It’s been more than two years since the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History announced that it would be moving to the new Biological Science Building next door.

Now, the museum has announced special events to mark the Dec. 31 closing of its current location in the Ruthven Museums Building, and opening celebrations for the new Museum of Natural History.

The museum also revealed the themes of some of the new exhibit galleries and plans for their new Digital Dome Theater.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, the museum will host two celebrations to mark the end of 90 years in its current location. “Noon Year’s Eve” will be a family-oriented daytime program featuring favorite hands-on science activities and a midnight-like celebration at noon.

The “Last Night at the Museum” will be an adults-only New Year’s party with special “Goodbye Ruthven Building” activities and a farewell toast at midnight.

An architect’s rendering of Biological Science Building, viewed from Washtenaw Avenue. (Drawing courtesy of SmithGroupJJR/Ennead Architects)

Open all year with just a few changes

Although the museum will operate normally throughout 2017, there are two planned changes to the current site.

In April, a wall will be constructed in front of the Edmontosaurus, a 65-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton, to protect visitors and exhibits from dust as scientists remove the bones from the plaster it’s been lying in for decades. Visitors can peek through windows to watch the process. After the dinosaur is removed, U-M paleontologists will examine the bones, which will then be prepared for the new museum where it will be displayed in a vertical position.

And later this spring, many of the native plants in the Butterfly and Pollinator Garden will be moved to a “storage bed” to await later replanting near the BSB.

“We are thrilled about the plans for our new facility, and delighted to know that the Ruthven Museums Building will be renovated to be the new home for U-M’s administration, research and classrooms,” said Amy Harris, museum director.

“It’s been a long time since the planning for the new museum began, and the excitement is building as the exhibits take shape. There will be familiar themes as well as exhibits on topics we’ve never addressed before.”

Old favorites and new topics

Fondly known as the “Dinosaur Museum,” the Museum of Natural History will continue to have the largest display of dinosaurs in Michigan.

The new prehistoric life exhibit will feature familiar dinosaur specimens as well as a new cast skeleton of Majungasaurus and a new touchable skull of Tyrannosaurus rex. The new Michigan gallery will explore the natural wonders of our state — from its formation in prehistoric times, to the diverse range of ecosystems we see today.

Preliminary schematic design of Exploring Evolution gallery with new cast skeleton of Majungasaurus. (Image courtesy of Great Plains Exhibit Development)

With a nod towards one of the museum’s new neighbors in the BSB — the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology — one exhibit will present biology at the smallest scale — cells, molecules and genes. And since this content can’t be seen with the naked eye, it’s been magnified 100,000 times so that visitors can walk into a cell and see its inner workings. There also will be microscopes for examining cells and activities including a digital game showing how environment can affect gene expression.

Opening in stages

“Developing a new museum is a tremendous undertaking, so we are planning to open in stages instead of waiting until everything is complete,” Harris said.

When the BSB opens for classes in fall 2018, the museum’s iconic mastodon couple will greet people as they enter the new museum, and the two prehistoric whales — Basilosaurus and Dorudon — will be hanging high overhead in the dramatic five-story atrium.

Significant portions of the museum will open to the public in spring 2019, including some of the major exhibit galleries.

The new Digital Dome Theater will open, featuring state-of-the-art technology that will expand traditional planetarium capabilities into other realms of science such as biology, geology, and archaeology. Additionally, visitors will be able to see U-M scientists at work in the Visible Paleontology Lab and see U-M’s research on display in Research Stations located throughout the museum.

The final opening event will be in fall 2019 when the rest of the new museum is complete, including the remaining exhibit galleries and two public Investigate Labs, where visitors can participate in hands-on science activities.