Dinosaurs, mastodons on display at unveiling of new UMich Natural History Museum

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There's only one place in the world to see a male and female mastodon couple: The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

Underneath the male figure is a fiberglass replica of a footprint of a mastodon. The original was discovered only a few miles south in Saline. If that's not enough motivation to attend the museum's opening day, what about their new dinosaur - the Majungasaurus from Madagascar.

Or maybe the new planetarium/dome theater will excite your curiosity. And then there's the landmark of the facility - the Golden Dome on Washtenaw Avenue.

“When you drive by, you know you're there when you see it,” said Amy Harris, the director of the museum.

Whatever piques your fancy, there's plenty of it at the Natural History Museum. Part of the university's College of Literature, Science and the Arts, the $261 million structure is the newest addition to the school's campus. Located at 1105 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor, the new museum ushers in a new era of research by faculty, science by citizens and exhibits to be enjoyed by all.

Despite the recent fanfare behind the opening, when the museum announced the old building was closing it was met with hesitation and disappointment.

“That old museum had been opened for an entire human lifespan,” Harris said, “so people feel like we've always been there. People brought their kids there, and then their grandkids, so when the community heard we were moving, there was some disappointment.”

Harris said that many of the exhibits in the old building portrayed the science on display as 'finished' - that it had been determined and there were no new developments. When a new museum was being designed, there was an emphasis to reframe the discussion to talk about science as a dynamic field.

Much of that process isn't just on display either. Along with the new exhibits are two new expanded laboratories meant for fossil preparation and genotyping animals. Both have windows showing the science in action, all for the viewing pleasure of visitors.

“Even in the course of designing the building, that science was changing,” Harris said. “We're very focused on science as a process, in contrast to the old museum.”

The interactivity doesn't stop there either. Coming with the renewed research presence is a citizen science element as well. With aspirations of getting more involved in the science, the museum hopes to engage all the non-science folks in participating in the research as well. One project is already underway: an animal classification study. With trap cameras dotted around the upper peninsula, whenever an animal moves by the camera, its triggered and snaps a photo of whats in the view finder. Citizens are then asked to identify what was observed.

The planetarium is also larger, and comes with a digital projector capable of showing more than just the stars. After the grand opening this Sunday, the museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thursday, when its open until 8 p.m..