Renovated in 2005, the Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is an investment for both new and seasoned energy professionals seeking to grasp a firmer understanding of the processes of energy from discovery beginning to end. Originating from the 1960s, the hall was a gift from Harry C. Wiess, co-founder and president of Humble Oil. The 2005 renovation has consequently catapulted Wiess Energy Hall to the rank of the world’s top exhibit regarding energy.
Wiess Energy Hall begins with the “Big Bang,” literally. The hall covers the entire scope of energy development, from how oil and gas formed billions of years ago to the ways and methods by which they are used today. Teaching is the primary objective, and the museum fulfills this to great aplomb as it has created custom lesson plans for teachers, as well as reserved the exhibit for company learning parties.
Claire Scoggin, director of the hall says, “This is a tool that covers all aspects of energy, and it teaches people of every age something new.”
The 12 main sections of the hall are state-of-the-art, and include the Energy Explorations Theater, Formation, Geology, Geography, Exploration, In Drilling, Geovator, Reservoir, Transportation, Production, Processes and Products, Distribution, and an Alternative Energy section.
Featured in the hall is a technologically savvy and modern approach to education, and the interactive learning includes startlingly realistic holographs, touch-screen timeline of geography, 3-D seismographic Images, Pixar-inspired movies, an interactive Geovator- which places visitors at the drillbit head as an oil well is drilled 7,285 feet and then follows the subsequent processes of drilling, fracturing, pumping and cementing the drill hole- and virtual reality displays.
The exhibit includes an especially interesting view of energy both past, present and future. The history of oil production is presented in a touch-screen timeline, augmented with displays of drillbit heads, a 10-foot by 6-foot touch screen map of the world with satellite data pointing out the top 800 oil and gas fields, magnetometers, gravimeters and seismic vibrator trucks all illustrating various oil and gas exploration techniques. Many gas production methods are described, including newer processes of distribution such as the use of LNG technology.
In addition, a number of displays about alternative, renewable-energy methods including solar, biomass, nuclear fusion, fuel cells and ocean-waves, all of which hint at a brighter, cleaner future for energy production.
In the current gas crunch, Americans are doing what they can to restrict their driving and thus ease tightening budgets (see Lindsay Goodier’s blog “Public Interest In Industry Rising?”). This means, largely, that vacations are out and staying to see the sights in town is in. People are going to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Wiess Energy Hall because local attractions are at present, more realistic and affordable.
Scoggin says this has given the museum and Wiess Energy Hall “more traffic and, specifically, more interest. Since fuel costs have started hitting people at home, they are more open and more curious to find out why.”
Though the hall is not strictly for children, the message it sends to future generations is an important one: Energy is a topic not to be ignored. Especially for the younger crowds, the implied significance of the exhibit is that they need to understand that energy, in all its wonderful forms and functions, is not an unlimited commodity.
“It’s really amazing to see all the ways that people have come up with to create energy…but this will really help people understand why it doesn’t come cheap,” Scoggin says.
The underlying implications of the exhibit: Even though the best minds have been coming up with various ways to produce energy for centuries, it is still a gamble. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the casino-like lever-slot machine where the player acts the part of a wildcatter, trying to strike black gold and true to life, the player strikes out more often than not.
By presenting all the information about how energy has been manufactured and acquired, it should become clearer to the public why there is a current energy crisis. With all the technology and information available, getting the materials required to make energy in any form takes a lot of…well, energy. Perhaps the most prominent information that the visitor can glean from the exhibit is that energy is not quite as simple as digging a hole or putting up a few solar cells, that more efficient methods are needed today in order to meet the demands of the population’s energy needs.
Thus, the hall is as relevant to the top energy professionals as it is to children. Wiess Energy Hall is an excursion that current and future generations can’t afford not to make.