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!

Spicy Cocktails: Anvil’s Ginger Beer [Big Bite Nite]

What makes a good scientist? Attention to detail.

habanero!
Click here for more behind-
the-scenes photos from our
video shoot at Anvil.

What makes a good cocktail? Attention to detail.

The fine folks at Anvil have attention to detail down. We went behind the scenes with Kevin, one of the co-owners, to capture those details, in the art and the chemistry that goes into making Anvil’s signature Ginger Beer, which they’ll be sharing with visitors at Big Bite Nite on April 29! (Tickets are going fast – get yours here.)

Despite its more familiar, sweet incarnations in ginger bread or gingerbread men – ginger itself is actually quite spicy. And the process of getting juice from a ginger root was both strange (when was the last time you juiced a root?) and fascinating.

Kevin kicked it up a notch by adding habanero peppers (which, you might remember from an earlier video, can just about burn your lips off if you’re not careful) just before final splash (or fizz) of CO2.

Even just a quarter of one habanero pepper was enough to make this quite a spicy spirit. It was a tad too much for me – but that’s just me. You can test your tastebuds on April 29, when Anvil samples it’s Ginger Beer-based cocktail at Big Bite Nite!

Check out the other videos in our Big Bite Nite series!
Spicy Science: The Evolution of Plants

Our resident botanist explores just what makes some plants so spicy!
Fire & Ice: Rev. Butter Turns Up the Heat

Preview Rev. Butter’s hot ice sculpting style – and check it out live before the doors open at Big Bite Nite on April 29!

Happy Birthday, Isaac Newton!

Had he lived to see it, Sir Isaac would be 367 years old today – and probably pretty amazed at the scientific leaps and bounds we’ve seen since the 1687 publication of his Principia – widely regarded as one of the most influential books in the history of science.

Though he’s known to schoolchildren to world over as the recipient of a nasty bump on the head from a falling apple – the true origin of Newton’s conceptualization of gravity comes from a little higher in the sky. So, in honor of Sir Newton’s birthday, here’s a short clip from the BBC explaining how we came to know why we don’t just fall right off the Earth:

How do you remember Newton? Let us know in the comments.

And if you haven’t already, check out Google’s homepage today for their celebration (be sure to scroll over the image to get the full effect).

UPDATE: According to Scientific American, the apple story is not as apocryphal as some have claimed. (via BoingBoing)

HMNS’ 100th year comes to a close…

And what a year it’s been!

All throughout 2009, we’ve celebrated our hundredth year in Houston with a dedicated web site, a series of 100 fun family events; a showcase of our 100 favorite/most amazing/coolest artifacts; a video series with our longest-serving staff (the record is 39 years!), and a contest (which you can still enter for a chance to win a 2010 Museum membership!)

You can also check out 100 years of Museum history here: from our very first Museum bulletin in January 2010 through historic scientific expeditions, ambitious building projects and blockbuster exhibitions, it’s been quite a trip!

But we’re even more excited about what’s coming next – in our second century of science.

In fact, we’ve just broken ground on perhaps our most ambitious project yet: an expansion that will double the amount of public exhibition space that will be available for temporary and permanent exhibitions – including what we intend to be the world’s finest Hall of Paleontology; double the number of classrooms available for educational programs; and triple the amount of available collections storage space, to ensure the conservation and care of our collections for decades to come.

President Joel A. Bartsch talks about what’s next for the Museum in this video – and how you can help.

Help us continue and expand our mission of science education for even greater numbers of children and adults. Donate to the expansion today – and join our Cause on Facebook to help spread the word!

Happy New Year!