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Natural History Museum of Utah Opens the Rio Tinto Center

The new Utah Museum of Natural History opens November 18, 2011.

Nov. 18, 2011 — The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) opened the doors to the public at the new Rio Tinto Center today after years of planning and construction. To celebrate opening day, admission is free. NHMU is a major research institution located at the University of Utah with a focus on the natural and cultural history of the Great Basin Region and the Colorado Plateau.

Inside the stunning new Rio Tinto Center is approximately 51,000 square feet dedicated to new permanent exhibitions within the galleries that explore topics ranging from Utah’s ancient ecosystems and Utah’s first peoples to cutting-edge science in the areas of biogeography and genetics. The Museum’s new exhibit galleries were developed by some of the world’s leading scientists, educators and exhibit designers. They feature Utah’s history, artifacts and objects from every county in the state.

New Building Features 10 New Galleries of Exhibitions:

  • Ralph Appelbaum Associates designed the exhibitions, in partnership with an internal team of Museum staff and local and regional experts on content and design. Ralph Appelbaum Associates is known for its work around the world, including the American Museum of Natural History, The Newseum, the London Transport Museum and the National World War I Museum.
  • The new building includes a series of 10 thematic exhibit galleries. Embedded in the Life, Past Worlds, and First Peoples galleries are three learning labs, which will be used for school and public programming.  The locations of these labs are beneficial as they take advantage of the surrounding exhibit environments to provide further learning opportunities.
  • Rather than being devoted to a particular branch of science, I.E. geology, each gallery illuminates a single theme, while emphasizing interpretive links to other areas of science. Physical adjacencies among the exhibits enable visitors to make meaningful, interpretive associations.
  • The galleries connect visitors to Utah’s rich natural history through its location –on the shores of ancient lank Bonneville, as well as views of the Rocky Mountains, the Salt Lake Valley and the thematic links to the surrounding landscape are woven into the stories that the Museum conveys to visitors of all backgrounds and ages.
  • The Museum features a new interactive “Trailhead to Utah” program designed to personalize the visitor experience and connect patrons to other places to explore in Utah. Trailhead to Utah is one of several hands-on learning opportunities, which also include learning labs and discovery programs.

The Museum features the following galleries:

  • Utah Sky & View Terrace: A unique indoor-outdoor interpretive space, the Utah Sky is intentionally positioned at the top (fourth) level of the Museum, enabling visitors to directly experience the weather and atmosphere and to view the breathtaking sky and vista around them on the outdoor terrace.
  • Native Voices: Visitors are greeted by the voices of Utah’s native people welcoming them in their native tongues — Ute, Paiute, Shoshone, Goshute and Navajo. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a recessed storytelling area surrounded by tiered seating and large vertical scrims displaying contemporary imagery.
  • Life: Life is organized as a series of micro-to-macro layers. Visitors embark on a fantastic “holo-archal” voyage from DNA and proteins to cells, organisms, populations and ecosystems.
  • Land: Land interprets three distinct physiographic regions formed over millions of years: the Middle Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range. Large slabs of rocks native to these regions — slate, granite, Navajo sandstone and fossiliferous limestone — grace the exhibit’s walls and form touchable exhibit surfaces.
  • First Peoples: This observatory is divided into two parts. The first half is an exploration of the scientific process of archeology and how conclusions about this area — and about the world — have been determined. The second half is dedicated to the ancient peoples of Utah and their ways of life, as well as ongoing work by the Museum and University of Utah at the Range Creek site.
  • Lake (Great Salt Lake): Graphics evoke the surface of the Lake, while wall murals depict the surrounding mountains, current shorelines, the watershed and the ancient shorelines around the valley. A great wall featuring salt crystals introduces the Great Salt Lake as a unique body of water — a terminal lake that contains, in its sediments, the memory of many previous lakes.
  • Past Worlds: On a journey spanning 225 million years of Utah’s history, visitors to Past Worlds travel on an overhead walkway to get unique perspectives and close-up views of dramatic fossil mounts.
  • Utah Futures: Utah Futures works as both an initial and a culminating experience, providing visitors with a deeper understanding of the natural world and their role in shaping it.
  • Minerals: Come discover the vast collections of gems and minerals on display from the region and around the world.
  • Our Backyard: Geared toward very young visitors, ages five and under, this area is a safe place to discover. There is a water table just at the right height, real insects to look at and lots of natural objects to touch.

Rio Tinto Center

  • In 2005 the Natural History Museum of Utah began building its new facility, the Rio Tinto Center, in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain Range. It rests on a series of terraces that step up the hill and lie along the contours of the hillside, causing minimal disruption to the surrounding landscape.
  • The Rio Tinto Center is 163,000 square feet, with approximately 51,000 of that as public gallery space, including The Canyon, a main gathering area. The new facility allows for 50 years of future collection growth.
  • The Canyon features a three-story building-tall glass case called the Collections Wall, used to highlight more than 500 objects from the Museum’s various research collections.
  • The new facility has many green features, such as a radiant heating and cooling system, water-efficient landscaping and plans for a solar-paneled roof that will provide more than 25 percent of the energy needed to power the Museum.
  • More than 25 percent of the structural and architectural materials are made from recycled resources. More than 75 percent of the Museum’s construction waste was recycled, including 205 tons of wood, 154 tons of metal, 24 tons of plastic and cardboard, 1,086 tons of concrete and 2.1 tons of office supplies.
  • The center expects to be awarded an LEED Gold certification. There are only 17 LEED-certified buildings in the Salt Lake Valley.

Hours and Operations

  • The Natural History Museum of Utah is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with hours extended to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays to offer special programming. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • The following is information about the Museum’s price structure:
  • Adults: $9 (An increase of only $2 from the prior location)
  • Seniors, 65+: $7
  • Youth, 13-24: $7
  • Children, 3-12: $6
  • Children, 2 and under: Free
  • Museum Charter Members: Free
  • Large groups with 12 individuals or more will be admitted for $5 per person with advance notice.
  • Opening day, Friday, Nov. 18, will be free for all Museum visitors.
  • Additionally, there are four free days scheduled for 2012.
  • Monday, Jan. 9
  • Monday, April 9
  • Monday, July 9
  • Saturday, Sep. 22