After extended closures and limited hours due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the three museums that make up the College of Science Museum Complex all opened to the public again this past fall and have some exciting new features and updates for visitors this winter and spring.
Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History has reopened with updates to its existing collections of Great Basin specimens, some dating back to the 1850s, and has gained new exhibits as well. The Museum remained opened for research and the museum’s director Elizabeth Leger kept busy throughout the pandemic.
“We never stopped working, we just changed the way we worked,” Leger, Foundation Professor of Biology, said. The museum developed virtual tours to expand its audience, with high schools and schools in rural areas gaining virtual access to the museum’s extensive collections. Additionally, the museum was able to serve more students at one time, making it easier for teachers with high class numbers to get involved.
A new feature of the museum that local teachers can utilize is a travelling museum presentation. Museum staff have curricula developed for middle and high school classrooms and can now bring the museum to the students.
Another exciting opportunity was the addition of new living specimens to the museum displays. The museum obtained permits for several reptiles, including a rubber boa, garter snakes, fence lizards and alligator lizards as well as blue death feigning beetles. A new tank with baby Lahontan Cutthroat Trout made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery Complex, the Lake Tahoe License Plate Program, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the National Science Foundation was unveiled in late November, and a critically endangered species hybrid – Devil’s Hole pupfish bred with Amargosa pupfish – will find a new home at the Museum of Natural History by the end of the year. The hybrid pupfish exhibit is made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the National Science Foundation.
The museum also got some housekeeping done while people couldn’t visit in person. Leger said they were able to take down old displays to make room for new ones, reorganize collections and replace the foam linings on cabinets and drawers containing the specimens, which is important for pest management.
“The pandemic gave us lemons, but we made lemonade,” Leger said. The lobby of the museum is open for free self-guided tours Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. More information is available at the museum’s website.
W. M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum
The W. M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum is ready for visitors to explore its unique collection of fossils, minerals and mining history relics. The museum is now back to its normal hours of Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on the first Saturday of each month the museum is open from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The Keck Museum recently acquired an exciting addition to its collections as well. The Mary Louise and John Mackay Silver Collection has 1250 pieces, and the museum just obtained its first new piece since 1959: a hot water kettle. The Mackay Silver Collection was designed and produced by Tiffany and Company, and most of the silver came from the famed Comstock Lode in Virginia City.
The Keck Museum’s curator Garrett Barmore recently developed virtual curricula. The programming extended the Museum’s reach, spreading coast to coast, and Barmore even had some virtual visitors from the Phillipines. Some of that programming includes interactive versions of the museum’s Mineral Monday series, which is a free resource for science teachers and was an official selection in the 2019 Sigma Xi STEM Art and Film Festival and winner of “Best Nevada Film” in the 2020 Sci-On! Film Festival.
Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center
The Fleischmann Planetarium is the newest addition to the College of Science Museum Complex, formally joining earlier this year. The planetarium offers daily digital planetarium shows in its full-dome theater, tours of its space-themed exhibit hall, field trips and educational outreach for groups of all ages.
Public shows are now available Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Showtimes are at 3:00 p.m. for the Planet Program, 4:30 p.m. for the Exploring Space and Time show, 6:00 p.m. for shows that will be changed monthly and 7:30 p.m. for special programs.
While the planetarium is primarily a science center, director Paul McFarlane wants people to know that “It’s also about education and the arts.” To provide more options for parents with younger children, new family shows are available on Saturday mornings at 9:00 a.m for the pre-school program and at 10:00 a.m for Space Adventures: Accidental Astronauts.
The Fleischmann Planetarium is open seven days a week for pre-booked programs and field trips. Tickets to the public shows are available online or at the front desk.