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Race A T-Rex, Fly Like A Bird At The New Perot Museum

After seven years of planning and building, Dallas’ new Perot Museum of Nature and Science opens to the public tomorrow. While the bold architecture and eco-sensitive landscape offer plenty to ogle, it’s what’s inside that many visitors will come to see.

There’s no way you can really see everything in one visit to the new Perot museum. So we took a whirlwind tours of few of the 11 exhibit halls. Get ready to be touchy-feely with what you find.

A good place to start: The Discovering Life Hall on the second floor.

That’s where you’ll experience three Texas ecosystems, including the Blackland Prairie which has nearly disappeared from North Texas.

“You can run your fingers over some common textures you might find out on the prairie. We’ve got the seeds of the blue stem grass,” says Debbie Olstein who helped design the display.

“One of the cool things about it is you really get to see how deep the prairie grass roots go,” she says, pointing to a cross-section that shows the root systems extending 5 feet below ground, which allows the grasses to survive in harsh weather.

“It’s a diverse environment,” she says. “We’ve got beautiful lupine with purple flowers. There are turkey, coyote, birds of prey above.”

You can listen to the prairie sounds of dicksissel birds and howling coyotes or sample typical smells: the fragrant scent of Texas Mountain Laurel and the pungent stink of coyote urine.

Across the way, there’s interaction overload for the techie crowd.

“We’re in the Texas Instruments Engineering and Innovation Hall, and it’s a chance to showcase for kids the exciting things they can learn with math and science,” says T-I spokesperson Gail Chandler.

She shows off a digital music room where you can play instruments through a computer.

There’s also a contraption that uses your brain’s electrical activity to launch ping pong balls through a tube when you place your forehead against a sensor.

Would-be engineers like Mark Dahliger sat before computer screens trying to design programs that would move robots through a maze.

“I’m trying to program this robot virtually here then I’ll put it on the course and hopefully make it to the finish line,” he explained, admitting he had failed several times.

“But I’m going to get it,” he promised.

In the Gems and Minerals Hall the spin of a wheel opens a five-foot “grape jelly” geode that’s filled with crystals. A 50-pound chunk of gold shimmers behind protective glass. The guy in the uniform is on display, too. There’s ample security to protect all the valuables.

In the Hall of Birds, visitors can design their own feathered friend, then put on 3-D glasses, flap their wings and fly along as their birds dive through lush forests and bank past treacherous cliffs.

In the museum’s Then and Now Hall, the biggest exhibit space, get ready to feel small. You’ll be surrounded by the giant skeletons of animals who lived millions of years ago, including the 85-foot Alamosaurus dinosaur who takes center-stage. The Hall’s curator, paleontologist Tony Fiorillo, hopes these fossils affect young visitors the way similar exhibits affected him.

“My choice for a career was entirely influenced by the fact that I grew up going to a natural history museum. It would be my hope that this great museum we built, that we are inspiring the next generation or two in the sciences,” said Fiorillo.

If you haven’t had enough of dinosaurs after that go to the indoor track at the Sports Hall and challenge a T-Rex to a foot race.

If you lose –which you probably will as the image of the big guy bellows and pounds past you on a screen – take heart in knowing you can ask for a rematch when you return to see the rest of the museum.

The Perot Museum’s public ribbon cutting starts at 9:15 a.m. Saturday, and doors open at 10. Tickets for non-members range from $10 for young kids to $20 for adults.; they're free or much cheaper for members. You can find exact prices here.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.