The Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science

With more than two million visitors annually, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is not only one of the most visited museums in Texas, it is one of the most popular in the country. Situated in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the HMNS is a vast complex, featuring a wide array of both permanent and temporary exhibitions, including a planetarium and giant screen theatre.

In addition to all that is offered onsite, the Museum also has two offsite locations: the George Observatory, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land. These three facilities enable the Museum to deliver its mission to preserve knowledge of, enhance the public knowledge of, and foster interest in the natural sciences, while delivering a first-rate museum.

»History

History

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has more than a century in service to the community, having been founded in 1909. The origins of the Museum began with a collection of modest exhibitions in the City’s downtown area. From here, the Museum expanded and was incorporated within the Houston Zoo. Overtime, as the collection grew, it became clear that the Museum needed its own space.

In 1964, the HMNS reached its current location in Hermann Park, at the same time adding the Burke Baker Planetarium. The 1980s saw the addition of the Challenger Learning Center, the George Observatory and the Wortham GIANT Screen Theater, as well as the Cockrell Butterfly Center in the early 1990s. As a premier museum and scientific institution, the Houston Museum of Natural Science continues to engage and educate its visitors now more than ever. Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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»Permanent Exhibitions

Permanent Exhibitions

The Permanent Exhibitions at the HMNS cover everything from Ancient Egypt to the stars above. These include not only the multitude of exhibits at the museum district location, but also those found at the remote locations at Sugar Land and the George Observatory. With so much to see, the Museum advises that visitors allow a minimum of two hours to explore the permanent exhibitions.

Hall of Ancient Egypt

The items on display at the Hall of Ancient Egypt celebrate this culture that developed over thousands of years, largely with minimal impact from outside influences. The exhibit explores the culture, religion, and resources of these ancient people, as well as the different methodologies for archeological exploration used to investigate them over the centuries. Such highlights of this exhibit include the Museum’s mummy, Ankh Hap, as well as many other artifacts.

Morian Hall of Paleontology

The Morian Hall of Paleontology is a highpoint of any trip to the HMNS. Visitors can view the massive scale and ferocity of prehistoric beasts, their skeletons displayed in animated action scenes. This exhibit also includes a journey through man’s history of evolution, looking back at our own origins.

Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall

Named for Houston businessman and philanthropist, Alfred Glassell, Jr., this exhibit celebrates one of his lesser known interests: large game fish. These interests extended far beyond mere sport, but rather celebrate the species and focus on research, as well as conservation. With more than 40 specimens on exhibit, as well as interactive multimedia, there is much to see and explore in the Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall. Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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»More Permanent Exhibitions

More Permanent Exhibitions

Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals

Visitors to the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals will be bedazzled by more than 450 specimens on display. These include a gigantic 2,000+ carat blue topaz, the Ausrox Gold nugget, and many more. With case after case of bejeweled treasures, guests can experience some of nature’s most dazzling masterpieces. Wiess Energy Hall.

With its recent renovation and expansion, the Wiess Energy Hall welcome visitors to a new and improved experience. This exhibit focuses on the technology and science behind hydrocarbon energy, and is one of the most robust such exhibits in the world. Much of the information contained in the exhibit is also available online, including information on the lifecycle of hydrocarbons, as well as a survey on alternative energy sources.

Herzstein Foucault Pendulum

What may at first appear to be a simple exhibit is actually a fascinating visual experience of the rotation of the Earth. Although the pendulum appears to be slowly changing direction throughout the day, in actuality the planet is moving beneath it. This mesmerizing exhibit was first showcased at the 1851 World’s Fair in Paris, and is named for its French physicist inventor, Jean Bernard Leon Foucault.

Lester & Sue Smith Gem Vault

Visitors to the Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault will find themselves surrounded by breathtaking gems. Building on the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals that showcase stones as they occur in nature, the Gem Vault displays the ways in which humans cut, polish and mount such gems in beautifully artistic ways. Many of the items on display were commissioned by the Museum, cut to exact specifications and then displayed in magnificent original jewelry pieces.

John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas

Items in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas pay homage to the work of indigenous cultures of the Americas, stretch from Alaska all the way to Peru. Such items include pottery, rugs, jewelry and more, representing over 50 different cultures. In addition to taking in the vast collection on display, visitors to this exhibit can also participate in crafts and activities that enhance the experience and education of the exhibition.

Fresnsley/Graham Hall of African Wildlife

This exhibit, which harkens back to the Museum’s roots in the Houston Zoo, presents the wildlife of the African continent with an eye on ecology and conservation. Rather than displaying each animal separately in its own mock environment, the exhibit takes visitors through seven biomes, with the appropriate wildlife showcased together in each. These biomes include the Congo Basin, the Serengeti Grassland, the Lowveld Region, the Saharan Desert, the Okavango Delta, and the West African Tropical Forest and Ethiopian Realm.

Welch Hall of Chemistry

After undergoing refurbishment and re-imagination, the Welch Hall of Chemistry creates an engaging experience for visitors of all ages and all levels of experience with chemistry. The attraction involves interactive exhibits that do more than just ask guests to press a button or read a plaque. From molecular dynamics simulations, to a Chemistry Crime Lab, to state of the art computers illuminating chemistry on the molecular level, this exhibit provides immersive interaction. Designed in partnership with leading scientific institutions in the area, including the Houston Medical Center, Rice University, the University of Houston, as well as the Houston chemical industry, the Welch Hall of Chemistry is bound cause interesting reactions in every visitor. Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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»More Permanent Exhibitions

More Permanent Exhibitions

Earth Forum

The Earth Forum is an exhibit focusing on developing a sense of wonder in the world around. With eleven interactive stations, visitors can look deeper into some of the Earth’s natural phenomena. These stations include the Seasons Interactive, Sand Dune Maker, Earthquake Table, Cloud Maker, Wave Machine, Spinning Currents Globe, Tornado Tube, Population Tubes, and the Tropical Terrarium that reproduces a rainforest ecosystem.

Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology

The large and engaging Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology pays homage to the coastal ecosystems which provide so much business, life and joy to the state. Divided into zones representing Texas’ two coasts, the hall highlights the coastal regions’ ecologic, as well as economic importance. Visitors will explore dioramas showcasing various habitats including oyster reefs, or learn about the recovery of species such as the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. This exhibit not only examines the importance of healthy coastlines, but also covers coastal restoration and conservation.

Vintage Texas Wildlife Dioramas

For those looking for even more dioramas than those found in Hamman Hall, visitors need only look to the next permanent exhibit, Vintage Texas Wildlife Dioramas. A part of the Museum for several decades, the oldest among the collection dates back to the 1940s. These dioramas have been painstakingly conserved, not only preserving the original educational intension of the scenes, but the style of the time in which it was created. Habitats represented in the collection include the Prairie, Big Thicket and the Gulf Coast, among other scenes showcasing the wildlife that call these habitats home.

Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife

As the early dioramas of the Museum’s past were restored and moved to the vintage diorama exhibit, new ones were created to take their place in Farish hall. These scenes represent Texas wildlife, including such habitats as the Wetlands, Coastal Prairie, South Texas Dry Forest, and more. Representing more some 250 species across 450 specimens, these displays emphasize rare or endangered creatures. These diorama exhibits help the HMNS to fulfill its mission of education, representing the habitats of these animals prior to human colonization.

Strake Hall of Malacology

The study of mollusks, known as malacology, takes center stage at the Strake Hall of Malacology. These diverse creatures range in size from minute snails to giant squid, captivating us in tide pools and seas stories alike. This exhibit educates visitors about these fascinating creatures through fossils, models and even living specimens.

Wortham Giant Screen Theatre

Since its opening in 1989, the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre has captivated millions of viewers. Now, with state of the art equipment, including an upgrade to the IMAX experience, this 394-seat auditorium continues to amaze and entertain. Showing such breathtaking films as National Parks Adventure 3D, Wild Africa and Extreme Weather 3D, audiences feel almost as if they are transported to these captivating locations.

Cockrell Butterfly Center

The Cockrell Butterfly Center and Brown Hall of Entomology welcome visitors into the fascinating world of insects. Highlights of the exhibit include the Rainforest Conservatory, complete with a 50-foot waterfall. In this glass structure, butterflies live among rainforest plants, fluttering past the visitors who walk through the exhibit. From the Conservatory, guests can venture into the Brown Hall of Entomology. The various levels of the hall showcase different creatures: arthropods on the upper level, insects on the lower level, and a special exhibit for kids on the main level. As Cockrell Butterfly Center also hosts seasonal events, such as the fall plant sale or the OktoberPest celebration, visitors will want to review the Center’s website prior to arrival to partake in any upcoming festivities. Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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»HMNS at Sugar Land

HMNS at Sugar Land

Located about half an hour outside of Houston, in Sugar Land, Texas, this satellite location of the HMNS boasts even more unique permanent exhibitions. The Life Science Exhibition at Sugar Land includes a living collection of frogs, from the Giant African Bullfrog to the Amazon Milk Frog. This exhibit also contains a variety of skulls from animals from all over the world. The Earth Science Exhibit showcases natural gem and mineral wonders, including a massive amethyst and impressive citrine geodes.

At the Space Science exhibit, visitors will view some of the most awe-inspiring images to have been captured by the Hubble telescope, as well as view fascinating films in Sugar Land Planetarium’s Digital Dome Theater. Sugar Land’s Hall of Paleontology displays dynamic dinosaur fossils, showcasing these creatures’ journey through time. Finally, the interactive exhibits at Discovery Works get visitors involved in the science of motion, learning while engaging in the activities. In addition to these permanent exhibits, HMNS at Sugar Land also hosts special attractions and exhibitions. Visitors can view these, as well as opening times which vary, on the Museum’s website. Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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»George Observatory

George Observatory

With three domed telescopes giving an incredible view of the starry sky, the George Observatory is well worth the drive out to Needville, Texas. The 36-inch telescope, dubbed the Gueymard Research Telescope, is one of the largest that is regularly available for public viewing in the whole of the country. Depending on weather and time of year, visitors can see such amazing sights as Saturn’s rings, the Milky Way, the cloud belt on Jupiter and more. The sky truly is the limit. The Observatory’s Expedition Center makes for an even more engaging visit, sending guests on a simulated mission to space.

Education

In addition to the practically infinite learning opportunities provided by a visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, there are also educational programs available to make it an even more enriching visit. Such programs include Student Overnights, providing incredible sleepovers to classes studying a variety of subjects, from ancient Egypt to chemistry. An abundance of resources for educators, as well as field trip opportunities make the HMNS an ideal please to extend classroom learning. Outside of school, families will also find myriad opportunities to enhance the learning at the Museum.

From an Evening with Owls, to Dino Day with Dave, to International Archaeology Day, there is always something available to bring the learning to life. In addition, the Museum also hosts Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) events. These special occasions, hosted by the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, bring people into the Museum to engage in hands on science and math experiments, working with professionals in these areas to foster interest in these fields. Educational opportunities for adults include Corporate Teambuilding events, special science excursions, international travel opportunities, lectures, classes, feasts and even behind the scenes tours. With so many educational events, far too many to list them all here, there is something special for every visitor to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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»Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is a world-renowned institution with education at its roots and entertainment in its branches. From classes, events, and lectures to mixers, parties and fundraisers, guests will want to review the Museum’s calendar of events prior to arrival in order to take part in what they find most engaging. The Museum does not have its own café, however there is convenient access to restaurants and fast food establishments nearby in the Museum district.

Hours of the various exhibits and satellite locations vary daily, so it is advisable to consult the Museum’s website prior to visiting. The HMNS strives to make as much of the museum accessible to those with disabilities as possible. Information on the Museum’s accessibility is available on the organization’s website. With so much to see, do, explore, examine, and learn, a day at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a day well spent.

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5555 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX 77030, website, Phone: 713-639-4629 Photo: The Houston Museum of Natural Science

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Houston Museum of Natural Science