Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natural History Museum of Utah - Behind the Scenes!

Collections area of the Natural History Museum of Utah

One of the really fun things about visiting the museum on its opening day, November 18, was that the 4th floor was open to the public.  We were able to tour collections areas, see the new storage facilities, visit lab and research areas, and talk to scientists.  This was always our favorite thing to do on basement days at the old Utah Museum of Natural History, and it was still wonderful in this new space.  This particular storage area has a capacity to last another 15 years, with the option to expand their storage units after that.

Storage goes high-tech

Purchased with grant money, these lockers and shelving systems slide and can be compressed together to conserve space.  Controls allow someone to move an entire row of storage space next to another row, opening up a different aisle space so that needed items can be accessed.  These mobile units held shelving with acid free boxes, cabinets like the ones in this photo, and climate-controlled units that held textiles and fragile items.  This has greatly increased the storage capacity of the museum.

Pickled snakes?

The staff member working in the biology area joked that they have considered handing out pickles during these tours.  This collections area is filled with shelf after shelf of creatures in jars.  They are initially preserved in formalin, then stored in liquid.  The lids and seals on the jars break down from the solutions and have to be replaced, but the glass jars hold up very well.  Liquids have to be replenished upon occasion.  This area held amphibians and reptiles.  We saw frogs, snakes, and lizards in jars of varying sizes.

Rodents in abundance.

In another are of the 4th floor, we learned that these animals are preserved by skinning them.  The skins dry quickly, like parchment, and then are stuffed with a cotton material so that they have a shape.  The bones are cleaned (beetle larvae are used in the process) and then stored as well.  Skeletal material is tagged to match up with the skin, so that insides and outsides can be studied together.  We saw various mice, a pika, and a tiny water shrew while we visited with a researcher.

Black and white style pottery

With the increased display space in the new museum, items like these pots are on display instead of being relegated to shelving units in the basement.  On the fourth floor, we were also able to see beautiful snail shells in all sizes, stack after stack of plant specimans, and more.  The paleontology lab was also open to visitors.

"Navajo Sand Monster"

Fossil finds like this one were not displayed in the old museum due to lack of space, but could often be seen on basement days.  It was wonderful to be able to access so many items from the many different collections of this museum.

For information on visiting the museum, click here.

If you would like to see more about the museum's activities and displays, check out my previous blog post.


  1. Great fun- I hope they will still do "basement days" at the new museum.

  2. Ancient pottery has nice carvings.
    The most important factor to look for in a storage facility service is the security it can provide and outstanding customer service.

    Pawtucket Mini Storage