Kids Can Learn About Physics at This Block Party, Too!

by Kavita Self

The Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land’s summer special exhibit, Block Party, Too! opened Friday, June 3. At the End of School Festival the day before, patrons got an exclusive sneak peek at the summer fun, and it was a big hit!


Similar to Block Party at HMNS, but with a Sugar Land twist, kids of all ages had a wonderful time exploring and building in the five Build Zones. Each zone highlights principles of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) in a family-friendly, hands-on environment. With connecting building blocks, magnetic tiles, foam blocks, oversized bricks and more, we had creative inventions — a bridge, a chair, a life sized person — in every zone!


The Game Zone, featuring classic games like Giant Tic-Tac-Toe, Giant Snakes and Ladders, Twister and more, saw kids (and adults) competing fiercely for the win! We hope to see these families return again and again as the popularity of our newest hands-on exhibit continues to grow. Take a look at the rest of these preview shots, then come on down and build using your own imagination!

slblock3 slblock4 slblock5

Editor’s Note: Kavita is the Director of Programming for HMNS – Sugar Land.

Expansion Update! New Time Lapse Video

Not even the amazing speed of this winter’s construction can top a flying dinosaur, but the last few months have been a period of exciting progress on the Expansion Wing.

As the building’s skeleton has emerged up and out (and out and out) of the basement, the project site literally looks different every day. For a beautiful illustration of that fact, check out this time lapse video of construction; it covers the period from April 2010 to the beginning of Feb. 2011 at 10 hours per second:

If you’re impatient, forward to about 3:25 – that’s when the magic starts happening.
Can’t see the video? Click here.

Here are just a few of the big things the construction team has accomplished since November:

  • The concrete structure for the basement, level one, level two, and level three is in place and curing (getting up to strength.) Once the formwork is removed, temporary wooden shoring columns remain in place as the subsequent floor slabs are poured. This allows the contractor to keep building the structure even as the concrete below does its final bit of drying out.
  • The scaffolding and formwork for the slab on level 4 are being installed, and the columns that will support the wing’s highest floor are being formed and poured as well. To prepare for a slab pour, the contractor installs a system of scaffolding, plywood, steel and aluminum beams and supports, and metal pans to serve as a giant jello mold for the concrete to fill. Woven in between the pans and the plywood are the steel rebar and cables that reinforce the slab’s concrete and also allow the slab to get “tied in” to the columns above and below it.
  • Post-tensioned steel cables within the concrete structure are beginning to be stressed on the third level. Post-tensioned steel cables are a way of reinforcing the structure. They serve the same purpose that rebar does, but what happens is that they pour the concrete over the cables, then after the concrete has dried for a few days, the contractor pulls on the cables from both ends with hydraulic jacks. (This is called stressing.) The tightening of the cables is part of strengthening the slab. Using post-tensioning is one way to get longer spans of concrete between columns without having to make the floor slab thicker, meaning the diplodocus will have plenty of room to stretch his neck in the new Paleontology Hall.
  • The new loading dock, which extended the existing dock, was poured at the end of December. While museum visitors rarely see it, the loading dock is one of HMNS’s critical areas of operations.  The artifacts and construction materials for every exhibit flow through the dock. The delightful creepy crawly animals that the Education department takes to visit schools depart from the dock. And the tables and chairs and scrumptious food for special events arrive at (and are sometimes even prepared at) the dock. Not only does the new dock provide more space for these important functions, but it also includes a new powered lift to allow for more flexibility when heavy crates with fossils or mummies arrive. Kudos to the contractor for doing this work with minimal disruption to museum operations!
  • The new natural gas emergency backup generator was delivered and set in place. It’s not the sexiest piece of equipment on the job, but when you need it, you’re glad it’s there… especially if you’re a fish or a butterfly.

All that in just three months? You betcha. And the fun has only just begun!

PS. We’ve added 25 new images of the site to our HMNS Expansion Flickr set – including the first photos from inside the new building!

Ankylosaurs aren’t very aerodynamic*

But they can still fly!

Ankylosaur Flying! [1.21.11]
Quite a view! See the entire set from the move on Flickr.

If you’ve never seen a dinosaur fly, then you weren’t in the vicinity of the museum around 11 am last Friday – at which time it was almost impossible to miss our airborne ankylosaur.

Pretty cool! The ankylosaur – an original created for the 1964 World’s Fair – has been a much loved part of our paleontology hall for decades. As part of the ongoing construction associated with our current expansion, the ankylosaur – along with several other displays from the hall – was de-installed and will be stored until it re-emerges in our new paleo hall in 2012!

Carolyn recorded this video – it’s amazing how fast this big guy hopscotched over our entire new wing!

More on the Ankylosaur!

HMNS Flickr Set“Warwick Towers Survive Dinosaur Attack” on Swamplot | Flickr set from allison362

*Excellent point, via twitter from @laelaps

Quetzalcoatlas! Grand Hall Display Through Monday

Quetzalcoatlus 1.14.11
It’s MASSIVE. See a
full set of photos of the assembly of this fossil
from this morning on Flickr.

We’ve got a new visitor to the Museum’s Grand Hall – the giant Texas Pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus!

Quetzalcoatlus northropi and its close kin can be considered as the largest animals to have ever flown – and the cast is indeed impressively massive.

This Quetzalcoatlus northropi cast was assembled today and measured to finalize the design of a Cretaceous vignette featuring three of the giant flying Texas reptiles. This recreated fossilized drama will be part of the new Paleontology wing scheduled to open in 2012.

Check out our progress on the new family wing!

According to Dr. Bakker, the plan “is to create a portrait of the giant Texas ‘dactyl defending its nest from a curious juvenile Tyrannosaurus.”

Dave Temple, our associate curator of paleontology, said, “Typically, we would uncrate the specimen, assemble, measure and pack it up over the course of an afternoon. I am glad we have the opportunity to leave it up for a few days to give the public a sneak peek at things to come.”

Be sure to visit this weekend to check it out! Tuesday morning, the Quetzalcoatlus northropi will be placed back in the crate until final installation in our new paleo hall in 2012.

Slideshow from this morning’s Quetzalcoatlus assembly:

Quetzalcoatlus Facts:

Quetzalcoatlus northropi was discovered in Big Bend National Park in 1971 by Douglas Lawson, a student of Dr. Wann Langston from the University of Texas at Austin. The species is named for the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, who was worshiped in the form of a feathered serpent.

Quetzalcoatlus northropi probably weighed about 200 pounds and had as large as a 36 foot wingspan. Their large, toothless beaks create a bit of a mystery, at times hypothesized to have unearthed shellfish, arthropods, carrion and opportunistic hunting, similar to modern-day storks. Likely Quetzalcoatlus ate a variety of different items. This species went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous.