Texas Energy Museum offers fun, educational experience

photo by Kevin King

With summer winding down and fall just around the corner, families looking for something fun to do while staying out of the muggy Southeast Texas heat need look no further than the Texas Energy Museum.

The museum, at 600 Main St. in Beaumont, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday 1-5 p.m. Museum admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 6-12 and $3 for senior adults.

Featuring a myriad of exhibits focusing on petroleum formation and geology; historical and contemporary oil well drilling technology; the chemistry of refining and petrochemicals; and the early history of the Texas oil industry, the Texas Energy Museum is an exciting and educational experience for all ages.

One of the museum’s most noteworthy attractions is the Wind and Air: Summer Science Interactive Exhibition, currently on display until Sept. 5.

Visitors are able to experiment with the effects of air movement by creating paper contraptions to float and move through vertical wind tubes and test the energy-creating potential of air by making their own miniature windmill.

The exhibit is not only a great way to teach children the basics of physics, but also allows them to learn how experimentation works. By making observations about the ways in which an object behaves in the air tube, new designs can be realized, constructed and immediately tested.

“By changing the shapes or blades, you get (movement) at different speeds,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of the Texas Energy Museum. “You can see the theory in practice.”

Although everyone who uses the vertical wind tube is exploring similar scientific concepts — airflow, drag, symmetry, turbulence, air resistance and gravity — the experiments vary widely because of all the possible ways of changing the variables, including the weight, shape, and surface area of the objects. Fins and other add-ons allow the objects to spin (or float gently in the wind), and the diverse use of art materials balances the floating creations.

Denny Robertson is a chemical engineer at Richard Design Services in Beaumont and proud grandpa of Luke LeBlanc, 7, and Norah LeBlanc, 8. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, visited the Energy Museum on Friday, July 25, to introduce the children to some of the concepts Denny works with on an everyday basis.

“All kids have certain gifts,” Denny Robertson said. “If they have something that interests them or they enjoy, they need to have exposure to it. This (Texas Energy Museum) is kind of like a testing ground to spark their interests.”

Robertson said through interactive exhibits, the museum affords visitors the opportunity to see complex and often abstract concepts in a simpler and more easily understood manner.

“When you sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture, that’s one thing,” he said. “It’s something else entirely to see something like this.”

Dinosaur Day

A free event offered by the Texas Energy Museum that has become a staple and popular attraction is Dinosaur Day, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 25, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Dr. James Westgate, professor of Earth Space Science at Lamar University, said he has been working the event for more than 20 years and enjoys watching the children explore the fossil samples he brings to Dinosaur Day.

“We bring in bulk fossil samples from Laredo that haven’t been processed. They need to be screen-washed and picked through. We actually have the kids screen-wash those samples down and then we lay the washed samples out on a table, so they can help pick through them and look for fossils.”

Screen-washing, a technique for extracting very small fossils from bulk samples of sediment, usually results in an extremely old and interesting find for the children, Westgate said.

“They are mostly sharks’ teeth that are about 40 million years old, and occasionally we find some land mammal teeth also,” he said. “It’s just a whole mix of things that they might discover. We also bring good examples of fossils with us … and have binocular microscopes for the kids to look through and see very small things they normally wouldn’t get a chance to see.”

Westgate said there are about 10 different activity stations for children to explore. Other activities include painting papier-mâché dinosaurs, making stegosaurus hats, using seashells to make fossil impressions, and other fun dinosaur-related activities.

“Texas has a very rich geological and biological past,” Westgate said. “This is a great way to give (children) a little experience and exposure to what used to live in Texas. By knowing what used to live here, it allows us to figure out why the animals live the way they do and how they got to be the way they are.”

The Wind and Air: Summer Science Interactive Exhibition is made possible through a grant from the HE & Kate Dishman Charitable Trust administered by Capital One Bank Trust & Asset Management Group.

Dinosaur Day is co-hosted by Lamar University Earth Sciences Department and sponsored by ExxonMobil.

For more information on the Texas Energy Museum, visit texasenergymuseum.org or call (409) 833-5100.