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!

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

The Timeless Beauty of Wilderness: Mark Burns on his Photo Exhibition, The National Parks Project

by Mark Burns

If you were to ask most Americans to name significant historical occurrences of 1864, most answers would probably involve the Civil War. But in fact it was in that same year that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant protecting the land that formally became Yosemite National Park in 1890. This action by President Lincoln was truly historic as it laid the groundwork to begin a movement in America toward protecting natural places for the enjoyment of the people. Eight years later in 1872, legislation by congress and President Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park, thus becoming the world’s first national park. By 1916, America had established several dozen national parks and national monuments. The National Park Service was created to manage these public lands.

Mark Burns - Grand Teton National Park. Photograph by Craig Robbins.

Mark Burns – Grand Teton National Park. Photograph by Craig Robbins.

Prior to and throughout these events, explorers, scientists, painters and photographers worked in these western territories, many with the goal of preserving these special places of awe-inspiring natural beauty for generations to come. Arguably, it was the reaction and response to early paintings and photographs that had some of the biggest impact on the public and the politicians back east who helped draft legislation to ultimately preserve these amazing natural places. For me, as a photographer and artist, this was profound. I decided in 2010 that I wanted to photograph each of America’s 59 national parks as a tribute to those early painters and photographers whose work helped to protect many of these special places for generations to come. So I began ‘The National Parks Photography Project’.

Rialto Beach Seastacks. Mark Burns.

Rialto Beach Seastacks. Photograph by Mark Burns.

As a fine art photographer, I’ve always loved working in the black-and-white medium, and for this project, I felt it was a perfect fit. A contemporary yet timeless presentation of images, one of each of America’s 59 national parks in black and white would be my bridge back to the past century.

For five years, I traveled across America photographing the parks. My life on the road became one governed more by the environment than by people and modern demands. Much planning went into my trip scheduling as I was always chasing weather, guided in large part by the cycles of nature and the angles of the sun and moon.

Roaring Fork Branch. Mark Burns.

Roaring Fork Branch. Photograph by Mark Burns.

By the time the project photography was completed in October 2015, I had driven my Toyota FJ Cruiser to every national park in the Lower 48 at least once, and multiple times to many of them. The eight national parks in Alaska presented unique transportation challenges, most only accessible by bush plane, float plane or boat. For five weeks each summer in 2014 and 2015, I based myself in Anchorage, Alaska, flying out with bush pilots to remote areas for the photography. Getting to the parks in Hawaii, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands was relatively straight forward via commercial airlines.

Watchtower Evening. Mark Burns.

Watchtower Evening. Photograph by Mark Burns.

People are always asking me, “What is your favorite park?” That’s really difficult for me to answer. I have so many special memories from so many of them. With that said, I love the classic western parks — Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton — all truly beautiful places befitting of the title of ‘national park’. The immense feeling of true wilderness that I experienced in Alaska was a bit different. I will never forget the pristine ice blue water of the Ambler River near its headwaters in Gates of the Arctic National Park, or the vast solitude of Denali. I left these places with the belief that wilderness is vital and important… just for the sake of being wilderness.

Yosemite Valley - Tunnel View. Mark Burns.

Yosemite Valley – Tunnel View. Photograph by Mark Burns.

I’m also frequently asked about wildlife encounters, and most often about bears. In my experience, it was moose that occasionally were a minor problem. Moose are large, unpredictable animals. Bull moose chased me off trails a few times, and once in Grand Teton National Park just before sunrise, a cow moose with her young calf popped out of the trees within about 10 yards of me. She rolled her ears back, glared, snorted and stomped. I remember standing there in the pre-dawn light behind my camera and tripod trying to be completely non-threatening. I was lucky, after about a minute she turned and headed away with her calf following.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse - Study #1. Mark Burns.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse – Study #1. Photograph by Mark Burns.

As America celebrates the Centennial Anniversary of the National Park Service, we reflect back on the rich history of our national parks. But it’s also a time to look forward toward the next 100 years. Today our national park system faces much different issues than it did in 1916. Modern transportation and infrastructure make it easier than ever to visit our parks. It has been said that America’s national parks are being “Loved to Death”. In some areas, encroaching cities, towns and industry are presenting haze issues, and global warming is contributing to melting glaciers. Protecting and preserving these natural places during the next 100 years is vital and will present a multitude of unique challenges. After spending much time in the parks, I have my own opinions. I feel that potentially ‘easy’ accessibility should be limited meaning that if you want to get to a remote corner of a park you may need to hike some distance and/or backpack. I also feel that in some cases the parks should be viewed as natural ecosystems more so than just man-made boundaries on a map. The parks should represent the best of our natural world.


Mark Burns – Olympic National Park. Photograph by Craig Robbins.

Today, for me, with ‘The National Parks Photography Project’ completed, I’m honored to have this collection of photographs traveling to various museums to be displayed for people to see.

It is my hope that the photographs will instill an awareness of America’s national parks in the viewers. Nothing is more rewarding than someone approaching me in a gallery and sharing that after seeing the exhibit, that someone is heading out to a park to explore and enjoy. In today’s digital world of minute-by-minute news and information, our national parks are a vital resource now more than ever. Our national parks can be recreational, they can be classrooms in nature, and they can be restorative places that are good for the soul.

During this Centennial Anniversary year, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation have launched the marketing campaign titled #FindYourPark. I couldn’t agree more!

Editor’s Note: Mark Burns is the photographer of the upcoming Special Exhibition, The National Parks Photography Project, open June 17 to Sept. 28. Exhibition is free with purchase of general admission.

After touring Burns’s exquisite photographs, watch National Parks Adventure 3D at the Wortham Giant Screen Theater.

Hear Burns’s take on the wilderness for yourself at his Distinguished Lecture, “The National Parks — America’s Cathedrals of Nature,” Tuesday, June 21 at 6:30 p.m.

VIDEO: The 12 Days of HMNS

Recently, I’ve been fascinated by a wave of expert articles in various magazines, such as Scientific American Mind, advising me how to release my inner genius – because in my line of work it helps a lot if I can be creative in generating new ideas to get the word out about what’s happening at the Museum. What I have learned is that anything can spark the creative mind – even an email from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Visit the 12 Days of HMNS web site to
look behind-the-scenes this holiday;
click each small box to explore different videos.

A few months ago, I was sent a video catalog of all Saks’ latest and greatest designer looks for fall. With “tip-toe anticipation,” as my fiancé likes to say, I browsed through the videos. I loved every moment, because I felt like I was getting an inside look, so to speak, of what was in store for me and I thought to myself, “All of this for moi?”

Then, it hit me like a space rocket out of the clear blue sky. Okay, maybe that’s a little too dramatic. But an idea came to mind, and thanks to an amazing team here at the Museum, we made it reality.

Our new 12 Days of HMNS web site (main page shown above) is designed to give you an inside look at everything in store for you this holiday season at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Click here to visit the site and access the video.

This was an exciting project from the start. My colleague, Erin, and I sat down to map out the 12 days of adventures awaiting you and yours during this wonderful time of year. Why 12 days? Believe me; we could have easily done a hundred. But, we wanted to play off of everyone’s favorite holiday medley, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

So, we packed up our video camera and explored the museum, visiting every corner – from the underground “Containment Room” where our live insects are raised and the animation studio where our Planetarium shows are created to the most secure corners of the Gem Vault and much more. We had a blast talking to curators, staff and experts from all over the Museum. And we hope you’ll enjoy this rare, behind-the-scene look, from the detailed planning that goes into bringing 80,000 pounds of snow to Houston to how a planetarium show is put together and how we care for our amazing bugs and gorgeous butterflies before putting them on display; as well as the current and upcoming special exhibitions you can see at the Museum this holiday, plus the significance behind them.

It took an entire team of people to help us put this special site together and we can’t possibly thank them enough for the time and energy they put into 12 Days of HMNS.  After viewing it, let us know what you think – and if you do visit us this holiday season. We hope to see you soon. Happy holidays!