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Science made fun at Cleveland museum

A research team from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History discovered this 72-foot-long late-Jurassic sauropod in 1954 in Canyon City, Col. At right is a Tyrannosaurus rex, which stands 37 feet tall. (Photo courtesy of Mark Sommer)

An entertaining and educational family attraction when visiting our fellow Rust Belt city to the west is the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The museum is in University Circle, among several cultural and educational institutions, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Botanical Garden and Case Western Reserve University.

There are some 5 million artifacts and specimens, but for many the must-see ones are prehistoric and big. Cleveland's natural history museum doesn't disappoint, with six dinosaur skeletons from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods in the Kirtland Hall of Prehistoric Life.

The Haplocanthosaurus delfsi, a 72-foot-long sauropod, was one of the most complete specimens ever found  -- and it was done by a team from the museum in 1954 in Canyon City, Col.

The elongated skeleton has good company. Joining it are a fearsome, carnivorous Allosaurus;  the small but deadly meat eater Coelophysis; the duck-billed Edmontosaurus, a horned Triceratops and a 37-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex, which no self-respecting natural history museum can be without.

Other cool-looking are behind display cases, including an Eryops, a primitive amphibian that lived in swamps, and a fin-backed reptile. Fossils found from the Ohio shale in the Cleveland region are also on display.

They were buried under a mile-high glacier that we're informed covered Cleveland for 1,000 years. The glacier deposited sand, gravel and boulders in the Cuyahoga Valley and other areas, where remnants of ice age animals, including mastodons, were found.

There is also Lucy, which at the time of its discovery was the most complete early human ancestor ever found. The partial skeleton was found by an expedition in Ethiopia in 1974 headed by a former Cleveland museum curator

In the Hall of Nature, exhibits depict Native American life in northeast and southeast woodlands, and on the Great Plains. There are also representations of life in the tundra, Africa and New Guinea. The scenes are created through tools and other materials, taxidermy and dioramas.

Different habitats are used to show how complex communities of plants and animals interact in different floor and ground cover, and below ground.

Displays of plants and wildflowers native to Ohio are shown, alongside those of local ecology and wildlife. A large diorama of Sandusky Bay marshes depicts a wide array of birds, from American black ducks, storks and mallards to great blue herons and egrets.

The astronomy exhibits are the most interactive, and full of handy facts.

By turning dials that sound static-y, water and quartz are added together to create a mix of magma that simulates a volcanic eruption. An analog seismograph, a device that records shock waves from earthquakes, shows how a 8.0 earthquake in Chile registered.

By pressing buttons, it's possible to see planets in different phases and at different distances, with images taken from the museum's refracting telescope. It would take a much stronger one to see the white polar cap at the top of Mars, or the reddish rocky desert areas and vast lava areas on the Red Planet readers are informed about.

Another panel explains a nifty fact about the great lake that runs between Buffalo and Cleveland: Lake Erie has an average depth of 60 feet, shallower and warmer than Lake Ontario, which has an average depth of 500 feet.

To give perspective on distance, the earth is shown as a basketball, 8,000 miles wide. Across the floor the moon is the size of a baseball, over 2,000 miles wide. They're connected by a series of nine dots on the floor, each representing 25,000 miles, or about the distance it would take to circle the earth.

Numerous meteorites are displayed that once fell from the sky over Ohio and Pennsylvania. A small screen shows a meteor shown falling in slow motion behind a high school football game.

There are buttons to press that electrify a gas tube filled with neon, which glows a brilliant orange,  and krypton, which lights up blue.

The jewel and gemstone collection is one  of the largest in North America. Ultra-violet rocks and minerals glow in fluorescent purples, golds, lime greens and pinks. There are giant shards of crystals, and a microscope to see fragments up close. Opals, natural saltwater pearls and amber, as well as jasper and agate quartz minerals, are all on display.

The new Perkins Wildlife Center, outdoors in an earthy setting, presents animals mostly acquired from wildlife rehabilitation or rescue centers. Among them are coyotes, turkey vultures, red fox, porcupine, gray fox, bobcat, raccoon, bald eagle, golden eagles, cranes and otters.

Another interesting fact visitors are informed of: Raccoons typically live two to three years in the wild; up to 20 years in captivity.

The facility is also a working natural history museum. Eleven curators with Ph.D.'s are on staff, with many of them actively engaged in research.

In three years, they'll have bigger spaces to work in, along with more room to display the museums's specimens and artifacts.

The museum expects in 2020 to complete a $150 million expansion to mark its 100th anniversary. About one-fifth of the present facility will be torn down before rebuilding the new east wing and expanding the footprint into a new light-filled, high-tech home.

The interior space will increase from just under 30,000 square feet now to over 53,000 square feet.

And those dinosaurs? The prehistoric beasts will be in a new, two-story dinosaur gallery, and the new glass exterior, trimmed in wood and stone, will allow them to be seen from the outside in dramatic fashion.

If you go:

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is located at 1 Wade Oval Dr., University Circle, Cleveland.

That's 187 miles, and 3 hours, 9 minutes, from City Hall.

Admission is $15 adults 19 & over; $10 kids, students and seniors; free 3 & under.

For more information, go to www.cmnh.org, or call 216-231-2156.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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