Q?rius at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History is getting ready to close Dinosaur Hall for five years, shuttering one of their most beloved exhibits.  Just in time for this great loss, the museum has opened a fantastic new exploration room.  Q?rius (pronounced curious), is a 100% hands-on exhibit where everything from skulls to fossils are not just on display, but ready to examined up-close.   Several exploration stations are available throughout the exhibit that allows children (and adults) to learn more about whatever item catches their interest.

There are three parts to the exhibit.  In the first part tables are set-up with items including skulls and rocks that can be picked-up and examined under a microscope.  In the second part of the exhibit there are drawers and drawers of specimens from the museum’s collection.  Snakes, rodents, birds, minerals, fossils, plants, turtles, and insects are all included. 

These specimens are in boxes that visitors are free to remove from their drawers.  Each box is labeled red, yellow, or green.  Specimens in red boxes are fragile and cannot be removed from the box.  These include very delicate items such as leaves and butterflies.   Heartier specimens can be removed from boxes with some supervision if labeled yellow and independently if labeled green.  All specimens, whether in a box or out, can be taken to any one of a number of microscopes. 

The level of detail we were able to see on snake scales and bird feathers was astounding, even with specimens that remained in the box.  All microscopes in Q?rius have a large monitor attached to them so that multiple visitors can take a look at once.

Additionally, when you enter Q?rius you have the option of creating a unique account.  Then, every time you examine a specimen in the first two parts of the exhibit you can scan the accompanying tag to have information about everything you examine sent to your account to revisit later.  This tag, whether or not you send it to your account, also brings up information about the specimen.  Some of this information was disappointingly sparse and focused on the scientist who studies the specimen, but other specimens did bring up more information. 

The third part of the exhibit is designed as a hang-out space.  It’s light and airy with a view of additional pieces of the museum’s collection.  There are science-themed books to read, but the main attraction for this part of the exhibit is the floor-to-ceiling columns on which children are invited to draw.

Q?rius is designed for teens and tweens to explore independently.  However, on our recent visit it was filled with toddlers and younger children who weren’t yet tweens exploring the exhibit with their families.   My three-year-old was beyond excited to seek out boxes with green tags to find real fossils she could touch. 

My seven year old could not contain his excitement every time he found a new category of specimen to examine, although he especially enjoyed the snakes and fossils.  I also had a hard time tearing my husband away.  Both kids needed help with the microscopes, but they enjoyed seeing their favorite items in detail.   The drawing area can easily be enjoyed by all ages.

Q?rius’ hours are Monday to Friday from 2 to 5pm. and weekends
 from 10am to 5pm.  No strollers are allowed in the exhibit but there is unattended stroller parking just outside the exhibit and restrooms with changing tables are located just outside of the exhibit as well.

The Discovery Room at the Museum for children 9 and under has been re-named Q?rius Jr., but other than that little has changed.  Because it’s a great exploration room it’s not a bad thing.  Children can dress-up, draw, read books, play with puppets, wear binoculars, and explore a variety of objects.  Q?rius Jr.,  is open Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 2:30pm, Friday from 10:30am to 2:30pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am to 3:30pm.  They are closed on Mondays.  No strollers are allowed in the exhibit but strollers can be parked just outside.

The museum’s existing Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Zoo both have also been re-named to be a part of the Q?rius exhibit, but other than that remain the same.

Q?rius is a great new addition to the Museum of Natural History.  It’s definitely worth a look on your next visit. 


Photos by Jamie Davis Smith

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OK Editorial Team

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