Visiting the UM Museum of Natural History – Activity Review

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History re-opened in their new building on April 14, 2019. Most of the museum is open now. The rest of the museum opened on November 10, 2019.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Pumas Guards the Entrance

We made an initial visit on a day off in April 2019. Check out this video from that visit.


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In February 2020, we had extra time to spend near campus after school. We decided to visit the museum to check out the new exhibits.

UM Museum of Natural History Exhibits

On the Trail of the Mastodons

As you enter the museum the mastodons greet you. This museum is the only place in the world to see a male and female mastodon side by side. Don’t forget to look up at the Prehistoric Whales.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Mastodon

Evolution: Life Through Time

The Evolution: Life through Time is the largest exhibit in the new museum. It starts with fossils of early organisms and proceeds through the dinosaurs, the Ice Age, and more modern extinct species.

The exhibit features a new Majungasaurus skeleton. It’s arms look even shorter than a T-Rex or Allosaurus.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Majungasaurus

I loved the water scene combining a mural with fossilized skeletons in front of it.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Whales

The exhibit finishes with the evolution of humans and more modern extinctions like the dodo bird. There is also a wall to explore ways to help fight more extinctions.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Dodo Bird

Nature Lab

The Nature Lab is located in the Evolution exhibit. This offers hands-on activities while the museum is open. The activities will rotate every few months to provide new experiences. When my daughter and I visited in February 2020, some of the activities were making a cloud in a bottle and studying biomimicry by breaking spaghetti and using a straw to reinforce it.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Biomimicry Lab

Tree of Life

Learn how all living beings are connected – through their DNA.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Tree of Life

Under the Microscope

Under the Microscope opened in November 2019. It explores the world at a microscopic level. We went inside a cell, built a DNA strand, and played with proteins. There is enough detail for my teenager and enough interaction that younger kids were enjoying the exhibit.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History -Complete DNA Strand

Micro Worlds Lab

The Micro Worlds Lab offers hands on activities. The activities will rotate every few months. My daughter enjoyed painting with pipettes and extracting strawberry DNA. She and I jointly ran a test for an allergy. Each activity is marked with a recommended age and estimated time to complete. Most activities started at age 5 or older, so these may not be great for preschoolers.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Strawberry DNA Extraction

Exploring Michigan

Exploring Michigan opened in November 2019. This exhibit features native animals and ecosystems. There are also a number of interactive activities including investigations into water pollution.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Exploring Michigan Raccoon & Squirrel

Measuring Time and Space

The Measuring Time and Space exhibit is easy to overlook on the first floor. It is also the entrance to the planetarium. With no shows on the day of our visit, we almost missed it. My daughter enjoyed seeing how tall she is (7 cats, 1 3/4 penguins)

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - 7 Cats Tall

There is also an interactive video screen where you can use body movements to travel through the universe. It was popular, so we did not have a chance to try it out on our first visit. My daughter enjoyed it on our next visit when it was less crowded.

Dynamic Planet

The Dynamic Planet exhibit highlights how the planet formed and has changed over time. My favorite part of the exhibit was the geologic year. It’s amazing to see that if the Earth was formed on January 1, that the first dinosaurs did not show up until December 15. The first humans were on December 31 at 11:25.28p. And UM was founded at the last second – December 31 at 11:59:59p.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Geologic Calendar

Science at Work: Biodiversity Lab

There was no one working in the Biodiversity Lab during our visit. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be on display all the time. I was amazed at how neat the lab looked.


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Science at Work: Fossil Prep Lab

In the atrium you can watch scientists prepare fossils. There is also a chance to speak to them over the intercom.

Science Forum

The Science Forum offers seats and a movie talking about science. They are setup with a podium to allow scientist presentations, discussions, and more. Science Forums are typically held on the weekend.

Collections Case & Student Showcase

The Collections Case and Student Showcase are in the first floor areas of the building. The cases feature work by scientists throughout UM.

Larsen Family Mineral Display

The Larsen Family Mineral Display is very easy to miss since you have to walk through the Under the Microscope exhibit which has not yet opened. My favorite part of the exhibit was the way that they included everyday objects next to the rocks/minerals that they were derived from.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Minerals

Planetarium Dome & Theater

The Planetarium is open now. However, shows are not offered every day. I am a bit surprised that they were not offering any shows opening week on a Friday that local schools were closed.


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Our Thoughts on UMMMNH

Our initial impression on our first visit was that there was less in the museum. However, with more exhibits opening in November.

My daughter commented that she liked the separate areas. The new layout of the fossils lays out the time span more clearly. I only knew about the time divisions in the old museum from tours. However, with a more linear flow it will be harder to keep track of multiple kids in the same space.

The new museum features more modern signage and background on what you are seeing.

Make sure to look for special touches through the museum. At the top of the atrium stairs are a series of windows decorated with quotes from famous scientists

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Quotes

We found a drawing by David Zinn (not in chalk) on a pillar in the main stairs from the Lower Level (Washtenaw Ave entrance and community rooms) to the first floor. I am sure there are more – but I keep forgetting to look.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - David Zinn Drawing

We loved visiting on a Thursday afternoon after school. With a light snowfall the museum was empty and gave us the perfect place to wait for my husband to finish work in an adjacent building.

Visiting UM Museum of Natural History

Location and Parking

The UM Museum of Natural History is in the new Biological Sciences Building. Their address is 1105 North University Avenue.

Public transit is a great choice especially on weekdays when UM is in session. The museum is a short walk from the UM Central Campus Transit Center which is served by AATA buses #4B, 23, & 81. The bus is a great choice on weekdays especially during the UM semester.

The nearest public parking lot is the Palmer Parking Structure (200 Washtenaw Ave). I found street parking for our visit on Washington St in front of Rackham. UM Blue lots offer free parking on evenings and weekends. All lots are free on Sunday.

Food & Shopping

New to the museum is a cafe – appropriately named Darwin’s. The cafe offers smoothies, soups, sandwiches, pastries, and beverages. They close at 4p on weekdays, so they may not be an option for a late afternoon visit.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Darwin's Cafe

The Museum Store offers more products than at the prior location. In addition to natural history books, toys, and displays, they also sell museum logo merchandise.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Museum Store

Tickets for the planetarium and dome theater are sold in the Museum Store.

Facilities

There are plenty of conveniences throughout the museum. As with the old museum, there is a coatroom. The map also lists lockers in the coatroom. The coatroom is across from the museum store. I did not see the coatroom until we were leaving, otherwise I would have hung up our coats – and I forgot about it on our second visit.

There are bathrooms throughout the museum. The map says they include changing tables. They also offer a personal room which is perfect for nursing mothers.

Admission and Membership

Admission to the museum is free, but donations are appreciated. They suggest a $10 donation.


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A family membership is $70/year. It includes 4 planetarium passes, discounts at the store, cafe, and planetarium, member nights, reciprocal benefits, and exhibit previews.

Hours & Events

The museum is currently open 9a-5p daily with extended hours until 8p on Thursdays. For our February 2020 visit, we were pleasantly surprised with the late Thursday hours. It gave us more time to spend at the museum and less time to kill otherwise. They are closed for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, and New Years Day.

Check out their events on our event calendar:

No Events
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Anna Mae
Anna Mae owns & operates Ann Arbor with Kids, a website dedicated to Family Activities in Ann Arbor. My husband and I moved to Ann Arbor in 2003 and our daughter joined the family in 2006.

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