FAQs with a Frequent Flyer Museum Member

Some of my earliest memories are of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, thanks in large part to my parents. When I was young, I didn’t go to daycare or preschool; I went to work with my mom every day, and every day at lunchtime, we went to the Museum. With just one visit per year (or, you know, like 200), our HMNS Membership was paid off, and, by age 3, I was hooked.

As an Ecoteen, I got to work with various objects and artifacts, including Leonardo, the Brachylophasaurus mummy currently on display in the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

As an Ecoteen, I got to work with various objects and artifacts, including a cast of Leonardo, the Brachylophasaurus mummy currently on display in the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

I was a summer camper at age 6, a Moran Ecoteen volunteer at age 15, an Xplorations summer camp employee at age 19 and, finally, a full-time employee at age 22. The Museum is almost a part of my identity at this point. One of my first purchases when I returned home as a college graduate was a Catalysts Individual Membership.

Over the years, I’ve fielded many questions from friends, family and visitors to an Outreach program I may be presenting about trips to HMNS, and I wanted to share some of those questions and answers with you all here!

“The Science Museum is too advanced for little kids, right?”

My young cousins love the Morian Overlook at the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

My young cousins love the Morian Overlook at the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

My young cousins love the Morian Overlook at the Morian Hall of Paleontology.
I’m the oldest of my generation in my family by a long shot; next in age is my younger brother, who is six years behind. But I started coming to the Museum before I had made any lasting memories, and, even today, my young cousins all enjoy HMNS their own way. True, HMNS is full of advanced science topics; if the only thing you were going to do is read the scientific names of dinosaurs and gemstones, a small child could get bored easily. But, as my coworker Allison puts it, there is so much to learn by just experiencing the trip to the museum. With her young son, she asks questions about size, shape and color, such as, “Which of these two dinosaurs is bigger?” or “can you name that animal?” or “What color is that gemstone?” The Museum exhibit halls are basically a giant three-dimensional learning tool and picture book!

“There’s so much to see, it just doesn’t seem like a good value.”

There is definitely a lot to see, but that just means repeat visits are necessary!

There is definitely a lot to see, but that just means repeat visits are necessary!

There is definitely a lot to see, but that just means repeat visits are necessary!
An HMNS Membership is the best value around. Coworker Allison from above saved $714 in a year full of Museum visits with her family! A Membership can pay for itself in just one visit, thanks to FREE access to the permanent exhibit halls all year as well as discounts on special exhibits, venues like the Cockrell Butterfly Center, souvenirs in the Museum Store and much more! And this way, you can come back as often as you want in case you miss something the first time around.

“I don’t have kids, so is there anything for me to really do there?”

HMNS Catalysts events are always a ton of fun!

HMNS Catalysts events are always a ton of fun!

YES! HMNS isn’t just for families. With stunning exhibits and a constantly cycling series of special exhibitions, there is always something exciting to see at the Museum for all ages. For the young professionals in town, it doesn’t get much better than the HMNS Catalysts group. The Catalysts Membership I purchased was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my post-grad life. This Membership includes four young professional parties at the Museum each year as well as FREE tickets to Mixers & Elixirs, on top of the benefits afforded to basic Members. It’s perfect for the 20’s and 30’s crowd in Houston!

“It can get pretty crowded on weekends! Any tips on how to make the Museum visit easier for all of us?”

I could write a book on insider tips to visiting the Museum, or I could direct you to the HMNS Members Welcome page! There are a bunch of great tips in the bullet points under the video, and I highly recommend watching the video to make the most of your Membership. A few of those bullet points I want to specifically mention:

  • Come to the Museum early in the day. Most crowds will come around lunchtime or in the afternoon. If you can get to the Museum before 10 a.m., you should be in great shape to find parking and explore before the rush later.
  • Take a tour with a Discovery Guide! Our Discovery Guide tour team is world-class, befitting an institution of this caliber, and they add an entirely new level to the visitor experience. My five-year-old cousin still asks if “Jurassic James” is free to give her a tour every time she visits.
  • If anyone in your family has special needs, please visit the Accessibility section of our website ahead of time. Our new accessibility guides and resources are extremely useful for planning your day as a family before your visit.
  • If things get a little hectic, head to the lower level of the Museum. It’s usually pretty quiet, and you can try to find one of the best-kept secrets of HMNS, the animal alcove. You can even look through the glass at some venomous snakes!
  • Buy a Membership! The visitor experience is vastly improved, and you will not be disappointed. It’s really quite the deal!

If you have any more specific questions you’d like to ask, feel free to contact us at (713) 639-4629 or email webmaster@hmns.org and it will get to the appropriate party. I hope to see you here soon!

Glow on, get happy! Join HMNS this Friday for a fun-filled night of light at LaB 5555: GLOW

Whether they’re toys that shine in the night, black lights, glow sticks or fireflies, things that produce an eerie glow are fascinating. Give a kid a glow-in-the-dark toy or paper her ceiling in dimly shining plastic stars, and she will be occupied forever. She’ll find ever brighter lights to charge them up, ever darker places to view them for maximum glow effect, and generally love exploring how it all works.

You know this; you were that kid. So what’s the deal with the glow?

Enjoy a sip of the galaxy -- learn how to make this glow-in-the-dark cocktail at Neatorama

Learn how to make this amazing looking glow-in-the-dark cocktail over at Neatorama

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your electrons are?

While there are several “flavors” of things that glow, they all have something in common: Things glow because photons are emitted when “excited” (at a higher energy state) electrons drop back to a lower, more stable state. Aside from promising them a pony or a tour of CERN, there are several ways to get your electrons excited.

In chemical glow sticks, a chemical reaction excites the electrons. This process is called chemiluminescence. Glow sticks are an excellent way to experiment with reaction rates and temperature. If you want the reaction to last longer, follow a kid’s advice and put the glow stick in the freezer or in ice water so the reaction slows down; it’ll take longer to use up the chemicals in the glow stick. The trade-off is that because the production of photons is also slower, a cold glow stick is dimmer than a warm one.

Fluorescence is like light recycling. Fluorescent rocks, laundry detergent additives, paint, and even some animals can re-emit light after something shines on them. Usually we’re talking about things getting hit with ultraviolet or ‘black’ light and re-emitting within the visible spectrum. This makes sense because as you progress along the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, visible light is a bit lower in energy than ultraviolet light — you can’t expose something to lower energy red light and get it to fluoresce in UV, for example. Fluorescent things certainly fluoresce in daylight, but not enough to outshine the ambient light, so they’re most noticeable under a black light in an otherwise dark space.

Phosphorescence is a lot like fluorescence but stretched out over time — a slow glow. So you can shine light (visible or UV) on a glow-in-the-dark star and it re-emits light, too, but over a lot more time, so the glow continues for minutes or hours before it completely dies out. If you have a glow-in-the-dark toy or T-shirt, try “charging it up” with lights of different colors or intensities and checking out the glow that results.

Nature glows

Fireflies produce and use their own chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, to dazzle and attract potential mates — and sometimes to lure prey. A surprising number of marine critters are bioluminescent, too, like dinoflagellates (plankton) that glow when disturbed, the angler fish, and some squid (perhaps they are blending in with starlight from above). Headlines occasionally announce a new genetically engineered “glowing” kitten, rabbit, plant, sheep, etc., but they are almost always talking about fluorescence instead of bioluminescence, so the light is only seen when the animal is placed under ultraviolet light. (One useful application of this is the ability to track a protein related to a certain disease by getting the introduced gene for Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) to link to the gene for the protein of interest). Some animals like scorpions and jellyfish (the original source of GFP) fluoresce naturally.

Cheap thrills

Sugar and adhesives can exhibit triboluminescence, in which friction or fracturing produces the light. This one is great to try out at home; you just need Wint-O-Green Lifesavers®, transparent tape and a very dark room (a buddy or a room with a mirror is helpful for the Lifesavers portion). Dr. Sweeting (that’s her real name) has more detailed instructions and explanation, but the big idea is that a tiny, but visible, amount of light is emitted when you peel tape off the roll and when you bite into the candy, crushing sugar crystals against each other. The wintergreen oil even improves the effect by fluorescing!

Are there any other kinds of luminescence? Yes! Incandescence, piezoluminescence, radioluminescence, etc. But that’s enough fun for one post. Go try out triboluminescence!

Just can’t get enough? Make sure to come early for the educational portion of HMNS’ LaB 5555 this Friday for more GLOW fun, and learn all about the science of what gives things light. I’ll be there doing demos to light up your night. For tickets and more info, click here!

Get ginned up at LaB 5555 on Friday and learn the chemistry behind a good cocktail

Jumping juniper berries — LaB 5555 is back!

LaB 5555

This month’s theme is all about mixology, with the best bartenders in town — as curated by the Houston Press — pouring gin-based cocktails for guests between 8 and 9 p.m. Guests can learn about the chemistry behind a fine cocktail, vote on their favorites and then boogie to DJ Dave Wrangler and enjoy live video projection art by CHNNLZ (check him out here).

Participating venues include the cocktail programs at new Midtown haunt Mongoose versus Cobra, Haven, El Gran Malo and The Heights’ Liberty Kitchen. Come support your favorite hang-out and enjoy their drinks in a different, more scientific setting.

If gin’s not your thing, a full bar is available at multiple cash bars, with food on the front patio from Htown StrEATS, The Rice Box, Good Dog Hot Dogs and SweetRide!

For more information and to snag your tickets in advance, click here!

Please note: This event is strictly 21 and up.