The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is a science museum located on the northern border of Hermann Park in Houston, Texas, United States. The museum was established in 1909 by the Houston Museum and Scientific Society, an organization whose goals were to provide a free institution for the people of Houston focusing on education and science.
The museum complex consists of a central facility with four floors of natural science halls and exhibitsThe Museum houses the Burke Baker Planetarium, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center and a fascinating variety of permanent exhibit areas that examine astronomy, space science, Native American culture, paleontology, energy, chemistry, gems and minerals, seashells, Texas wildlife and much more. In addition, the museum frequently presents traveling exhibitions on a variety of topics.
The purpose of the Houston Museum of Natural Science has always been to “enhance in individuals the knowledge and delight in natural science and related subjects.” To this very day, this purpose is carried out in every project, program and exhibition associated with the museum.
The museum is one of the most heavily attended museums in the United States, and one of the most attended venues in Houston, the museum attendance totals over two million visitors each year.
The initial museum organization was called the Houston Museum and Scientific Society, Inc., and was created in 1909. The museum’s primary collection was acquired between 1914 and 1930. This included the purchase of a natural-history collection assembled by Henry Philemon Attwater and a donation from collector John Milsaps, the latter of which formed the core of the museum’s gem and mineral collection. First housed in Houston’s city auditorium, the collection was subsequently housed in the Central Library for seven years, and then at a site in the Houston Zoo in 1929. The museum’s now wide-ranging education programs began in 1947 and, in its second year, hosted 12,000 children.
The museum was officially renamed the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 1960. Construction of the current facility in Hermann Park began in 1964 and was completed in 1969.
By the 1980s, the museum’s permanent displays included a dinosaur exhibit, a space museum, and exhibits on geology, biology, petroleum science, technology, and geography. In 1988, the Challenger Learning Center was opened in memory of the Space Shuttle Challenger crewmembers that were lost during the shuttle’s tenth mission. The center’s aim is to teach visitors about space exploration. The Wortham IMAX Theatre and the offsite George Observatory were opened in 1989.
Museum attendance was more than one million visitors in 1990. HMNS trustees determined that new state-of-the-art facilities, additional space, and renovations to current exhibits were needed because of the increased attendance. Between 1991 and 1994, a number of exhibit halls were renovated and the expansion of the Sterling Hall of Research was completed. The Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Brown Hall of Entomology opened in July 1994.
In March 2007, the museum opened the HMNS Woodlands X-ploration Station, located in the Woodlands Mall. The facility was home to an interactive Dig Pit, where children could excavate a mock Triceretops, a variety of living exhibits, fossils, and minerals. The Woodlands location closed on September 7, 2009, less than a month before HMNS opened a satellite museum in Sugar Land, Texas.
HMNS celebrated its 100th year in 2009. During that year, the museum offered a multitude of family programs, lectures, free events, and kids’ classes as part of the “Fun Hundred” celebration.
On October 3, 2009, HMNS opened its satellite museum in Telfair, Sugar Land. The building and surrounding land that became HMNS at Sugar Land was once part of the Central Unit, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison that had been unoccupied for several decades.
In March 2012, the Wortham IMAX Theatre was converted from 70 mm film to 3D digital and renamed the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre.
In June 2012, HMNS opened a new 230,000 square foot wing to house its paleontology hall, more than doubling the size of the original museum. Paleoartist, Julius Csotonyi, created fourteen murals based closely on concept drawings by HMNS Curator of Paleontology, Robert Bakker, for the new paleontology hall. The Morian Hall of Paleontology contains more than 60 large skeleton mounts, including four Tyrannosaurus rex and three large Quetzalcoatlus.
Hall of Ancient Egypt
Safely ensconced in the Sahara desert, and drawing its lifeblood from the river Nile, ancient Egyptian civilization flourished for more than three millennia. A quintessential example of what archaeologists call a primary civilization,” ancient Egypt did not rely on inspiration from others to develop its own architecture, writing and religion—all of Egyptian culture was developed “in house.”
Morian Hall of Paleontology
The Morian Hall of Paleontology is packed with prehistoric beasts, and does not have the same stagnant displays of ancient skeletons standing in a row that many visitors are accustomed to seeing. Rather, the predators and prey in the new paleontology hall are in action – chasing, eating and escaping as they struggle for life. Embark on a “prehistoric safari” that also includes the grand saga of human evolution – from tree-climbing australopithecines to courageous mammoth-hunters.
Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall
Houston businessman Alfred Glassell, Jr. was a well-known philanthropist, but many never knew of his devotion to large species of game fish – not only sport but also for research and conservation. This exhibit highlightsTumbesian fish species including the world record black marlin caught by Glassell on 4 August 1953 that tipped the scales at 1560 pounds. Footage of the catch was used in the 1958 film The Old Man and the Sea, starring Spencer Tracy. The exhibit includes over 40 specimens of game fish representing over a dozen species found off the coast of Cabo Blanco, Peru, where Glassell landed the big marlin. Media interactives and labels also complement the hall.
Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals
From a huge blue topaz crystal weighing more than 2,000 carats to a crystallized gold cluster that is one of the most highly coveted objects in the mineral kingdom, the spectacular specimens on display here are true masterpieces – the Rembrandts and Picassos of the natural world.
Wiess Energy Hall
Dubbed Wiess Energy Hall 3.0, the third iteration of this popular hall will enlarge from its previous 8,500 square feet to an expansive 30,000 square feet—almost the size of a football field. Joining the completely redesigned “classic” displays will be a bonanza of entirely new exhibits, making the new hall the most contemporary, comprehensive and technologically advanced exhibition on the science and technology of energy anywhere in the world.
Herzstein Foucault Pendulum
First exhibited in 1851 at the World’s Fair in Paris, the Foucault Pendulum (named after Jean Bernard Leon Foucault, the French physicist who invented it) is a visual demonstration of the Earth’s rotation.
Lester & Sue Smith Gem Vault
The Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault, the permanent exhibit hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, completes the story begun by the now world-renowned Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals.
John P. McGovern Hall of The Americas
The John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas celebrates the remarkable diversity and extraordinary accomplishments of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, as well as the continuity of their rich cultural traditions.
Frensley/Graham Hall of African Wildlife
Unlike the traditional “menagerie” approach, this hall focuses on well-integrated themes of African wildlife ecology and conservation. Additionally, state-of-the-art interactives and video films enhance the experience.
Welch Hall of Chemistry
HMNS’ revamped Welch Hall of Chemistry explores the natural sciences through the lens of chemistry. Our goal was to create a world-class chemistry hall which satisfies and provokes the interest of visitors of all ages and levels of chemical experience, young and old, beginner and expert. The exhibits in the new Welch Chemistry Hall were intensively designed to captivate. Interactive exhibits use “directed play” to invite visitors to experience phenomena by allowing them to change several parameters, instead of simply pressing a button or watching an effect. The newest computer technology brings visitors to the molecular level, letting them electronically “change” the arrangements of atoms in molecules, which results in completely different chemical properties. Interactive exhibits using huge touchscreens give an immersive experience and include molecular dynamics simulations—the tools that scientists actually use in the laboratory to understand the world at the tiniest scales.
The Earth Forum is an engaging arrangement of 11 interrelated work stations. Each work station contains two computers, a globe surrounded by photographs of Earth, and a physical interactive related to the work station’s theme.
Hamman Hall Of Texas Coastal Ecology
The Texas coast is a natural treasure to many Texans, but few know about its ecologic and economic importance. The Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology shows visitors how a healthy environment is paramount to maintaining and sustaining a healthy economy. With about 2400 square feet of floor space and a 120 foot wall space adjacent to the new Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife, guests learn about the environmental characteristics of the Texas coast, as well as critical habitats, iconic species, concerns and impacts, recreation, and opportunities for conservation and restoration.
Vintage Texas Wildlife Dioramas
The new dioramas in the Education Wing have been a regular part of the museum for several decades. When their occupied space was deemed essential for renovation, museum staff was unable to simply throw away these dioramas with their rich and fine detail. Instead we decided to make an effort to do what museums do best – conserve these precious historical antiquities, preserving them for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife
The Houston Museum of Natural Science has had Texas Wildlife diorama displays since the early days when the museum was located across the street at the zoo. In 2014 several of the older murals underwent a renovation of supporting habitat and species, and today these vintage treasures can be viewed in the basement of the Education wing.
Strake Hall of Malacology
Malacology is the study of mollusks – invertebrate creatures with soft, unsegmented bodies, many of which house themselves in shells. This fascinating and highly diverse group of animals includes more than 100,000 species, ranging in size from snails so small that we can barely see them to giant squids more than 60 feet long.
Opening in 1964, the Burke Baker Planetarium presents a range of science and astronomy shows. The planetarium is equipped with the SkySkan DigitalSky starfield projector that can simulate stars, planets, comets, nebulous objects and other special effects. In 1998, it was upgraded to fullview, making it the first in the U.S. and third in the world to have multiple projector digital image capability That allows it to show fulldome movies about space science and also on earth science, life science and other topics, many of which were created by HMNS staff. A digital stereo sound system also enhances planetarium’s special effects. Its outreach program, “Discovery Dome”, takes the planetarium experience on the road, reaching over 40,000 students per year in classrooms and special events in portable digital domes. It is one of the first 8k planetariums in the United States.
Cockrell Butterfly Center, a butterfly zoo located in museum complex. Opening in 1994, the center is housed in a three-story glass building filled with tropical plants and butterflies. The center exhibits a large range of live butterflies, including the migratory monarchs and their tropical cousins. The Cockrell Butterfly Center was reopened in May 2007 after being overhauled to make the exhibit more interactive; there are now games for children and a live insect zoo in the Brown Hall of Entomology.
Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, a 394-seat theater presenting various educational films in 4K digital with advanced 3D technology on its 60×80 foot screen.
George Observatory, an astronomy observatory equipped with three domed telescopes, including a 36-inch (910 mm) Gueymard Research Telescope and a solar telescope. The facility is located south of Sugar Land, Texas at Brazos Bend State Park. The observatory also houses a portion of the Challenger Learning Center for Space Science Education.