Worth The Drive: Fort Worth's Museum of Science & History

First 3,500 guests get in free next Friday

By Frank Heinz
|  Wednesday, Jan 4, 2012  |  Updated 3:57 PM CDT
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Worth The Drive: Fort Worth's Museum of Science & History

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

Looking up into the Urban Lantern at the new Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

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Normally with the Worth The Drive feature, we try to share unique parts of Texas outside of the Metroplex. But  with the opening of Fort Worth's new Museum of Science and History, we're sticking close to home this week.

One caveat also worth mentioning is that we have not yet been to check out the new museum, but that won't stop us from talking about the highlights of the new facility.  Besides, many of us here at NBCDFW.com are definitely going to make a visit anyway, so here goes.

Construction of the new Fort Worth Museum of Science and History began in Nov. 2007 with the demolition of its 50-year-old building.  Less than a year later, the Omni Theater reopened with big improvements made to the IMAX lens, LED lighting and digital sound system -- improving even more on the superior performance of the IMAX brand.  If you haven't checked it out yet -- The Polar Express returns to the theater on Nov. 20 and there are three other features currently showing at the theater.

The new $80 million museum, designed by Mexico City's world-renowned architects Legorreta + Legorreta, is a whopping 166,000 square-foot building chock-full of interactive exhibits designed to foster discovery-based learning.  Which is way more fun than just reading plaques or listening to an audio tape.

One of the most visually stunning features added to the museum is right at the entrance, the Urban Lantern.  The lantern is the anchor of the new facility and is made of nearly 100, 500-pound glass panels stretching to a height of 76 feet.  The Urban Lantern is lit using LED fixtures and compact fluorescent lights, sending a beacon of white light into the Fort Worth night sky and marking the museum as a source of scientific education and illumination.  The light's color can be changed, dimmed or modified in a number of ways. On Monday Nov. 16, the museum will light the Urban Lantern in a free event beginning at 5 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend. Though, I wonder, if they had turned this on last week would it be lit purple this weekend along with other city landmarks?

The museum boasts life-sized articulations of dinosaurs native to North Texas using actual fossils. One such dinosaur is Paluxysaurus jonesi, the official state dinosaur of Texas.  Did you know Texas had it's own dinosaur? Somewhat like before, the museum also has a DinoDig site where guests can learn how paleontologists find and categorize fossils.

With the Barnett Shale being all the rage, the museum has dedicated 10,000 square-feet to its Energy Blast exhibition where guests can see, feel and hear the scientific story of energy development in North Texas. There is also a short 3-D film in this exhibition that is apparently pretty exciting.

Since I haven't been to a planetarium since I was in elementary school, I think the radically upgraded Noble Planetarium is the area of most interest for me.  The planetarium will be utilizing a very cool looking projector that looks like it is something right out of Star Wars -- the Carl Zeiss SKYMASTER ZKP 4. I don't know what that means either, but it sounds impressive and apparently it is.  Built with fiber optics, this bad boy is designed to give a much sharper image of the night sky with thousands more stars. Perhaps one of the neatest features in the new planetarium is that the SKYMASTER doesn't have to follow a program and can be altered during the presentation -- inviting audience interactivity along the tour through the Milky Way.  It also uses live feeds from the Hubble Telescope and real-time views of the solar system. See what KERA's Jerome Weeks had to say about it here.

Fans of the TV show CSI will want to check out the museums first Special Exhibitions Gallery -- an interactive creation inspired by the TV show where guests can use hands-on science to work a crime scene, find clues and solve a modern mystery.  The exhibit even features appearances by some of the cast of the show.

Of course, for the hungry there is a place to sit down and grab a bit to eat. Complete with an outdoor patio, the Stars Cafe is a great place to take a quick break before heading back into the museum.  For those who wish to schedule an event at the museum, they are proud to offer the Oak Room as a location.

Outside, take note of a 62-foot-long dinosaur topiary, believed to be the world's longest.  When completed, the topiary is expected to weigh six tons and be a low-maintenance, hearty, soil-free, thriving plant.

After leaving the museum, have some more fun by heading over to Cowtown Segway (in front of the National Cowgirl Museum) and hop on a Segway for a two-hour guided tour through Fort Worth's Cultural District.  Even if you know the district and have hit all the museums, this would be loads of fun. Admit it, zipping around the Botanic Gardens on a Segway sounds fun.

The big day is Friday Nov. 20, where the museum will open its doors to the public for the first time.  The first 3,500 guests on opening day will earn free admission to the museum, though there are still fees for those who want to visit the Omni Theater or Noble Planetarium.  Activities begin at 9:30 a.m. and the ribbon cutting and opening is at 10 a.m.

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