Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Canadian Museum of Nature - Review

I live in Ottawa, Ontario. It is an absolutely gorgeous city and is the capital of Canada. As such it is home to numerous attractions, the best of which are: beavertails, the Rideau Canal, Gatineau Park and the Canadian Museum of Nature, which has just been newly renovated. Due to the museum renovations, which concluded several months ago, the geology galleries were closed. However, they are now open. I thought it might be a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon touring around, taking photos and then writing a review. So I dragged my girlfriend along with me and off we went to look like tourists.

The front entrance of the museum.

The front also has these charming moose sculptures with leaves and vines in relief...very appropriate.
The musuem is a fantastic old building, full of interesting history. In fact, it was the first home of the Geological Survey of Canada and its mineral displays. However, the building is now Canada's natural history museum.  Of course, the main/only reason I wanted to go was to check out the new geoscience galleries. The rest of the museum was awesome and I encourage anyone visiting Ottawa to check it out but I will confine this post primarily to the new mineral displays and some of the paleontology displays.

In judging the overall quality of a museum display I think it is important to base my assessment on a few key criteria. I'll talk about the aesthetics of the gallery and my impressions on the quality of specimens displayed and how they looked. Second and most important, how are the specimens described and is the gallery effective at educating the public.

Overall Appeal and Specimen Quality

First, we'll do a quick virtual tour of the gallery. When you enter this is pretty much what you see in front of you. There is a cool rotating globe thing on the left that I didn't take a photo of as well. This section is on the origins of the solar system, the planet and meteorites, many of which are on display and some that you can touch.

Next, you turn to the left and enter the main mineral display area. Which has displays centrally arranged in a polygon shape and more displays on the outer lots and lots to see in here.

The central polygon of displays
One of the display cabinets. Very colourful.
The specimens on display in this gallery are nothing short of phenomenal. Indeed, as I stood in the gallery I heard lots of oohs and ahhs and "so and so, come look at this one". I think the best way to emphasize how nice the specimens are it to show you so here are a few of the best photos that I took:

Canyon Diablo meteorite

Silver (wire)


Quart var. Chalcedony


Tourmaline var. Elbaite (Blue cap)

Obviously you cannot argue with the quality of the specimens on display. They are awe inspiring for sure and I think that the gallery layout is effective at showing specimens well. Each case in the gallery is dedicated to showcasing a particular class of minerals e.g. sulphides, oxides, elements, etc., while the displays on the outside of the central polygon give information the uses of minerals and how they are formed. When you are in this room you feel surrounded by geology as there is some sort of specimen or panel occupying every spare centimeter of the room. So how do I score the gallery for aesthetics? I have to give high marks on this one: 9/10.


The next criteria upon which every gallery should be evaluated is how well does it convey its message to the general public. I think that this is the most important category. I mean what is beauty without substance?

In general I felt the displays were very effective at conveying their message. The primary way to get information on the minerals in each case was with the little touch-screen console standing beside each one.
Bad photo, but you get the idea.
Each console shows a picture of the display case in front of you. You then touch the shelf that you want to know more about and the mineral on the shelf that you want to look up. It then opens a nice display that has a hi-resolution picture of the mineral that allows you to zoom in, a well written write up the mineral you selected and more information such as location, etc.

Pick your shelf
Now pick your mineral
I found this system to be pretty user friendly and easy to navigate from one place to another on. I particularly liked the idea of using pictures of the shelves and minerals to make it simpler to select the one you want more info on as opposed to a list of somewhat intimidating names. My only complaint is that this is the only way to get more information on the central displays, meaning if someone is already using the console, you are out of luck. This is annoying since once using it the temptation to look up numerous minerals in the display it to great to avoid and others around either have to wait or move on. The displays themselves only give the names of the minerals and no other info increasing the need for the console if you want more. 

Otherwise I was impressed at the clarity and readability of the text in the descriptions and on the panels at the edge of the room. There are also several other interactive displays around that teach about the uses of minerals in society and geology. Overall I score the educational presentation of the gallery an 8/10. 

That is all for now. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post. I encourage you to visit the museum website for more information. The museum also contains a very extensive gallery on vertebrate paleontology and has some great dinosaur skeletons and other mid-Cretaceous fossils. 

Canadian Museum of Nature:


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