I wasn’t expecting much from the Perot Museum in Dallas, TX. It was described to me as a highly interactive science museum, so I was thinking it would aimed mostly towards, and dumbed down for, little kids. To a certain degree it was, but there was a lot for children of all ages to explore and learn.And when I say a lot, I mean three full floors plus a mezzanine level and traveling exhibits in the basement. The exhibit when I was there was about bioluminescence, which persists in being both one of my favorite words and one of my favorite things in biology. Mostly I learned about the habits of fireflies. Did you know that female fireflies have learned the flash patterns that attract males of different species, and when the guys come down looking to mate, the girls eat them? And that male fireflies sometimes band together and sync up their flash patterns to become a great pulsing bush that’s impossible to miss?The fossils on the top floor were great. Texas is prime bone-hunting country, and a good number of their dinosaurs are natives to the state. Nanuqsaurus, meaning “polar bear lizard”, is a clear exception. The mosasaurs however, were not. Most of the animals in the exhibit showing how these giant water monsters evolved were found in the Southwestern United States, which was once covered by an inland sea. It was called the Western Interior Seaway, which provides backing to Keyes’s Law. “Anyone with the authority to name anything by definition lacks the creativity to call it something cool.”
This law was disproved only minutes later, by Gomez’s Hamburger in the Space Hall. This hall didn’t have any real stuff, that’s all at the Smithsonian, but it did have a lot of cool graphics explaining stuff in space and physics. Any kid who went to school after 1990 has seen the video about orders of magnitude where it zooms in or out through our universe. This exhibit had a different version of that running, but you could control it with a dial, and this one had cool things on it, like Gomez’s Hamburger.
The third floor housed the geological and weather science. There was a platform that simulated an earthquake, proving that we’re all doomed if the megaquake hits the northwest. Like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, they had an artificial tornado. It was a bit smaller, but the exhibit did a better job explaining how they form.
Behind this was the mineral hall. Scientists are often thought of as calculating and analytical, but I bet that all mineralogists are swayed by how cool rocks can look.
And this being Texas, they had a big exhibit on oil and how it’s procured. But to my surprise, it also talked about the dangers and problems with fracking and oil in general, and explained a little about alternative energy sources.
Downstairs from that was the life and biology exhibits. This had a good deal of taxidermy, with a card by each animal stating a cool adaptation it has, or something about how it evolved. Like other small museums we’ve been to, its dioramas featured the landscapes and wildlife native to the region.
The really interactive exhibits for kids were behind that, mostly about robotics and the human body. The coolest thing was this rod that was laced with LEDs and programed to show a picture when it spun. Look up “You won’t believe your eyes”-Smarter Every Day 142 for more information on how it works.
I think that if you already knew everything that was in the museum, it could feel a bit trivial. But with the level of science education most kids get in school, it think there’s stuff to be learned from it up through high school. So if you’re a kid interested in science in the vicinity of Dallas, you should come here. And if you’re like me and have to read every sign, come early.