Many kids visit natural history museums for school field trips or just for fun. Around here it’s the Harvard Natural History Museum (home of the stunning glass flowers room and free to Massachusetts residents on Sunday mornings). Chicago has the Field Museum. And in the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area kids flock to the American Museum of Natural History. The museum, with ongoing renovations and advancement (including the state-of-the-art Rose Center for Earth and Space including a shiny new Hayden Planetarium), is home to a vast and impressive collection. But what’s most memorable to fossil-heads about the AMNH are the staggeringly impressive fossil halls.
Nothing beats seeing those dinos in person, but with Dinosaurs (2010) the AMNH has created a useful and engaging app that lets you get close to the real thing. It starts with an amazing mosaic in the shape of a T-rex’s skull. Double-tap anywhere on the head to zoom in; now you can see how individual rectangles — over a thousand! — make up the big T-rex picture. Double-tap again to get even closer — now you can see each image (fossils, scientists, dioramas, archival photos) more clearly. Another tap brings you closer, then another isolates the image. (NB: At any time, pinching or stretching apart your fingers on the screen lets you zoom in or out.) The Info button at the top right of each picture tells more about what’s going on; you can then email the photo, add comments, or look at what other people have said (often “Wow!”).
A simple three-button navigation at the bottom of the screen allows you to jump back to the full mosaic; read “Stories” (i.e., select from an alphabetical listing of dinosaurs, with helpful thumbnail pictures, then tap to learn more about that dino — Scientific Name, Specimen #, Age, etc.); and access “AMNH Extras” including museum information and Educators Guide PDFs.
Ok, so this isn’t the most dynamic app. It doesn’t sing or make any dinosaur noises, and nothing moves on its own. Though it sounds anachronistic to describe an app as “old school,” you can say that this is a perfect one for people who prefer their museums the older and dustier the better (minus, of course, the rampant poaching, international theft, and sticky politics – all of which, incidentally, make for a fascinating read in Dinosaurs in the Attic, if you’re just that old school).
Available for iPad (requires iOS 4.2 or later); $1.99.