National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The National Museum of Natural History was one of the first of the Smithsonian Institution’s buildings on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits strive to entertain, enlighten and educate visitors.
Stepping in the National Museum of Natural History’s 1910 neoclassical building is a bit like walking back in time. The assortment of dinosaur skeletons and the large collection of embalmed specimens in the Hall of Mammals seem to hearken back to a time when museums like this were, for many people, the only way to see such wonders of the natural world.
Even now, with the Internet and numerous nature-focused television shows bringing the living world to our own homes, a visit to this Smithsonian museum still brings out the “oohs” and “ahs” in visitors of all ages. That is not to say that the museum has not kept up with the times. In collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the museum opened its Sant Ocean Hall in 2008. Its largest exhibit (23,000 square feet), this new display provides a breathtaking look at the world’s oceans, from coral reefs to the icy poles.
Renovations, including interactive displays and computer simulations, made to the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals have improved the viewing experience in this part of the museum. The hall’s Hope Diamond—the magnificent 45.52-carat jewel with its supposed curse—dazzles and almost hypnotizes onlookers as it catches and reflects the light within its revolving display case.
Young visitors may particularly enjoy a new permanent exhibit on the second floor, Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution. The Butterfly Pavilion (tickets are required) lets visitors stroll in a controlled tropical environment filled with living butterflies and beautiful plants where it is not unusual to have a butterfly land on you.
Other close encounters of the insect and arachnid kind take place on the same floor in the nearby O. Orkin Insect Zoo. With daily tarantula feeding demonstrations and the chance to hold a Madagascar hissing cockroach, it is a great place for young entomologists to explore.
A calendar of events, list of exhibitions, educational materials, visit planning information and more are available on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website.
by Katie Calvert