Doing better: We heard you out, now we’ll fill you in

Hall_of_Ancient_EgyptRecently, we were featured in a Houston Press article, “10 Things the Houston Museum of Natural Science Could Do Better.” While we welcome both positive and negative feedback from our guests — from pithy tweets to local press — we now realize that we’ve been a bit remiss in filling you in on our master plan. So we thought we’d take this opportunity to share our plans with you. It may help clear up a few concerns and put some happenings here at the Museum into a “big picture” context.

You may have heard of (or visited!) the new Morian Hall of Paleontology. Or perhaps you’ve wandered the cavernous galleries inside our new Hall of Ancient Egypt. You may not realize it, but you’re visiting brand new permanent exhibition halls located in the new Dan L Duncan Family Wing that opened last summer. This expansion more than doubled the size of the Museum’s public exhibition space.

Now that the new wing is open, we are focusing the majority of our energy and resources into completely renovating and upgrading the preexisting, older permanent exhibition halls and displays.

In fact, we’ll be unveiling our newly revamped Welch Chemistry Hall in the fall of 2013. In 2014 and 2015, our Evelyn and Herbert Frensley Hall of African Wildlife and Graham Family Presentation of Ecology and Conservation Biomes and Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife will follow. Our vision is to enlarge, renovate, remodel, and refresh every permanent exhibit hall in the Museum within the next five to seven years.

We hope this explains why some seemingly small changes — while definitely important! — have taken a bit of a backseat to these gigantic renovations. As an institution, we are dedicating investments in time, energy and money to maintaining the Houston Museum of Natural Science as a world class collection of artifacts and exhibitions. Doing so will enrich the lives of our current patrons as well as future generations of nature and science lovers.

Of course, we know you’ve got questions for us. And as your hometown museum, we have answers for you. You’re always invited to send your suggestions, ideas, hopes, and dreams to us. We’re listening. Feel free to send an email to webeditor at hmns dot org if you’ve got something on your mind. We can’t guarantee immediate action on the particular request, but we can guarantee a real, live human being will respond.

Thank you so much for being the most important part of our community. We look forward to being your source for the latest and greatest in the scientific world for years to come!

Cracking the coelacanth code: Living version of HMNS fossil has genome sequenced

The coelacanth — a “living fossil” believed to have hardly changed over the last 300 million years — has finally had its genome sequenced by European researchers.

courtesy of wiki media
The deep-sea fish was the inspiration for the famous 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon and is well-represented here at HMNS, where we have three examples on display: a Devonian fossil, a Cretaceous specimen and a model like the one sequenced.

Researchers sorted through nearly 3 billion DNA bases to conclude that the coelacanth’s four fleshy fins were likely the early predecessors of limbs.

Although the coealcanth is related to early tetrapods — the first creatures to make the transition from the ocean to land — a comparison of the coelacanth genome with the DNA profiles of lungfish and other modern land-based animals led scientists to conclude that lungfish were the closer relative.

Coelacanths have been notoriously difficult to study, having been assumed extinct until an African fisherman caught the living fossil in 1938. Since then, only a few hundred specimens have been found.

Continue the investigation yourself at our Morian Hall of Paleontology, and see why this mysterious fish has kept researchers rapt for so long.

Get started early: HMNS child development class Early Investigations doubles capacity for summer

Until recently, our Early Investigations program — designed to pique the interests of young scientists aged 5 to 8 — could only permit 50 kids per day. But due to popular demand, we’ve doubled our capacity to 100 children for our two most popular topics — Paleontology and Insect Zoo — beginning June 1. Beginning in September, tours of the new Hall of Ancient Egypt will also increase capacity to 100 students per day.

Each hour-and-a-half course includes a 45-minute interactive class and 45-minute exhibit hall tour led by one of our expert HMNS docents. Intimate tour groups are kept at under 10 children (usually three to five kids per tour), ensuring that each child is able to hear and encouraged to speak up and ask questions.

Early Investigations

Hands-on classroom presentations include real specimens and artifacts. Students of Egypt create their own names in hieroglyphics, Insect Zoo attendees build anatomical butterflies, and young paleontologists dig in a miniature pit for fossilized remains.

Other available topics included Texas Wildlife, Under the Sea, Native North and Latin Americans and Africa. Early Investigations cost just $5 per person and includes exhibit access. Most classes go from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., but the schedule is flexible according to docent availability. For more information or to register your child, click here.

Dinosaurs in three dimensions: See Jurassic Park 3D on Houston’s biggest screen — complete with a Jurassic Paleo Hall tour

It’s the cult classic that launched a thousand fascinations with fossils. Influenced a generation of dinosaur devotees. Made you forever fear wilderness toilets, whether stranded on a prehistoric amusement park/island or just camping in Pedernales.

jurassicpark3dNow Jurassic Park is back in 3D, and this, well, this you’ve got to see. And where else than at HMNS’ Giant Screen Theatre, also known as the single largest screen in town?

So perhaps you already know we have an expansive screen. But need we mention our new, not-even-a-year-old, monstrous Morian Hall of Paleontology? Yeah. It’s only what the Huffington Post called one of the top dinosaur exhibits in the entire country. No big deal.

But to add to our Jurassic fierceness, our docents are guiding special <i>Jurassic</i> tours of that new Paleo Hall — spotlighting the real specimens featured in the film and separating scientific fact from fiction. Oh, yeaaaaah, we did.

For more information on our guided tours, call the Box Office at 713-639-4629 or click here to reserve your Jurassic Park 3D tickets!