Cool stuff at my museum.

Today I wanted to share some of the cool stuff the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences does besides palaeontology!

My home is in the Nature Research Center, the new addition to the museum that opened in 2012 and which features a 3-story-tall globe on the outside! The globe is always an attention-getter, and most days when I’m walking to the bus there are people outside posing in front for pictures. It’s a cool thing to have as the icon for the museum. It looks cool in the rare snow we get here, and moody at night.

But the globe isn’t just a cool external feature, it’s also an important part of the inside of the museum, as the Daily Planet Theatre. The inside of the globe forms a curved surface visible from all three floors, during which scenes from nature are projected for most of the day. Each day one of the scientist gives a special presentation on their research in this venue, and special guests speak here for events. This is where Lindsay and Susan debuted the Carolina Butcher last spring!

The first floor has this spectacular right whale skeleton, but it’s not just any right whale – this one has an important scientific story to tell. If you look closely on the right mandible (on the left in this image), and towards the back, you will see a series of little circular divots. This whale’s mandible was sampled in order to understand breaking stresses in whale jaws during ship strikes, the cause of death for this poor fellow. Research on this specific whale helped create new legislation for ship speeds in whale zones. I think it’s an awesome example of real science making tangible benefits. It’s a great way of linking research to a specimen and giving it a powerful narrative.

Within the Nature Research Center are five active research laboratories – Paleontology, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Genomics & Microbiology, Evolution, and Biodiversity. Our labs are part of the exhibit space and visitors to the museum can peer into the labs. Most of the labs have interesting displays in the windows and one of my favourites is the Biodiversity Lab’s dermestid colony. They have bear skulls, deer skulls, coyote bits, and all kinds of things decomposing in full view, and at the moment there is a whole baby seal in there.

Not all of the animals are dead! The museum has a pretty extensive collection of live animals on exhibit, like this matamata turtle. Another really cool thing is the visible veterinary lab in the Nature Research Center, where you can see veterinarians caring for the museum’s animals. And sometimes this includes surgery! There is always a bi crowd of people whenever the vet window is occupied. Most recently, the museum took in several cold-stunned sea turtles to rehabilitate.

One of my very favourite things in the whole museum besides the Paleo Lab is the Naturalist Center, basically a hands-on library of STUFF. All kinds of good stuff: bones, fur, feathers, specimens in plastic, stuff to look at under the microscope, field guides and anatomical diagrams. I’ve never really seen ┬ásomething quite like this in any other museum. It’s almost always busy, especially on the late nights on Thursdays, and kids LOVE IT and I think parents probably absorb some information too because everything’s hands on.

The thing that gets the most attention is this awesome interactive table where you can take specimens from a specially designated shelf, stick them on, and then a computer somewhere recognizes the specimen and projects a whole bunch of interactive information onto the table. There is much swooping and swishing and it’s one of the only touch screen info things I’ve seen people really use for more than 2 seconds. It’s slick, it’s cool, and you move a real object around in order to make it work. It’s perfect. Here it is in action:

There’s so much more that I can’t possibly put everything in one post, but I hope this gives you a sense for the unique and interesting ways the museum incorporates real-time scientific research, hands-on and experiential learning, and cool narratives into its exhibits. Things are blended really well and it’s no surprise that the museum is one of the most popular destinations in the region. Here’s a dinosaur, thanks for sticking around!


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