A collaboration between Nebraska Public Media Labs and the University of Nebraska State Museum allows visitors to virtually travel back in time to prehistoric Nebraska and get a sense of how it has changed over the millennia.

Visitors to Expedition Nebraska: A Natural History VR Experience can use laptops, mobile devices, and soon virtual reality headsets to “meet” some of the animals that lived and died in the millions of years before humans arrived on the Great Plains.

To visit Expedition Nebraska on the web, click here. Mobile versions are available now in the Apple App and Google Play stores.

The collaboration is among the first of its kind between a museum and a public media company. It is pioneering the creation of the next generation of public media and demonstrates the potential for this type of emerging media collaboration between cultural institutions.

The journey begins in a courtyard amidst a landscape resembling Nebraska’s Sandhills during a summer sunset. As visitors virtually move through the courtyard, they encounter photogrammetrically rendered models of animals—including Nebraska’s iconic Archie the mammoth skeleton—that give a sense of actual size and scale.

A second part is a replica of the NOT The State Museum’s 2019 “Museum Builder” exhibition documents the history of the museum. In a simulation of the first museum site, one can “see” out of the windows a room that was located in the long-demolished University Hall on City Campus, University Hall and the Prairie in the 1870s. As visitors move about the space, they can interact with virtual models of some of the first objects added to the museum’s research collection.

The first full exhibit in Expedition Nebraska is the Cavern of Time. In a simulation of a Dakota sandstone cave inspired by Lincoln’s Robber’s Cave, visitors have access to seven ages of North American land mammals. These fully immersive “bioramas” show how Nebraska’s climate has changed over the centuries and feature photogrammetrically rendered fossils.

The fossils appear either with holographic forms of animals that were once made from these bones, or as specimens floating on tables. As visitors explore each age, they are invited to play audio files that explain more about these creatures and the environment in which they lived.

The goal of the interactive experience is to provide visitors around the world with access to the University of Nebraska State Museum’s rich scholarly and collections and, over time, to create a collection of educational resources for future generations.

Eyes on a distant horizon, Nebraska Public Media Labs and the NOT State Museum plans to develop additional content, accessibility features, and exhibits over the next decade.