty calm in the Admin offices.  I think they’ve all finally rested up from last week’s very successful fundraising gala.  Poking my head into Kat’s office for a quick chat I found out that the education department is immersed in HMNS overnights, teachers’ workshops, and getting prepared for a full summer of a multitude of classes.  Don’t forget to register your kids pronto, those classes fill up fast.

Next, I quickly check on lunch plans with Tammy, manager of the museum’s mineral and fossil shop, who’s busy with all sorts of new specimens and arranging them in the cases.  She also provided her expertise at the gala’s mineral and fossil auction.  Passing by the museum’s visitor services desk I stop briefly to see if I have any mail.  It’s been a really busy day, probably due to the start of spring break, and Martha’s expression says it all.

There are some odds-and-ends photographs I need to drop off to the Volunteer Office, an always-upbeat place.  They’re happy to have found good homes for all the beardies but were so bereft without them, they bought one at the gala.  He’s been aptly named Ka-ching.

Lynn tells me the volunteers are eagerly studying up on the coming exhibits of The Nature of Diamonds and Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor. Karen’s in the midst of interviewing Ecoteen applicants and Araceli’s booking birthday parties.  Sybil was surrounded by volunteers so I’ll catch up with her later.

I actually don’t need anything from the exhibits guys, I’m just curious to see what they’re working on.  Today they are preparing one of our exhibit halls for the upcoming Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit. Mike and Glen are repairing some walls and ceiling tiles.  Soon they’ll be full bore into construction and layout.  Preston and Lex pour over exhibit floor plans.

The last colleague I touch base with is Christine, our live animal program manager.  She’s been out to a school with our Wildlife on Wheels program, sounds like the first-graders were adorable.  Next she demonstrates the Blue-footed Booby bird dance.  We both crack up.   I head back to the relative quiet of Collections knowing that even though I only spoke to a small portion of the staff, and not at any great length, this museum, along with its artifacts and specimens, is in excellent hands.

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Celebrating 100: A Centennial of Science

Throughout 2009, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is celebrating one hundred years of natural science education in fulfillment our mission:

To preserve and advance the general knowledge of natural science;
to enhance in individuals the knowledge of and delight in natural science and related subjects;
and to maintain and promote a museum of the first class.

A photo of some of our early educational programs.

When twenty visionary Houstonians established the Houston Museum and Scientific Society in 1909, the new organization welcomed visitors to an assortment of small exhibits first housed in the City of Houston’s public auditorium and at the downtown public library. Since then, through the tireless efforts and assiduous passion of generations of Houstonians over the course of a century, the Museum has continued to grow—first from those modest displays downtown to more spacious accommodations in the Houston Zoo, and then, with the opening of the Burke Baker Planetarium in 1964, to the Museum’s current location in Hermann Park. Over the years, HMNS has continued to acquire major collections, expand its permanent exhibitions, and add new venues: the Challenger Learning Center in 1988, the George Observatory and the Wortham IMAX Theater in 1989, and the Cockrell Butterfly Center in 1994.

Modern kids marvel at the Mastodon
on display in the Hall of Paleontology.

Today, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is an expansive, multi-story science center where millions of families, students and visitors from around the globe gather to experience the natural world through exceptional permanent galleries such as the Wiess Energy Hall and the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, as well as unparalleled world premiere exhibitions bringing the earth’s wonders to Houston, including the recent offerings Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia and The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story, both of which were organized by HMNS.

Even as we commemorate the Museum’s rich past, we continue to look to the future. Our satellite locations have extended the Museum’s educational programs into The Woodlands (2007) and (coming in 2009) Sugar Land. Additionally, with our capital campaign “Building on a Second Century of Science,” we’re planning the launch of a major expansion that will double the Museum’s size in Hermann Park.

This year, celebrate our centennial at one hundred fun family events planned throughout 2009 and get an inside look at the Museum’s vast collections—we’ve selected a hundred of the most compelling objects from millions of possibilities, and we’ll be posting photos and descriptions here – as well as on our main web site at www.hmns.org. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image of a new object every few days.