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10 Must-See Exhibits In Harvard Museum Of Natural History

The Harvard Museum of Natural History offers a creative educational experience of our planet. Its collections are by some of the most prestigious scientists in the world. It was created in 1998 displaying samples of specimens drawn from three research museums; the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological Museum, and the Harvard University of Herbaria.

The museum is one of four public museums which is part of a new consortium created in 2012. It is called the Harvard Museum of Science and Culture. It reflects both the history of several affiliate museums as well as an evolution to a modern institution. Also, it presents cutting-edge research from Ivy League scientists.

These are 10 exhibits you don’t want to miss visiting the Harvard Museum of Natural history.

Glass Flowers

Glass Flowers
Image by Harvard University Herbaria.

The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants is a collection of highly realistic glass botanical models. It is one of Harvard’s most famous treasures with over 4,300 glass models representing more than 780 plant species. The Glass Flowers were created by artisans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a father and son team of Czech glass artists.

The purpose of the exhibit is to provide a learning tool and serve as a premier botany exhibit for natural history. The models are also composed of glass with wire supports, glue, and paint coloring. The Boston Globe refers to them as “anatomically perfect and, given all the glass-workers who’ve tried and failed, unreproducible”. The Fruits in Decay is a recently added special exhibit within the Glass Flowers gallery. It explores blight, rot, and other diseases relevant to summer fruits.

The Great Mammal Hall

The Great Hall
Image by Harvard Museum of Natural History

The oldest and most vibrant exhibit in the Harvard Museum of Natural History is the Great Mammal Hall. It is a two-story gallery composed of an old collection of zoological specimens. Here, you can see all types of mammals found on earth. It was constructed in 1872 reflecting the grand vision of the founder of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, Louis Agassiz.

Also, the gallery was recently renovated in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the MCZ. After it’s a renovation, however,  it still retains its original look and feel. It has now been improved with the inclusion of new scientific information on green materials and technologies. Additionally, many animals were also removed and repaired for the renovation. Meanwhile, the display cases were restored to their nineteenth-century colors.

Climate Change

Image by Harvard Museum of Natural History

A recently opened exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History is Climate Change; drawing on the latest science about global warming. It offers important updates from scientists on global and local consequences of the warming climate. It also teaches us how we can prepare for its effects. Engaging videos and storm simulations can be found in the multimedia section of the exhibit.

This includes a “check your knowledge” interactive station. Also, you get an inside look at an Argo float; a machine from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that collects information on how the seas are changing over time. The exhibition showcases images with explanations of climate change issues. For example, the loss of coral reefs and how melting ice caps and sea level rises to impact one another. Visitors can find useful information on how to reduce their carbon footprint offering solutions to ongoing climate change issues.

Birds Of The World

Harvard Birds
Image by Harvard Museum of Natural History

Birds are incredibly diverse with more than 10,000 species alive today. The Birds of the World exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History displays over 750 specimens. It also has 13 articulated skeletons selected from the Ornithology Collection among other public exhibits. Members of nearly 178 bird families cover 80% identified on the planet are now also included at the museum. Each item is interestingly organized according to their evolutionary history.

The museum provides explanations of evolution with examples like flamingos and grebes being each other’s closest relatives. Also, it demonstrates their molecular work and skeletal similarities. Birds are covered from all kinds of habitats. From tropical forests to polar ice caps, a wide range of sizes from the smallest hummingbirds to gigantic elephant birds.

Among the specimens displayed are hornbills; tropical birds who bear a large bill with a unique hollow structure.

Fruits In Decay

Plant Decay
Image by https://news.harvard.edu

Part of the Glass Flowers Gallery is one of the newest temporary exhibits called Fruits in Decay. This exhibit explores the rot, blight, and other diseases on summer fruits. The exhibit also demonstrates the beauty in the natural decaying process. It shows detailed representations of fungi, bacteria, and other microbes in great detail.

Additionally, it features exquisite glass botanical models of plums, peaches, apricots, pears, and strawberries; made from the well-known glass artist Rudolf Blaschka from the 1920s.

These models are on display for the first time in 20 years. They show astounding realism with intricacies and extraordinary beauty of fruits in various stages of decay. The models also demonstrate lifelong attention to accuracy and innovation from Rudolf’s work. Additionally, it illustrates the effects of fungi while pointing out their importance in agricultural systems.

Lily Simonson: Painting The Deep

Harvard Museum Of Natural History
Image by https://lilysimonson.com/

Painting the Deep is a new exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It features eccentric work from Lily Simonson; a California artist. Lily Simonson was inspired by explorations of deep-ocean life. This is seen through her art as it reflects a passion for science with a deep affection for the natural world. Her art demonstrates her dedication to seeking out the beauty and mystery of places, aquatic lifeforms rarely seen by most.

The exhibit is a collection of six extensive works that literally glow with Simonson’s perspective of deep-sea environments. She also highlights with luminescent paints hanging her work on dark walls and accompanies the canvases by the oceanic soundscape.

Additionally, this exhibit also features detailed representations of crabs that farm bacteria on their claws. It also has tube worms growing to massive proportions and bioluminescent creatures who create their own light.

Microbial Life: A Universe At The Edge Of Sight

 Harvard Museum Of Natural History
Image by Harvard Museum of Natural History

Microbial Life is a new and unique exhibit. It takes people on a journey through the microscopic realm where bacteria and microbes exist. It begins with a title wall focused on the concept of biodiversity. Its aim is to communicate how most of the biodiversity on the planet is microbial. A full-scale model of a kitchen is provided drawing on cutting edge scientific research exploring common places microbes exist. Diagrams are also presented showing the ratio of microbial species to those of plants and animals.

Another section dives into the concept of what microbes are. This then includes the different domains of Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya shown in photographs. The exhibit also includes an interactive microscopy station where visitors interact with Harvard microbial scientists directly viewing living microbes. Visitors can also examine live colonies of soil bacteria which help sustain terrestrial environments.

Cenozoic Mammals

Image by Harvard Museum of Natural History

Also known as the Age of Mammals was the Cenozoic Era. It began with the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The extinction of many groups of species allowed other mammals to greatly diversify. The continents also moved to their current positions. The exhibit allows people to explore skeletons of ungulates, known as hoofed mammals. Also, they are the most diverse mammal group living today. At the beginning of the period, everything from plant life to animals was relatively small.

However, it did not take long for mammals, birds, and reptiles to begin to flourish and substantially grow in size. Mammals grew to every available niche both marine and terrestrial. Also, in the displays, you will see the first cat-sized ungulates shown in the fossil record. It is predicted to be fossilized near the end of the Mesozoic Era.

The Rockefeller Beetles

 Harvard Museum Of Natural History
Image by Harvard Museum of Natural History

The largest group of organisms on the planet belongs to the species of beetles. Brian Farrell, a Harvard University professor, organized the Rockefeller Beetles exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It showcases hundreds of beetles selected from 150,000 specimens. This exhibit was donated to the museum by philanthropist David Rockefeller; the grandson of John Rockefeller.

These beetles were collected from all over the world over the last 90 years. The exhibit also features rows of shining emerald jewel beetles; green scarab beetles decorated with yellow dots, bronze ground beetles, and green and red frog-leg beetles. Additionally, some of the rarest specimens found at the exhibit are brown beetles and the tiger beetles. These are special because they are especially fast and hard to catch.

Sea Creatures In Glass

Harvard Museum
Image by https://www.sierraclub.org

The creative minds behind the Glass Flowers exhibit create several other types of glass art. This also includes depictions of marine life shown at the Sea Creatures Glass exhibit. It is a permanent exhibit that opened in May 2014 with featuring 60 models of various marine animals. On display you’ll see jellyfish, octopus, tentacled squid, sea slugs, and other soft-bodied marine life; captured in glass from the father-son duo Leopold and Rudolf Blanchka.

This exhibit combined with the Glass Flowers exhibit makes for the largest Blashka collection on display in the world. The beauty of the display is very much attributed to preservation specialist Elizabeth R. Brill who has been cleaning and restoring the glass figured with stunning detail for the last eight years. All these exhibits under the museum director Gary Vikan, has amazed many people and brought interests of history to young lives.

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