If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to experience roaring dinosaurs running through Carytown, the Fan or down Broad Street, wonder no more.
Walking into the Science Museum of Virginia’s engaging new exhibit “Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family,” visitors are surrounded by massive screens featuring local scenes on either side. What’s new about these familiar views is seeing T. rex and his cousins rumbling down Cary, Broad and Main streets instead of pedestrians and traffic. One T. rex even tries to bite a streetlight, only to get shocked in the process. The good news is, once you’ve outrun these prehistoric creatures, the exhibition offers an opportunity to meet them one by one.
Created by the Australian Museum, this local touch in the show is just one more reason why children and adults alike will find plenty to enjoy while learning about the more than two dozen species of Tyrannosaurs, many of which have only been discovered in the past 20 years. Technological breakthroughs in 3-D modeling, x-rays and other innovations have provided more information from fossils, helping scientists to better understand the mighty beasts.
Timshel Purdum, the museum’s director of playful learning and inquiry and its resident dinosaur expert, says there are many factors that make dinosaurs so appealing – and not only for children. “One is their size. It’s hard not to be in awe of how incredibly massive a Tyrannosaurus rex was when you’re standing beside the skeleton,” Purdum says. “Another is the mystique. Since we can’t go see Tyrannosaurs living in the wild or at a zoo, everything is left up to our imagination.”
It will take less imagination for visitors once they’ve seen “Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family” because the exhibition allows visitors to see actual Tyrannosaur skeletons, along with skulls from different species and fossilized eggs. Few are the visitors who don’t stop for an Instagram-worthy photo of themselves in front of one of the massive skeletons.
Interactivity is the name of the game with various stations designed to engage and teach throughout the show. Spin a dial to see where Tyrannosaurs lived in different periods and how they spread across the globe. Touch a screen to find out how you spot a Tyrannosaur by identifying its unique characteristics such as long hind limbs and D-shaped teeth. Jump on a platform as hard as you can to simulate a meteor crashing into the earth and destroying life. One good jump by a father results in a crater that wipes out most of the dinosaurs on the East Coast of Australia. “Wow, Dad, you killed a lot!” his impressed son enthuses.
Visitors of all ages can get in on the action simply by walking up to a large screen outfitted with cameras reflecting themselves and Tyrannosaurs running toward them and around them. Some of the youngest visitors were clearly surprised about the oncoming creatures, looking over their shoulders to see where they were coming from.
The Science Museum built the Dewey Gottwald Center specifically to house exhibitions like this one. Without a large open space with high ceilings, it would have been impossible to display the multiple gigantic dinosaur skeletons that are the highlight of this exhibition. With the opening, the museum returns to being open seven days a week and, even better, offering extended hours through Sept. 30. On Thursdays and Fridays, it will be the sole exhibit to remain open until 8 p.m. with admission only $10 during those evenings.
No matter when you visit, you can count on leaving the exhibit knowing more than when you walked in. For instance, not all of us knew that dinosaurs are most definitely not extinct. Avian dinosaurs, or birds, are still very much with us. Eagles, parrots, penguins and even chickens are all dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurs and birds are cousins, sharing a common ancestor.
Purdum recalls that when she was growing up, dinosaurs were thought of as scaly, slow moving, tail-dragging lumps. But 21st-century children are growing up with today’s dinosaur information, so they draw pictures of brightly colored, feathered dinosaurs in all shapes and sizes.
“And they’ll also know that not all prehistoric reptiles were dinosaurs or lived during the same time, facts that movies and books from the 1980s chose to disregard,” she explains. “All this is a great reminder that science isn’t a body of facts to be memorized, it’s a constantly changing, constantly evolving process of discovery.”
“Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family” through Oct. 3 at the Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W. Broad St. smv.org.