DALLAS (AP) — The much-anticipated $185 million Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring city leaders, confetti guns, live music and cries of "hip-hip-hooray!" led by former presidential candidate Ross Perot.
But the real attractions were, of course, inside the 14-story, cube-shaped building just north of downtown Dallas, where a dizzying array of exhibits lets visitors feel the ground shake beneath them in an earthquake simulation, program a robot to navigate a maze and even test their speed against a virtual Tyrannosaurus rex.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was among those who attended the grand opening of the museum, named for Perot and his wife, Margot, after their five children made a $50 million gift in their honor.
Their daughter Carolyn Perot Rathjen chairs the museum's board of directors. She said she and her siblings thought the donation would be a good way to honor their parents and say thank you to Dallas. Ross Perot founded two computer-services companies.
Nicole G. Small, the museum's CEO, said, "Our hope is that the Perot Museum will be a living, vibrant and entertaining science lesson for all ages- from cradle to gray."
"We want to inspire life-long learning, improve science on a local and national level by motivating young people," she said in a statement.
The museum was built entirely with private donations and was planned for a decade — but is opening ahead of its original schedule.
The lobby is on almost five acres and has open glass walls so visitors can look out into the landscaping. The upper levels of the 180,000-square-foot museum are designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis Architects.
They have a concrete covering, making it appear like a large cube floating over a landscaped base.
A 54-foot escalator contained in a glass-enclosed tube extends outside the building and gives visitors a view of a busy freeway and downtown skyscrapers.
A walk down to one of the floors features musical steps. In one display, visitors can pick a virtual competitor to race against: Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones, gymnast Emily Richardson, a Tyrannosaurus rex or a cheetah.
Another lets visitors design a virtual bird by custom-picking different features. There's also an animated experience that shows visitors how the solar system was created, a virtual 9,000-foot journey down a gas well and the opportunity to feel the force of a tornado.
Other displays include an array of gems and minerals, dinosaur fossils and animals that have undergone taxidermy.
The building also features an acre of landscaped roof with native plants, a rainwater collection system and solar-powered hot water heating.
The museum's roots date to 1936 with the establishment of the Dallas Museum of Natural History. In 2006, it merged with The Science Place and the Dallas Children's Museum to form the Museum of Nature & Science at Fair Park.