DALLAS -- I am about to race a cheetah. The virtual animal blinks balefully at me from the screen on the wall. He’s not afraid.
The buzzer goes off, and he’s instantly gone, having run the length of the room at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Six seconds later, I make it to the finish line, wondering if I’d have done any better choosing to race against a Tyrannosaurus rex. Nah.
Racing against a cheetah, dinosaur or human athlete is just one of the interactive experiences in this surprise-packed new Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Eleven exhibition halls on five levels are packed with experiences and exhibits that explore the world and its animals, vegetables and minerals. Serious science is blended with whimsy such as outdoor frog sculptures that glow green at night and little musical instruments you can play.
Start by admiring architect Thom Mayne’s striated concrete structure, its roughness and angles a sharp contrast to the nearby straight-up skyscrapers. To the west of the building you’ll find a roofscape covered in drought-resistant grasses, punctuating the greenness of the building itself, which recaptures rainwater, among other things.
Then head on into the lobby of this $185 million building, $50 million of which was donated by the Perot children to honor their parents, Margot and Ross Perot. Look up. The little bubbles (water molecule structures are actually what they are) on the ceiling will bounce as you move around beneath them. This will start you giggling, and you’ll do that a lot as you explore the building.
In the galleries, highlights include the Being Human Hall, from which you’ll have to drag children kicking and screaming because there’s so much fun interactive stuff, including watching your own body’s movements displayed in slow-motion on a screen and making table tennis balls move with your brain waves. You can put on a lab coat and run your own scientific experiments.
In the Texas Instruments Engineering and Innovation Hall, design your own building, create music in a sound studio and make a robot to race against other robots in a maze. If you’re ever at a loss with what to do with various equipment or exhibits, don’t worry: One of the museum’s many guides will appear to explain it to you.
The Lyda Hill Gems and Minerals Hall displays rocks, including a 1.5-ton amethyst, as the art they truly are. Nearby, explore how a tornado really works and feel the jolt of an earthquake. In the Tom Hunt Energy Hall, check out the huge drill bit as you learn how oil and natural gas are extracted.
The fourth level’s all about the solar system and dinosaurs — always children’s favorites. An 85-foot Alamosaurus, the only complete skeleton in the world, is a highlight. Then walk up to the Rose Hall of Birds, where you can simulate flying like a bird (though your feet don’t leave the floor) and explore the feathers and sounds of many species.
• Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., Dallas; 214-428-5555; www.perotmuseum.org. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: adults $15; children 2-11 $10; teens 12-17 and seniors 65+ $12; under 2 free. The museum warns that tickets are selling out and urges visitors to buy tickets online in advance; all tickets are for timed entry at 30 minute intervals starting daily at 10 a.m.