As I’ve made it known here, I am a HUGE fan of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and my family has held a family membership since we’ve moved to the DFW area. One of our favorite areas is the Being Human Hall which explores us as humans – our origins, our DNA and how we work.
While it never gets old, the Perot recently completed a redesign the Being Human Hall – the first since the museum’s opening in 2012. I was recently invited to explore the hall before it’s public opening, and the transformation it has undergone is amazing.
The central theme that guides the hall is that the “story of you begins with your ancestors; it travels through your DNA; it is held in your hands; it moves as you walk; it is heard through your voice; and it is written in your brain.”
The refreshed, invigorated and highly interactive content centers on discoveries and advancements spanning from our early ancestry millions of years ago, to what makes up and connects modern-day humans, to the scientific breakthroughs of local Nobel Prize Laureates. Not to be missed is a virtual-reality experience that puts visitors in the middle of the South African cave where internationally acclaimed paleoanthropologist Dr. Lee Berger identified a new species of primitive human, Homo naledi in 2015. The Perot Museum recently announced a partnership with Dr. Berger as part of a new strategic focus on human origins called the Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey, for which he will serve as the Center’s Distinguished Science Advisor.
The area is completely redesigned. I was really happy to see that a large exhibit wall now separates the Being Human Hall from the Engineering and Innovation Hall. Previously, the two halls were open to each other and this part of the second floor resulted in sensory overload for me – the Engineering and Innovation Hall is another popular spot. The wall seemed to dampen the inevitable noise that results from the very popular exhibits in both Halls. (Goodness, that makes me sound old and crotchety. GET OFF MY LAWN!)
The hall is laid out with plenty of room and everywhere you turn, something will grab your eye!
In My DNA, visitors can learn about how DNA helps us understand both who we are and where we come from. There is a fun interactive exhibit that will transform your face into Homo erectus or Australopithecus afarensis, explaining how small shifts in DNA can alter your appearance. Digital touch screens in another exhibit will allow visitors to manipulate characteristics like eye color and hairline to create imaginary offspring. My animal-loving kiddo will love the dogface puffer fish with a big personality – did you know the pufferfish genome holds connections to human DNA?
In the My Hands section of the hall you will find a few interactive challenges, including a “text versus type” speed challenge, a test of strength while hanging onto wall grips by their fingertips, or a dexterity demonstration as they attempt to run a wand through a puzzle without setting off the buzzing alarm (t reminded me of playing “Operation”, with a bigger buzz and more challenging task). There are exhibits on prosthetic hands and you can even use a device to view the veins in your hands.
Check out the My Brain section and you won’t be able to walk away from an incredible display of a human brain with a still-intact spinal cord. In another fascinating exhibit, “true mirror” flips guests’ faces twice, allowing them to see themselves not as they normally would in a mirror, but as others see them or as they appear in photos. Fans of the exhibit that allowed you to launch ping-pong balls by merely thinking (or not) will be happy to know that the Perot has updated the exhibit; now you are challenged to send brain wave messages through a headband of circuits to fire up colorful pulsing lights. These were just a few of the exhibits in this section!
One of the most engaging sections in the hall belonged to My Walk. In one video-game like exhibit you will strike pose after pose trying to duplicate the figures on an interactive screen; you’ll also try to capture your own gait in a digital tracker. A section on prosthetics will allow you understand how they help return movement and balance to users, and touchscreens explain how Dallas scientists develop these tools and how they are using technology to evaluate and enhance the speed and power of athletes.
The My Voice section of the hall lets you “see” your voice in shape, color and size on a giant screen, while a vocal identifier projects words through different accents heard around the U.S. Interactive microphones allow visitors to alter the pitch of their voices with the turn of a dial and confuse their brain’s cognitive processes by speaking words that play back on a slight delay.
Probably the most fascinating part of the Becoming Human section of the hall was a virtual reality experience, developed by Grooves Jones, that transports you into the South African cave system where world-renowned paleoanthropologist Dr. Lee Berger discovered a new species of human relative; another exhibit explains how he and his team learn about human history through the fossils they leave behind.
The Bio Lab, a favorite spot, returns with new, hands-on experiments! Children 8 and up can use bone models and rocks to solve an anthropological mystery, explore how separating liquids is similar to separating DNA, examine electricity within a living worm, and extract wheat DNA for inspection under a microscope.
Nobel Laureates. Large-scale video portraits of Nobel Prize winners from the region hang above the medals bestowed to them, inviting visitors to get to know these scientists and learn why Dallas is considered a leader in biomedical research. New to the exhibit is the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences – considered the “Academy Award of Science” – awarded in 2016 to Dr. Helen Hobbs, a geneticist with the UT Southwestern Medical Center (who is fascinating in her own right, and I wish they had more on her personal background, as she is an inspiration for young girls interested in science).
We love that there is always something going on at the Perot Museum – new movies, special exhibits, great activities. The new Being Human Hall actually offers twice as many exhibits as the previous one and is updated to present them in both English and Spanish. Summer is coming, and I encourage you to plan a trip to the Perot, explore the new hall, take in a movie (I highly recommend Dream Big; I’ve seen it three times and I still tear up. And yes, I’m weepy during an engineering movie. No comment.) The Museum Alive 3D movie with David Attenborough is on my must-see list this summer as well.
Check back to this site in coming weeks as I’ll continue to bring you current happenings at the Perot!
For more details on this exhibit or others at the museum, information on hours, or to buy tickets, visit perotmuseum.org.