DALLAS — For every young paleontologist — or those who are still young at heart — the world is a wide-open place, full of possibilities and chances to dig into it. That’s exactly what the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas aims to encourage with its newest interactive exhibit, “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs.”The visiting exhibit, organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York and on display at the Perot Museum through Sept. 1, takes visitors into the world of sauropods — long-tailed, long-necked dinosaurs that could grow to longer than 150 feet (roughly the length of four city buses).Beyond showing fossils and still models, the exhibit uses interactive features to help explain how they lived: lungs and heart light up, for example, to show how they breathed and circulated blood; in a dig pit, budding paleontologists can unearth and examine replica sauropod femurs, ribs, skulls and more.“These things are almost creatures of our imaginations,” said Ron Tykoski, fossil preparator at the Perot Museum. “What this exhibit does is it puts flesh on the bones. This reminds us that these creatures were not monsters; they were real, living, breathing animals.”Exploring the exhibitThe exhibit begins with a walk-through path lined with animal facts that will get visitors thinking about the relationship between size and body functions. Think of an ant lifting 100 times its body weight and an elephant needing to feed for 18 hours per day.As the narrow hallway opens into the large exhibit floor, eyes immediately go to the gigantic centerpiece — Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis (pronounced Mah-MEN-chi-SAWR-us ho-CHOO-an-EN-sis), a 60-foot-long, 11-foot-tall sauropod whose neck makes up half of that length. The open room surrounding this giant contains stations where visitors can learn about the life and life-sustaining processes of a sauropod, including respiration, circulation, bones, diet, skin and eggs. Each station includes easy-to-read fact cards and hands-on activities.A hand-operated pump allows visitors to simulate the creatures’ blood circulation; a scale measures how much a dinosaur with people’s bone size would weigh; and button lights highlight the differences in various animals’ eggshells. Throughout the room there are also real fossilized bones from mamenchisaurus and other sauropods, but the impressive part isn’t the skeletons — it’s the thought that scientists have drawn on what is known about animals alive today to understand how such unusual creatures could roam the planet (and think, eat, breathe and move) 140 million years ago. Exhibit organizers say sauropods were one of the most successful groups of dinosaurs that existed.“They have all sorts of issues that animals alive today face, like finding enough food and avoiding becoming food for another animal,” Tykoski said.It is exactly that practical aspect that he hopes visitors take away from the experience.“Hopefully some of the kids will walk out of here really being inspired to think about things — if not paleontology then engineering, mathematics, science, veterinary medicine — who knows,” he said. “Hopefully, we inspire some minds today.”
The World’s Largest Dinosaurs
• Through Sept. 1
• Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., Dallas
• 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday
• Museum admission $10-$15; additional $5-$6 for “Dinosaurs” exhibit. (Discounts for members.)
• 214-428-5555; www.perotmuseum.org
Related programs at the Perot
• Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia 3D shows daily at the Hoglund Foundation Theater at the museum. The 21-minute film follows Rodolfo Coria around multiple archaeological sites and imagines what these giants were like. General admission is $5. Purchase a combination ticket that includes “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs” at a discount.
• Discovery Days: Explore Energy (10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 12). Build circuits, explore magnetic fields and learn where energy comes from. Learn where dinosaurs got their energy. All ages.
• Social Science: Extreme (7-11 p.m. April 18). Participate in extreme challenges to test your skills, meet real explorers and get to know dinaosaurs better. Age 21 and up.
• Lab Remix: Big (7 p.m. June 5). Discover big dinosaurs, big ideas, and enter big contests and challenges. Adults, students, teens.
• Discovery Days: Junior Geologists (10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 12). Learn about gems, rocks and minerals. Explore caves and find out how fossils are formed. All ages.
A dino-mite job
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist, a zookeeper, an astronaut — and a Star-Telegram reporter. All of those career choices were based on places I had visited: museums, the Fort Worth Zoo, the NASA space center in Houston and the Star-Telegram Printing and Distribution Center.
Anthony Fiorillo, the Perot Museum’s curator of earth sciences, says his career was inspired by his own childhood visits to a museum. We chatted with him about turning his early fascination with dinosarus into a career.
What does a curator of earth sciences do?
I go out and collect dinosaur fossils for the museum. My fascination has taken me around the world.
How did you end up with every kid’s dream job of dinosaur scientist?
I had the good fortune of growing up near a natural history museum, so I went there with my grandmother, parents, and basically anyone I could talk into going with me. Like most kids, I got very interested in dinosaurs and I’m just somebody who never outgrew it.
Why do you think kids love dinosaurs so much?
That’s a big question. Everyone loves dinosaurs. What is it about dinosaurs that’s had such long appeal? Since the very first dinosaur was found and put on display, people have flocked to see them. One of the things that is appealing is that they’re big, they’re toothy and they’re dead.
They’re kind of like big, scary monsters. Doesn’t that seem somewhat of a contradiction?
Most kids have nightmares that they’re being chased by a big monster. A dinosaur is a kind of safe monster. So I think there’s something primal about dinosaurs that appeals to us.
What would you tell a kid who is fascinated with dinosaurs and wants to study them?
Find your passion and stay with it. As long as you’re passionate about your interests and never want to stop learning, then it can launch you to many great things.
— Keri Houchin