A cutting-edge energy exhibit

A visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science has long included the Cockrell Butterfly Center, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre and Morian Hall of Paleontology.

Now you can add to that the Phillips 66 Downstream Hydrocarbon Processes and Products gallery, where visitors can learn about manufacturing’s critical role in the energy value chain.

The downstream gallery is part of the newly remodeled Wiess Energy Hall, arguably the most complete and cutting-edge energy exhibit on the planet. Dubbed Wiess 3.0 after its third remodel, the hall has more than tripled in size from about 8,500 square feet to 30,000 — the size of more than half a football field.

“Phillips 66 has a rich heritage as an energy industry pioneer,” said Chairman and CEO Greg Garland. “Supporting Wiess 3.0 is a great way for us not only to give back to our home here in Houston, but also to help people better understand what we do and how we make a difference.”

The interactive display quite literally demonstrates how Phillips 66 provides energy and improves lives. At about 650 square feet, it shows visitors how energy manufacturing companies transform hydrocarbons into products people use to improve their lives every day. It tells the story of how crude oil and natural gas from underground wells are transformed into vital chemical feedstocks and fuels such as gasoline and propane.

The downstream gallery joins classic exhibits, like drill bits from oil pioneer Howard Hughes’ era and scale models of drilling rigs. The new wing also updates the energy story with the recent success of the shale revolution, and information on emerging alternative energy sources.

“It’s a bonanza of entirely new exhibits,” said Melodie Wade, the museum’s director of Public Relations. “The new hall is the world’s most contemporary, comprehensive and technologically advanced exhibition on the science and technology of energy.”

The centerpiece of the downstream gallery is a model of a refinery, where black “crude” balls go into a makeshift atmospheric distillation tower, which produces colored balls when substances are separated by their boiling points. The balls then flow through a Pachinko-like machine to represent high-energy molecular processes, and finally into refinery products, like asphalt and light gases.

An interactive component featuring computer animation details some of the thousands of everyday products that are made possible by petrochemicals. Visitors can tap on rooms in a Hydrocarbon House display to see the petroleum-derived products there.

The results so far? Excellent, if visits to the energy hall are any indication. Wade says the remodeled venue is proving popular, with double the traffic of most other featured areas.