With its iconic blue whale, award-winning and inspiring nature films and the oh-so-amazing Hayden Planetarium, a brand-new exhibit hall at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is sure to become another jewel in the crown of this New York City treasure. Welcome to the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation which opens its doors to the public this week, and if this past weekend’s member preview is any indication – with many families and school-age kids in tow – a generation dedicated to caring for the planet, or even becoming the next crop of explorers, may be the result.
Larger-than-life models of European honeybees are suspended throughout the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, leading visitors of all ages to a monumental model of a beehive, featuring the digital interactive exhibit “Be a Bee.” This engaging exhibit highlights the roles various bees play in the collaborative life of a hive and invites visitors to keep the hive healthy by fulfilling various vital tasks. (Photo Credit: A.Keding / © American Museum of Natural History)
In the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, on the first floor for example, visitors can interact with kiosks set at child-height, with lots of buttons to push and computer screens to touch, provoking a lot of interest in beetles, mosquitoes, and bees. The sound of engaged children permeates the place as families go from exhibit to exhibit. The amount of insect collections seems endless with specimens of these tiny creatures from all around the world; a magnifying glass can be slid across the glass display to enlarge an insect’s wing or hind leg. After watching a looping film of honeybees in the 8,000-pound resin-model of a beehive and see them fly about their tiny hive-space to do their delicate honey-work, we learn how crucial they are to our food production, and maybe the outcome of all this is a pesticide-free future. We’re reminded of the quote by Baba Dioum, an internationally renowned African environmentalist, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Invisible Worlds. An immersive and interactive 360-degree science-and-art experience in the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, Invisible Worlds offers a breathtakingly beautiful, scientifically rigorous, and engaging view into networks of life at all scales. This 12-minute looping experience is powered by scientific data and celebrates the richness of life’s diversity and the basic building blocks of life, including DNA, that connect all living things on our planet. (Photo Credit: MJ Hanley-Goff)
There are three levels of displays for museum visitors in this expansive new addition, with the second floor dedicated to butterflies where 1000 of them fly free in a temperature-controlled environment and where guests can view them using digital microscopes. Floor number three features a 360-degree immersive “science and art” experience called Invisible Worlds, where guests enter a large open space to view a larger than life twelve-minute “visualization” on how everything on Earth is interconnected, from the building blocks of DNA to a Brazil rainforest, and from a bay in the Pacific Ocean to the center of New York City. As visitors move around, a similar experience to the recent Van Gogh exhibit, guests become a part of the show, with the floor below their feet coming alive with colorful patterns that follow them around: the room is enjoyable for every age, whether delighting in the changing scenes of the immense video or listening to the informative narration.
The new David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center is a contemplative space that connects visitors and students to the Museum Library’s unparalleled resources. The sleek Reading Room—which will also serve as a venue for Museum programs including lectures, presentations, and other gatherings—is a quiet hub for adult visitors to read, browse, attend programs, and see exhibits featuring the Library’s unique collections.
In addition to the exhibits, the fourth floor houses the largest and most important natural history libraries in the world and a the new Reading Room with views facing West and beyond. There’s also a new restaurant with table service offering a regional and global menu, and beverages from local breweries and vineyards.
Founded in 1869, the AMNH has a dual mission, combining scientific research and science education. It features a permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, some of which are billions of years old. For hours, tickets and schedule, visit amnh.org.
Top: The undulating façade of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation as seen is clad in Milford pink granite and features a diagonal stone-panel pattern that evoke on the 77th Street side of the Museum. (Photo Credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)