Minnesota’s new natural history museum might impress Mother Nature herself. Check out its green roof, planetarium, bird-friendly windows, restored dioramas and hands-on exhibits.

By Ann Hinga Klein
Bell Museum

What can you do at the $79.2 million Bell Museum in Saint Paul that you couldn't do at its predecessor?

1. Network with nature on a buzzy super roof. The museum's new building at the University of Minnesota's Saint Paul campus (the old building was on the Minneapolis campus), features a green roof planted with native species. Take a seat on the observation deck to share the space with flitting, buzzing insects, including honeybees from hives on the grounds below. Student guides will fill you in on how to coexist with the peaceful pollinators and stay out of their flight paths as they go about their tasks.

2. Dig into earth science in the planetarium. The sky's not the limit-or even the star-in these shows. Minnesota in the Cosmos explores forces of nature that formed not only the earth's stratosphere but also the layers deep in the Gopher State's lithosphere. Future shows might tour the human heart or brain.

3. Check out bird-friendly windows. There's a striking photo series about how patterned glass made by a Minnesota company steers migrating and native birds away from high-rise buildings.

4. Become one with a diorama. The original museum's dioramas crafted in the '40s and '50s were so true to life that fabricators came from all over-even the Smithsonian Institution-to study them. They've been restored in all their retro glory with cool new features, including a woolly mammoth that stands 11 feet tall at the shoulder and a glacier you can walk through.

This moose got a lift into his new digs via crane, as did his backdrop depicting Gunflint Lake on the Canada border. Photo: Kit Larson/Bell Museum

5. Powerlift a rack of moose antlers. Go ahead, nobody's going to stop you. The Bell was the first natural history museum to ditch the Don't Touch signs 50 years ago and encourage a hands-on approach. The new space builds on that legacy in its Touch and See Lab, home to more than 4,000 specimens (including sea coral, live turtles, snakes, hawks and even a whale vertebra you can sit on) for up-close-and-personal experiences.

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