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The National Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. Admission is free and the museum is open 364 days a year.

The museum's collections total over 125 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts, making it the largest such museum anywhere. It is the second most popular of all of the Smithsonian museums and is also home to about 185 professional natural history scientists — the largest group of scientists dedicated to the study of the natural and cultural history in the world.

The museum was established in 1910, with its building designed by Hornblower & Marshall. The building, designed in the neoclassical architectural style, was the first constructed on the north side of the National Mall, along Constitution Avenue, as part of the 1901 McMillan Commission plan. In 2000, Kenneth E. Behring donated $80 million to the museum and in 1997 donated $20 million to modernize it.

In 2005, The "Butterfly of Peace" gem was first displayed in the U.S. In 2008, its newest exhibit opened with 5,000 square feet (460 m2) dedicated to soil and its life-sustaining properties.

The National Gem and Mineral Collection is one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world. The collection includes some of the most famous pieces of gems and minerals including the famous Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire. There are currently over 15,000 individual gems in the collection, as well as 350,000 minerals and 300,000 samples of rock and ore specimens. Additionally, the Smithsonian's National Gem and Mineral Collection houses approximately 35,000 meteorites, which is considered to be one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in the world.

The Hope Diamond is one of the most popular attractions in the exhibit. It weighs 45.52 carats (9.104 g) and is most well known for the supposed curse that it puts on its owners. Almost all of the previous owners of the diamond have been forced to sell it out of financial strife. The Star of Asia Sapphire has no curse on it, however it is one of the largest sapphires in the world, weighing in at an astonishing 330 carats (66 g), it was mined in Sri Lanka.

Part of the collection is displayed in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, one of the many galleries in the Museum of Natural History. Some of the most important donors are Washington A. Roebling, the man who built the Brooklyn Bridge, who gave 16,000 specimens to the collection, Frederick A. Canfield, who donated 9,000 specimens to the collection, and Dr. Isaac Lea, who donated the base of the museum’s collection of 1312 gems and minerals.

The museum has over 570,000 catalogued reptiles from around the world. The National Collection of Amphibians and Reptiles has increased 200% over the past 40 years (190,000 specimen records in 1970 to over 570,000 specimen records in 2008). The Hall of Dinosaurs has fossilized skeletons and cast models, including Tyrannosaurus Rex facing off with the Triceratops, and the "Triceratops exhibit shows the first accurate dinosaur skeleton in virtual motion, achieved through the use of scanning and digital technology." The collection is 46 fossilized of the "complete and important specimens" dinosaurs. The website has a "virtual tour" of the collection.

The museum has the largest collection of vertebrate specimens in the world, nearly twice the size of the next largest mammal collections, including historically important collections from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It's collection was initiated by C. Hart Merriam and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (later the Department of Interior), which expanded it in the 1890s-1930s.

The museum has an IMAX Theater for feature-length films. Additionally, it has the O. Orkin Insect Zoo, which gives visitors the chance to see and touch live insects and has The Discovery Room, a family- and student-friendly hands-on activity room, is also on the first floor. The museum also houses an exhibit on the culture and heritage of the Sikh people called Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab. This exhibition is located between the Mammals Hall and the Baseball Exhibit on the first floor.

January 2009

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