Natural History Museum of Utah

The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) is located on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. The museum supports research and learning initiatives that foster an environment for natural and state history that advocates Utah’s people, land, plants, animals, and culture.


While the idea of the museum was conceived by the University of Utah faculty in 1959, it was officially founded in the George Thomas Library in 1963 by the Utah State Legislature. With additions to their collections between 1969 and 2011 from such explorations as the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and as many as 1.5 million acquired artifacts spanning various scientific fields of study, the museum rose to prominence for their scientific research and discoveries. The collection of artifacts at the George Thomas Library relocated in 2011 to its current home in the Rio Tinto Center where it officially became known as the Natural History Museum of Utah.

The Rio Tinto Center is located on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in the Wasatch Mountain Range. Not only is the land surrounding the Rio Tinto Center ideal for research, but the 163,000-square-foot building also incorporates 42,000-square-feet of local copper from the Bingham Canyon Mine that represents Utah’s natural rock formations. The architectural infusion stands as a testament to the goals and values of the museum’s attentiveness to accountability and sustainability of natural resources.

Permanent Exhibits/Habitats/Attractions

There are currently ten permanent exhibits and one special exhibit at the museum.

  • Sky: Astronomy, weather, and climate
  • Native Voices: Celebrates the history of Utah’s eight Native tribes
  • Life: Studies biology, demography, ecosystems, and diversity.
  • Land: Studies geological rock formations in Utah’s Middle Rocky Mountains, Basin and Range, and Colorado Plateau.
  • First Peoples: Studies the prehistoric people through archaeological science.
  • Gems and Minerals: Studies formation of minerals and gems.
  • Great Salt Lake: Interactive studies of the Great Salt Lake and Lake Bonneville.
  • Past Worlds: Studies the age-old environments as well as the people who lived through them.
  • Our Backyard: Studies natural history.
  • Utah Features: Studies political and social significance of local and global issues.
  • Vikings: A special exhibit that studies the travel, culture, and people (May 2017-January 1, 2018).

Currently, there are two special exhibits scheduled between 2018 and 2019.

  • Nature’s Ultimate Machines: Studies the history of natural engineering (Feb 10, 2018-Sept 3, 2018).
  • Maya: Studies the ancient civilizations of the Mayan people, culture, and architecture (Nov 10, 2018-May 27, 2019).

In addition to archaeology and biology research and studies, there are seven collections on display. The museum provides weekly Highlight Tours that promote the collections and research with hands-on learning events.

  • Paleontology: The studies of history through fossils.
  • Entomology: The study of organisms and insects.
  • Anthropology: The study of humanity.
  • Mineralogy: The study of minerals.
  • Vertebrae Zoology: The study of animals with backbones.
  • Malacology: The study of animals without backbones.
  • Botany: The study of plants and ecology.

The museum provides a rare experience to learners thanks to the natural resources found in Utah. Not only does the state have an abundance of Mesozoic rock formations, plants, and wildlife, it also boasts a historical relevance to dinosaur paleontology discoveries that has allowed the museum to foster learning and research initiatives that serve the NHMU[1] mission, “to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it.” The museum actively researches six areas of study in conjunction with the University of Utah to achieve such goals.

  • Range Creek Canyon Archaeological Research
  • Paleontology Research
  • Mammals Research
  • Paleoecology Research
  • Archaeobotany Research of Pleistocene and Holocene people and plants.
  • Utah Fireflies: Citizen Science campaign
  • Utah Chocolate

Educational Opportunities

Educational programs offered at the museum introduce age-appropriate tours, classes, and scientific programs to families and students. Participants will take part in in workshops, lectures, summer camps, demonstrations, and hands-on activities that incorporate science and learning opportunities.

  • After School Adventure Club: Elementary students learn about natural science.
  • Saturday Discovery Classes: STEAMED-based curriculum and studies.
  • Scientists in the Spotlight: Participants can engage in dialogue with scientists to learn more about the research and studies at NHSU.
  • Girl Scouts of Utah at the Museum: Girl Scouts can participate in activities that contribute to their badges and patches.
  • Boy Scouts of Utah at the Museum: Boy Scouts can engage in activities that contribute to their badges and belt loops.
  • Utah’s Animals: Engage in observation and research of the local ecosystem using some of the animals in the museum.
  • Phun with Physics: Interactive experiments will explain the concepts of physics.
  • Viking of the Museum: Participants can meet and interact with Vikings to learn more about the people, history, and culture.
  • Hawkwatch: Birds in the Lab-Interact with specimens of birds based in Utah.
  • Museum on the Move: Scientists visit schools and advance science as a field of study. Educators can also participate in the program to utilize resources in line with the Utah Public School System guidelines.

The Natural History Museum of Utah Summer Intern and Research Fellowship[2] also provides internships and scholarships to further academic advancements for university students who are pursuing a scientific field of study. Applications are accepted yearly for the summer internship programs from January to April.

  • Internship: Anthropology Collections Care at NHMU
  • Research Fellowship: Archaeological/Ethnographic Collections at NHMU

Special Events

NSHU offers a variety of special events that incorporate the learning of the museum with special events like festivals, birthday parties, and family nights.

  • Birthday Parties: Science-themed parties include access to exhibits.
  • Family Late Night: Families can enjoy the park after-hours by enjoying learning and exploration activities.
  • Bluegrass and BBQ is a music festival held at the Museum Café annually.

The Rio Tinto Center is also available to citizens for weddings, private galas, and corporate events that include access to the museum, the Canyon terrace, or closed-session meeting rooms.

Dining and Shopping

The Museum Café is open daily for breakfast and lunch (9 am-4 pm) and dinner on Wednesdays (9 am-7 pm) to both visitors of the museum and the general public. In line with their other programs, Museum Café proudly uses fresh products from local businesses including bakeries and beverage providers. The museum offers gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan menu items that cater to customers with special dietary needs. The café also offers catering for museum special events and ceremonies.

            The Museum Gift Shop offers clientele a variety of Utah-inspired gifts, souvenirs, jewelry, and hand-crafted items from local artisans. Customers may also purchase themed toys and collectibles that demonstrate the rich history of the state. The gift shop is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and on Wednesdays from 10 am to 9 pm.

  • Members of the NHMU receive a 10% discount in both the café and the gift shop.
  • Patrons planning to visit the museum may receive more information at www.utah.edu.
[1] Mission Statement. The Natural History Museum of Utah. 2017. nhmu.utah.edu/museum/about/mission-values?  q=museum/our-new-home. Accessed 25 Sept 2017.7
.[2] Summer Intern and Research Fellowship. The Natural History Museum of Utah. 2017. nhmu.utah.edu/summer-internship-and-research-fellowship. Accessed 25 Sept 2017.


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