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Texas Natural Science Center The University of Texas at Austin Texas Natural Science Center

Press Room

Press Release

SUBJECT: Grand Re-Opening -- All-New Exhibits!!!


DATE: January 6, 2004

Susan Romberg

Grand Re-opening of the Texas Memorial Museum
Saturday, January 24, 2004

Ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9:00am -- Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman presiding

2400 Trinity Street (2 blocks north of the UT stadium)

The public is invited -- FREE ADMISSION! 

Special activities from 11:00am to 3:00pm include short talks by TMM scientists about snakes, dinosaurs, fossils, life in Austin's Waller Creek, plus craft activities and museum specimens for touching.

Completing two years of renovations on three floors, The Texas Memorial Museum opens all-new exhibits, with special features including:

- the first immersive 3-D virtual reality museum exhibit in the country,
- a working paleontologist on hand to answer questions from visitors, and
- live-animal exhibits of Texas wildlife.

"We think the public will be really excited," says Director Ed Theriot.  "This is the only museum in Central Texas dedicated entirely to natural science, and we offer some spectacular features not found anywhere else."

Floor One:  Encounter dinosaurs and fossil animals at every turn in the new Hall of Geology.  One alcove displays a wide variety of gems and minerals; another includes a working paleontologist answering questions from visitors while preparing fossils for display; yet another features drawer upon drawer of museum specimens to help visitors identify fossil finds from their own back yards.

Floor Two:  Showcasing the Museum's most valuable specimens -- many never before seen by the public -- the exhibit entitled Natural Wonders: Treasures of the TMM draws directly from the research of UT scientists.  Specimens are rotated into the exhibit from TMM's collections several times during the year, allowing visitors access to as many important specimens as possible. 

Floor Three:  Wildlife exhibits feature mounted specimens of Texas birds, animals, reptiles and amphibians.  A section highlighting Fishes of Texas includes interactive multimedia displays, underwater photographs, and collected specimens, helping visitors gain an appreciation of the diversity and value of Texas fishes.  

Floor Four:  Highlighting the new fourth-floor Biodiversity Discovery Hall is a new virtual reality exhibit featuring the first immersive 3-D museum display in the country, with images of fossils and other specimens.  The main exhibit area includes colorful and unusual collected specimens of insects, microscopic cave fauna, fish and amphibians, as well as live-animal exhibits and hands-on educational tools to help visitors learn more about the living world around them. 


Immersive 3-D not only lets you look at something as a three-dimensional object, it takes you inside the specimen to look at it.


"We are very excited to have the very first immersive 3-D display in the country,"TMM Director Ed Theriot smiles.  "The potential of this tool for science is enormous.  A normal 3-D image can be exciting to look at, but immersive 3-D takes you inside the specimen.  It can bring exciting research results directly to the public in ways that are more accessible and entertaining than could be achieved through physical exhibits.

"I knew I wanted this technology for the Museum," adds Theriot, "the minute I sat down with a group of businesspeople to view a hummingbird skull in immersive 3-D.  With no explanation about what was on the screen, the program took us up inside the beak of the bird, and suddenly every face lit up.  One person exclaimed 'I see how the tongue works!'  With the immersive 3-D system, they could easily see that the hummingbird tongue is split and that it retracts over the top of the skull."

With the powerful data import and fusion capabilities of TMM's facility, multiple complex data sets can be visualized and interactively explored simultaneously, helping the Museum maintain compatibility with the growing number of virtual models generated by UT research scientists.  Several UT units have already developed models that TMM can utilize, including:

- the High Energy X-Ray Computed Tomography Lab, with dozens of virtual 3-D rendered  visualizations of animal and plant anatomy,
- the Bureau of Economic Geology, which has created 3-D models of the aquifers of Central Texas,
- the Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology, with virtual models of existing and potential nano-tools.

"This system also includes scripting features," adds Theriot, "that can be quickly learned, along with a wide range of hardware and software options that will enable our 3-D presentations to grow as our capabilities and funding grow.

"Our vendor, VRCO, is an industry leader in 3-D visualization," Theriot adds, "for the military and commerce.  We have been able to work directly with their technical staff and marketing executives to tailor this system to the museum environment."


"Starting January 24th, we'll be preparing some late Pleistocene vertebrate fossils for study and exhibition, as visitors watch and ask questions," Paleontologist Dr. Pamela Owen explains as she removes a cloth draped across two large chunks of earth and fossil bone encased in plaster jackets used for protecting the specimens.

Owen and Apprentice Paul Habib have set up their work tables in TMM's new Hall of Geology and are putting the finishing touches on the area, setting their specimens in place and unpacking an array of odd-looking tools including pin vices, awls, dental picks, and assorted brushes.

Habib points to a three-foot jacket.  "This contains part of an Ice Age mammoth found northeast of Austin in Milam County.  I'll be chipping and brushing away bits of hardened sediment, sandy silt and mud.  See how this little bit flakes at the slightest touch?  Some of that is bone.  In order to preserve the bone while removing the rock around it, we'll treat it with Butvar, a resin dissolved in acetone.  This stabilizes the fossil so it doesn't disintegrate as I work.  A really delicate procedure."

Owen moves to a table with a microscope.  "I'll be working on washed cave matrix also dating from the Ice Age.  This sample is approximately 14,000 years old and came from Hall's Cave in Kerr County.  The excavated cave fill contains numerous small vertebrates and I'll be picking and sorting the fossils.  The small-mammal remains are particularly important because they tell us a lot about the climatic conditions of that time and help us understand the changes we see today."

Owen began working in TMM's fossil collections in 1992 as a graduate student; since receiving her Ph.D. in 2000, she has been collection manager in the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory.  A veteran of fossil discovery field expeditions, she is credited for finding the most complete skeleton of Bison antiquus (extinct bison) ever collected from California's Mojave Desert.  The specimen is approximately 16,800 years old.

Habib was self employed as a carpenter specializing in bentwood banisters until last spring when word of his skills spread to TMM and he was offered a job finishing woodwork in the new Hall of Geology.  With the job came an opportunity to work with the public and learn paleontology.  "It's right up my alley," says Habib.  "Most of my friends are paleontologists and geologists, and I'm familiar with the terminology and basic procedures.  Though I have only a little formal education in the subject, working with TMM's collections has encouraged me to continue taking classes in paleontology and animal morphology at UT."
Formal education or no, Habib has had some of the finest hands-on training available.  Working with Owen and other scientists and staff of TMM's Vertebrate Paleontology Lab over the past year, he has participated in all aspects of fossil preparation.  This spring, he will do fieldwork in West Texas with a team of TMM scientists searching for dinosaurs.

Meanwhile, he and Owen will work to educate the public about fossil preparation.  "The really cool thing about this area,"Owen notes, "is that visitors can really get a good behind-the-scenes look at what happens in a paleontology lab.  All sorts of wonderful information they can gather just by being here and experiencing this."


Texas Memorial Museum is a non-profit organization.  Its mission:  to encourage awareness and appreciation of the interplay of the biological, geological and environmental forces as they have shaped, are shaping and will shape our world.

Regular museum hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

The Museum is located at 2400 Trinity Street (2 blocks north of the UT stadium). 

For more information and to download images, visit the TMM Press Room on the web at http://www.texasmemorialmuseum.org or call 512-232-5654.

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