Energy Endeavors Part I: Teachers trek Texas in a week-long energy quest

I’ve always enjoyed traveling. It’s not something I’ve gotten to do as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it. I have fond memories of traveling with my family to places like Washington DC and Williamsburg, with my high school to Spain and Boston, and in college to Florida, Colorado, and England. I enjoy wandering along the back pathways, eating local food and seeing the sights.

Like most people, when I travel I tend to venture far from where I live at the expense of a lot of local destinations. Texas is rich in destinations that deal with energy: The Bureau of Economic Geology in Houston stores core samples from wells around the world.  Schlumberger runs a test rig down in Sugar Land to train their engineers. And there are many, many more.

What better way to go see some of these sights than with a group of interested (and interesting) people? So we created a week-long teacher workshop to visit different energy destinations throughout Texas.

The first day, things got going a little slowly. We waited for everyone to arrive, filled out paper work, and reviewed the week’s objectives. Once that was out of the way, we loaded up in the vans and headed to our first destination – the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) in Austin.

Energy Road TripThe BEG is a great place, and it’s part of the University of Texas system. It’s a large warehouse where they store drilling cores, and scientists and engineers can come and study them. They can pull out cores from different areas from around the world and see what the subsurface geology looks like. This is a must for people looking for crude oil, people looking at how coasts form, and people looking at what type of rocks and at what layers can hold carbon dioxide. The inside of the warehouse looks a bit like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On day two, we went to two different locations. The first was the test well at Schlumberger. It’s a fully working rig that drills through cement without hope of striking oil, and its purpose is to train field engineers. Schlumberger makes its money not by drilling for oil, but by providing services for the oil industry. Specifically, they’re known for well logging — when you scan the inside of a well for specific attributes, like conductivity and resistivity.

Energy Road Trip

It’s always fun to stand on a rig and talk with the people who run it. One of the major differences between a rig drilling for oil and the test rig is that the people on the test rig often get to go home at the end of the day.

Our second stop of the day was Marathon Oil’s Visionarium. It’s like the Giant Screen Theatre, a conference room, and a digital laboratory all rolled into one. On a 27-foot by 8-foot curved screen, the engineers are able to display data (seismic, pipeline, etc.) and model a geological formation in 2D and 3D (and probably 4D as well).

After that, the people at Marathon did something great — something I’d never seen done.  They asked the teachers their opinions on all the different ways to get kids into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The teachers all answered similarly — the time that makes or breaks science for a kid is in 6th and 7th grade. Kids need to see what options there are for jobs and they need mentoring.

On Wednesday (the third day), we went down to the South Texas Nuclear Project (STP) and took a tour of the facilities. The cooling reservoirs cover a massive 7,000 acres, or 10.9 square miles. The training control room has an exact mockup of STP’s reactor control rooms. Because of the way that licenses are given to nuclear plants, the control rooms haven’t changed much.

In the training control room, unlike the real one, we were able to turn knobs and press buttons. In fact, we were even able to make several of the alarms go off — fun in a training room, but disastrous in a real one.

Energy Road TripAfter that, we took off to Brazosport College. Why Brazosport College, you ask? Because of its Process Operations Management degree and its on-site working chemical plant.  Process operators are the people who run plants — not plants like the ones you find in a greenhouse, but chemical and energy-producing plants. Brazosport offers a two-year program and is able to offer some incredible hands-on experience because it has a small chemical plant onsite, where students experience what happens when they have a blocked pipe or things are flowing incorrectly.

Join me next time here on the blog where we’ll see a coal-fired plant and a drill bit factory.

Enter the “Take a Ride on the Wild Side!” Sweepstakes

Houston is no stranger to severe weather.

Thunderstorm in Northern Oklahoma

Within the past few months we’ve experienced both a drought and flooding.  Hurricanes and ice storms have shut the city down for days. Most residents have a story about witnessing extreme weather conditions, from hurricanes to tornadoes, but never quite like this…

Tornado Alley 3D opens March 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre!

Ride along with filmmaker Sean Casey of the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series and researchers of VORTEX 2 as they bravely capture dramatic and destructive tornado footage in this fascinating film.

Casey uses a fleet of customized vehicles that can withstand the most threatening weather  - allowing them to go right to the heart of a tornado and even document the birth of a tornado with a 70mm camera.

Tornado Intercept Vehicle

On March 12, you can meet Casey and his Tornado Intercept Vehicle!

From 9:30 – 11 am, the TIV will be parked at the front entrance of the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Casey will be available to meet visitors.  While you’re here, check out Tornado Alley 3D  – showing at 11:40 am, 12:30, 3, and 3:50 pm – Casey will  introduce each film.

Want To Ride in the TIV?

Enter to win a ride with Casey in the Tornado Intercept Vehicle at approximately 4 pm on March 12!

To enter, tell us about your strangest weather experience, your favorite episode of Storm Chasers, or your thoughts on Houston’s weather – just leave a comment on this post between February 23 and March 8!

The winner will be selected randomly and contacted on March 9, 2012.  For official contest rules, please click here.

The winner will be contacted by email – so don’t forget to leave that information in the comment entry field – don’t worry, your email will be kept confidential.

Hubble 3D is back for a limited time!

Amazing Astronomy
See more Hubble images.

Working for a science museum, I can tell you I’ve enjoyed a lot of IMAX movies. But Hubble 3D is on my short list for BEST EVER.

First: they took an IMAX camera to space.

Hubble 3D tells the story of the last mission to repair the Hubble Telescope – one of the most extraordinary scientific instruments ever created.

And I don’t know if you’ve noticed – but space is big. Really, really big. Bigger than we’re capable of comprehending, really. So an IMAX format works really well here.

Also: it’s in 3D

I know what you’re thinking. So is everything else. You saw Avatar in 3D and thought “meh.” But trust me – this film is the application 3D technology was searching for. In addition to blasting you into outer space on the back of the space shuttle’s rocket*, Hubble 3D takes you inside extremely high resolution Hubble images – flies you through them, really – until you really feel like you’ve experienced the Universe.

Finally: limited time!

Don’t take my word for it – Hubble 3D is one of the most popular IMAX films we’ve ever shown. Which is why it’s back, but only through Nov. 10! So check out the previews, get the film schedule and plan your trip to see this extraordinary film!

*Pretty much the most awe-inspiring experience non-astronauts can have. Until they slap an IMAX camera on this.

Labor Day! Fun For The Long Weekend At HMNS

Monday is Labor Day – and you know what that means, right?

LONG WEEKEND.

In case you’re wondering how to fill the long hours between Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning, here’s a list of the top ten weekend experiences you can have with the family at HMNS all weekend long.

That’s right – we’re open MONDAY! Because we’re here for you. 

10. Come And Take It!

A look at the stunning variety of fascinating artifacts from Texas’ rich history, that is.

Come And Take It
The Come And Take It Cannon!
See a full set of photos from the exhibit on Flickr

Texas! The Exhibition closes at 5 pm on Monday, Sept 5 – so don’t miss your last chance to see Santa Anna’s spurs, Davy Crockett’s violin, the Davis Guards Medal and many other objects from a huge swath of Texas history – from prehistoric cultures to the Spindletop oil gusher.

Preview the exhibit with our blog series on Texas History! (And see how you can win free tickets to see the exhibit closing weekend!)

9. Ramble through Borneo with Orangutans

And while you’re at it, explore Tsavo with young elephants.

Born To Be Wild
The cuteness! See it this weekend in Born To Be Wild 3D at HMNS!

Born To Be Wild 3D is a fascinating, entertaining and heart-warming film chronicling the efforts of two pioneering women to save orphaned animals.

Time Out New York says “The kids will squeal with delight.” We think you probably will, too.

8. Discover The True Meaning of Mayan Prophecies 

2012: Mayan Prophecies
2012: Mayan Prophecies in the HMNS Planetarium

Worried about 2012? Explore the Mayan culture in this new planetarium film. Learn why Dec. 21, 2012 will be just another day, but the Mayan culture’s true contributions to civilization are unique and fascinating.

7. Solve A Crime!

If watching CSI makes you think you think “I could do that!” – this exhibit is for you! Study fingerprints, chromatographs, DNA, insect lifecycles, tire marks, hair analysis, thread comparison, and handwriting analysis to catch the culprit!

Crime Lab Detective opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land on Saturday, Sept. 3!

6. Watch A Butterfly Enter The World!

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Our butterflies flit through a three-story, glass enclosed rain forest habitat – and it’s a showstopper of the large-scale variety. But you shouldn’t miss the Hall of Entomology on the upper level – where you can watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalides daily. It’s a quiet moment of tranformation, rebirth and wonder that everyone should experience.

5. Discover a Modern-Day Dragon

Think all dragons breathe fire? Some just flash it – including The Dragon, one of the world’s most famous mineral specimens.

The Dragon | HMNS Mineral Hall

It just so happens to be part of our collection – on permanent display in the Hall of Gems and Minerals, along with literally hundreds of the world’s finest gems and minerals. Hundreds. 

4. Develop An Intense Desire To Wear This.

Ancient Ukraine Exhibit at HMNS
Preview the entire exhibition in this set of photos on Flickr.

If you’ve followed our advice on #4, you’ve likely whetted your appetite for gold. And our Ancient Ukraine exhibition (closing Sept. 5!) could be called: Gold! Oh, And Some More Gold. (Except that it also features fascinating artifacts made from many other materials, from the entire 6,000 year history of Ukraine.)

Get an idea of what you’re in for in our curator’s blog series on Ancient Ukraine.

3. Spend Saturday With The Stars!

George Observatory

Long weekends are the perfect time to make the long drive out to our George Observatory. It’s an hour outside Houston, but that means light pollution is at a minimum – and stars are at a maximum.

If you’ve never been, you will marvel  at the number of stars you can see with the naked eye – and the astronomical detail you can view through our Gueymard telescope, one of the largest in the country that’s available for public viewing.

The Observatory is open every Saturday night from 3 – 10 pm. Get Directions and information on Admission.

2. Explore Two Continents

Hall of the Americas

Our Hall of the Americas features cultures from the Inuit in Alaska to the Inca of Peru – go on an expedition through hundred of years of American history and over 2 continents this weekend!

1. Take The Science Fun Home!

The HMNS Museum Store has a metric ton of science ideas and activities to take home – and your purchases always support our science educational programs! Grab the Pocket Starfinder for your Big Bend camping excursion, take the Encyclopedia of Texas Shells on a seashore expedition, or identify what’s fluttering around your own backyard with the Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas Guide.

From a Galileo Thermometer to track the summer heat to a Dinosaur Hunter Field Canteen, we’ve got everything you need to close out the summer right!

Here’s to a great long weekend – hope to see you here at HMNS!