Natural History Museum opens new exhibits and interactive labs

Sunday, November 10, 2019 - 4:46pm

The University Of Michigan Museum of Natural History opens three new exhibits focused on "Exploring Michigan," "Under the Microscope," and "People and the Planet" Sunday.

The University Of Michigan Museum of Natural History opens three new exhibits focused on "Exploring Michigan," "Under the Microscope," and "People and the Planet" Sunday. Buy this photo
Sophia Afendoulis/Daily

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History opened three new exhibits and two interactive labs to the public Sunday.

Funding for the new museum was first announced by the provost in 2011. In April of this year, the Natural History Museum had its grand opening that saw about 3,000 visitors. On Sunday, for its second opening with new exhibits, more than 1,000 students, families and local residents came through to explore the museum and get a first look at the new interactive exhibits and research stations. 

Museum Director Amy Harris gave The Daily a tour around the facilities, highlighting all the main attractions. She started off by talking about the new exhibit, Exploring Michigan, which includes information and displays on the state of Michigan’s own ecosystem. Centered at the entrance of Exploring Michigan is none other than a wolverine, an ode not only to the University but also the state, as Harris explained. 

“It’s our old taxidermy wolverine which we sent out to get fluffed and buffed and freshened up for the 21st century,” Harris said. “Actually, wolverines may have never lived in Michigan, but they are still a symbol for the state because they are really fierce animals.”

Harris continued then to show the five new dioramic replicas of the ecosystems in Michigan, complete with interactive screens, wall displays, soundscapes in the background and even a cave for younger visitors to crawl into and get a closer perspective. 

“There’s a touch screen where you can learn about ice age features in Ann Arbor. One example is the Diag, which was a glacial outwash plain, and that’s why it’s so flat,” Harris said. 

Harris also drew attention to the interactives run by student docents dispersed throughout the exhibits, which allow for visitors of all ages to touch and learn about the different fossils and artifacts. 

Another new exhibit, called People and the Planet, considers how humans have interacted with the natural world over time.  It includes the skull of a mammoth that was discovered about 15 miles west of Ann Arbor in 2015. Harris explained there have been 300 mastodon and 30 mammoth excavations in Michigan. 

“The reason the mammoth is here is because people butchered it, and that’s a really clear interaction of people and the natural world,” Harris said. “(This exhibit) looks at both directions: how humans have had an impact on the natural world, but also how we are limited by the resources available on the planet.” 

The third exhibit, Under the Microscope, is a space dedicated to cell biology, microbiology and genetics. Visitors are able to walk through a large model of a cell and learn about the different organelles and their functions. The exhibit also includes many activities and educational games to keep visitors engaged. 

“If you notice there are these cells throughout this space that will change color,” Harris said, pointing to the cell mobiles hanging from the ceiling. “The mirrors are meant to replicate them, so it’s like you’re walking through a tissue.”

Harris ended the tour by leading The Daily through the already existing exhibit, Evolution: Life Through Time. The exhibit, which opened in April, features a timeline of life on Earth, highlighting each major extinction. 

“It’s really amazing to realize how brief our present is,” Harris said. “The main message here is that we have these big collapses and then life bursts out again and diversifies over and over again.” 

Ann Arbor resident Liz Fiero was visiting the museum for the first time. As a teacher, Fiero explained that she was looking forward to taking her students on a field trip to the museum. 

“It’s a bit overwhelming, there are so many things to look at,” Fiero said. “It’s added a ton of value to the community, and it’s exciting to be here. I can’t wait to take some of my students here, too.”

Though the museum offers a great opportunity for everyone to engage in learning about natural history, the interactive displays and labs make especially great activities for kids. Harris said the museum has welcomed many school field trips, including classes from the University. 

LSA senior Kellyn McKnight, a student docent for the museum, also talked about the educational benefit the museum offers. McKnight has worked for the Natural History Museum for four years and also has a minor in paleontology. 

“The University of Michigan is a research institution, so we reach out to other universities and college students. But it takes an extra effort to reach out to high schoolers and elementary students or people who aren’t even in school yet,” McKnight said. “When we can show them a public facet of the University with a lot of research-based exhibits, it adds the University of Michigan to the community in a way that just being a college campus doesn’t.”