SALT LAKE CITY — Brrr!
One can only imagine the extreme cold and other challenges scientists faced when they unearthed what turned out to be a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils on inhospitable Antarctica, but the Natural History Museum of Utah wants to help visitors get an idea.
While the museum did not drop its temperatures to below freezing, its new exhibit opening Saturday, “Antarctic Dinosaurs,” features fully fleshed out dinosaurs that roamed the South Pole hundreds of millions of years ago and celebrates the scientists who painstakingly unearthed some of their remains.
“Overall it is an exhibit that really highlights the tenacity of humans, the spirit of discovery and scientific research and the extreme lengths we will go to to learn about the world and what is around us,” said Tim Lee, the museum’s exhibits director.
The exhibit, beyond its more than 100 fossils on display and life-size dinosaur skeletons, features immersive dioramas that transport the visitor back in time. The fossils come from four Antarctic dinosaur species, including the 25-foot Cryolophosaurus,
“Everyone knows Antarctica with its extreme climate of cold, snow and ice. When it was the age of the dinosaurs, 200 million years ago, it was wooded and lush,” Lee said. “It was a dramatically different climate in a time when dinosaurs thrived.”
In one phase of the six-part exhibit, museum patrons will learn about the intrepid explorers and the myriad challenges faced when recovering the fossils.
“It’s all about fossil hunting in the Antarctic, being in the paleontologists’ shoes and seeing a fossil embedded in this really dense rock and trying to dig it out in this extreme climate where your hands are freezing and then, how to bring it back where it can be studied,” Lee said.
The exhibit includes many digitized and interactive features, including turning a dial in which visitors can “rotate” the Earth around the sun so they can experience the changing polar lights.
“I think the exhibit does a really good job of putting together the clues and bringing visitors along in the process,” Lee said.
The Field Museum of Chicago, the lending institution, sent its employees to the museum in Salt Lake City in 2017 for two days to help craft the concept of the exhibit and gathered feedback through a rollout of the prototypes that serve as the basis of the exhibit’s interactive features.
Utah’s museum also partnered with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Discovery Place in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the project.
In conjunction with the opening of the exhibit, the museum is inviting the community to join a virtual talk and question-and-answer session with Nate Smith, associate curator of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The event is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Due to COVID-19, the museum is operating at 25% of its capacity and is allowing patrons to enter through timed ticketing.
Lee says he hopes people will check out the exhibit.
“It all comes to life in so many ways,” he said. “I hope visitors come and forget what is happening with the pandemic and travel back in time.”