July 12, 2023

Jordan and Bill interviewed Dustin Newcomb at the Wiess Energy Hall located at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

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Energy Education:
Exploring the Wiess Energy Hall's Creative Mission - Episode 5 - Transcript


00:00:00 Jordan Yates
This episode of The Energy Pipeline is sponsored by Caterpillar Oil and Gas. Since the 1930s, Caterpillar's manufactured engines for drilling, production, well service and gas compression. With more than 2100 dealer locations worldwide, caterpillar offers customers a dedicated support team to assist with their premier power solutions.

00:00:26 Speaker 2
The Energy Pipeline is your lifeline to all things oil and gas to drill down deep into the issues impacting our industry. From the frack site to the future of sustainability, hear more about industry issues, tools, and resources to streamline and modernize the future of oil and gas. Welcome to The Energy Pipeline.

00:00:49 Jordan Yates
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Energy Pipeline. Today we are at the Houston Museum of Natural Science with a very new guest. It is Dustin Newcomb. Dustin, say hello.

00:01:02 Dustin Newcomb

00:01:03 Jordan Yates
We are also joined by one of our co- hosts, Bill. Bill, it's good to have you back.

00:01:08 Speaker 2
Thank you. Glad to be here.

00:01:10 Jordan Yates
I am so excited. We have spent a long time setting this up and getting everything going so we can bring you all a very educational and fun episode. So today we are going to be exploring the Weiss Energy Hall and luckily Dustin is an expert on this area. He works here and knows the ins and outs. So we're going to kick it off with some questions for Dustin and get to talking about this museum. Are you ready, Dustin?

00:01:36 Dustin Newcomb
I am.

00:01:37 Jordan Yates
Okay. So can you introduce yourself and your role at the museum?

00:01:43 Dustin Newcomb
Sure. My name is Dustin Newcomb. I'm one of the exhibit directors here. I was a project manager on this Weiss Energy Hall project back in 2015 when we started and opened in 2018. I worked for a design build company at the time, and then after we opened, the museum asked me to stay on and run the hall and help them with a bunch of other special projects.

00:02:11 Jordan Yates
So you must be pretty good?

00:02:12 Dustin Newcomb
I'm okay.

00:02:15 Jordan Yates
We hate modesty here. Tell us how great you are. Okay, well, and am I saying it right? The Weiss Energy Hall. Okay, cool. I feel like I should ask that beforehand.

00:02:26 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah. No, the Weiss family is big donor family in Houston.

00:02:31 Jordan Yates
Okay. So this is something that I'm going to parlay into that is a really big topic right now in oil and gas and honestly most technical industries, which is education. Everyone wants to talk about, we should educate people, but they don't often talk about how or what we're actually doing. This hall clearly is a large educational investment. Can you tell us a little bit more about the significance of this as a platform for educating on energy?

00:03:00 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, sure. So back before 2015, this was located in the lower level. It was about a third the size and really only covered oil and gas primarily, had a couple of really small exhibits dedicated to renewables and future tech and some of the unconventional resources. So when we were talking about redoing that hall we decided to go ahead and put it up here on the fourth floor. This was a storage space. We decided to expand it and try and capture all of the educational aspects of all of the different types of energy. I mean, Houston is an energy hub, right?

00:03:46 Jordan Yates

00:03:47 Dustin Newcomb
World class city so we needed a world- class exhibit to represent that.

00:03:52 Jordan Yates
That's amazing. Okay, so Bill, do you want to ask the next question? Question number three on our list? I think it's a good one.

00:04:00 Bill
Well, it certainly is. Dustin, this is not done. It's a private enterprise here so we're looking for what the donations are, how you've gone about finding those generous donations from all the different companies. How does that work out for you?

00:04:18 Dustin Newcomb
Well, luckily Houston is full of oil and gas companies and subsidiaries and as an energy hub, it was easy to get people involved and interested in the new energy hall. We worked with a myriad of companies for not only the funding, but content and educational aspects. We took a bunch of trips and we were able to check out a lot of the companies and what they actually do in Houston, which was really insightful in trying to put all of this together and we even took a trip out to the Gulf to an oil platform, which I had never done so it was kind of cool.

00:05:02 Bill
It is interesting on those when you land and you see what it's all about. With that, the mission that the energy hall here is generating and expanding to provide to the community, how has that helped? Were you able to develop a central focus?

00:05:22 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, we worked with a lot of the educators here in the museum. We've got a really strong education department, so we were working with their requirements for HISD (Houston Independent School Dis, so we can hit school age groups and then also with the oil and gas energy and energy sector. A lot of those companies are using this as a training platform as well. So we were able to cross the streams, so to speak.

00:05:52 Bill
Excellent. Well, as we walked in this morning, I saw a great deal of groups. So does STEM play into this as well?

00:05:58 Dustin Newcomb
Absolutely, yeah. Yeah, part of the HISD requirements is that we hit on all of the STEM and we tried to throw in a little bit of scenic art in there as well so give it some eye candy.

00:06:13 Jordan Yates
Yeah, you do a really good job of that. It's a gorgeous hall and I feel like I'm in a spaceship almost. It's very intense. And when we asked about the fact that you guys had very large donations, I went on your website and it's not a hundred, $ 200, it's millions and millions of dollars. This has been a ginormous initiative, not just from you guys but the energy sector as a whole. And when you say easy, I'm sure you mean relatively easy to ask them for this money, but what was the process of that like to meet with these companies and convince them like, " Hey, we want to do this." How did you convey to them your vision?

00:06:55 Dustin Newcomb
Sure, so we put together a really comprehensive marketing book that had some really high- end renders. So before we do anything, we build the space and model space and we render it out with the lighting, everything down to the carpet. So when we presented this to donors, we give them an opportunity to put their names on individual exhibits as well as the halls. People jump at the chance to do that. So yeah, it was an interesting process altogether. That was the first time I had actually met with a lot of the really large companies and sitting next to the president of a large oil and gas company and just talking about fishing, that kind of thing was really cool.

00:07:44 Bill
That's neat. I imagine the storyboard that went into this, as you say, to illustrate and impress upon them what it would be is a rather thick book.

00:07:55 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah. So we developed content first and hit a lot of the bullet points and then we were able to flesh it out with our relationships with all of the individual energy companies and work with them to help create more content.

00:08:11 Bill
Excellent, excellent.

00:08:13 Jordan Yates
Yeah, so I guess you guys put all this work in, made this possible. What about when you guys were thinking our mission is to educate, we want to have this thing for the public that right now we're here and there's a kids' camp here. A lot of people seem to be stumped by the idea of education and how to go about it. How did you guys put it into perspective and say, this is how we do it.

00:08:41 Dustin Newcomb
Well energy in general is pretty complex to wrap your head around so we essentially dumbed down the content for a lack of a better term. So it was less academic and more easily translatable for folks to really understand so that the average person can come in here and really walk away with a comprehensive understanding of energy from the big bang all the way up to downstream, midstream, upstream in oil and gas and then we have a whole section on future energy and the cutting edge and cutting edge technologies that are coming up. So we were able to sneak some of that into some of the cool stuff like hover cars.

00:09:33 Jordan Yates
Yeah, no, that's nice considering a big topic or buzzword should I say, got to love throwing in a buzzword is energy transition. This energy... You guys are just looking at it like there's an extension, there's more technology, here's what we see coming rather than we're leaving all this behind and this is what we're transitioning to. Would you say you see it as more of a cohesive picture of how it all goes together?

00:09:55 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, absolutely. We hit on the history of oil and gas, especially in Texas, Spindletop or Geovator allows you to go down into the ground and back in time and then shoot out of an oil derrick so we hit on most of the processes that are in play right now. So a really good comprehensive view on how we get our energy, everything from standard oil and gas to renewables and then some, we hit on a lot of the unconventional things that people don't really realize, like shale and methane and that kind of plays into our systems as well. All of that content we put together and then we worked with companies and people in the energy sector that are working on really some really far out ways of capturing that energy like plasma and fusion and some of the stuff that isn't really available right now, but they're in the process of honing it.

00:11:01 Bill
Would you say that some of these exhibits that we have today are able to allow us to see that in the interactive portion of it to allow us to experience some of the things that you might not know about?

00:11:14 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah. And there's a bunch of different learning styles, and so we wanted a space that was really thematic and immersive so that you could come in, not only scroll through and read some interesting content, but also watch an animation that explains it in detail. So we invested a lot of time and energy in trying to make sure that when you leave here you have a pretty good knowledge of at least one portion of the energy sector.

00:11:45 Bill
As big as it is, it's rather a small group and a small amount of things that goes on, but yet it's still very, very large. Wouldn't you agree?

00:11:57 Jordan Yates
I would like to ask a question about is there a certain exhibit here that, like you said, you guys have tried to, for lack of better words, dumb things down, or should we say simplify? I think that's a nice way to say it. I always forget to be nice, but we'll be nice today. So is there a specific exhibit here, maybe fracking or something else that maybe is often misunderstood, but you guys did a really good job of breaking it down, simplifying it to where now any common person could come in and understand what that process is?

00:12:34 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, absolutely. I am by far the dumbest person I know. So I did not know anything about fracking until we started this project, and that was a really interesting process to go through and understand and all of the different parts of that that come together in order to pull that stuff out of the ground. So we try to put a nice little bow on some of that and when we talk about all of this, we're just stating the facts. So we're not trying to push one point or another, but we did want to make sure that everybody, since fracking is a huge part of the way we get our resources in Texas, so we wanted to make sure everybody was able to come away with a base understanding of that. We put together the EFX 3000, which is a spaceship essentially that allows you to shrink down and go into the ground and be part of that process. So it was a really cool learning tool, really cool process altogether.

00:13:39 Jordan Yates
That sounds so awesome. I'm excited because the next episode we record with you today, it's going to be what is fracking? I wanted to call it what the frack, but I don't think that people would've thought that was fully appropriate, so I decided to keep it educational and I do like how you made the point on you guys, you have this mission to be educational, non- biased and for me, I struggle with that sometimes, and this is an educational podcast, so I like having third parties like you all coming on here and having these exhibits that really are just meant to educate and teach people about these concepts. Would you say, I guess you said you didn't know about fracking before, so was it pretty easy to be unbiased or did you have any biases coming into this?

00:14:26 Dustin Newcomb
Not really. I try and stay open on, you know, it is a hot button topic with a lot of people, but it's also really part of the landscape. So there is, it's underlying in most of what we get from the energy. Sorry, I'm stumbling over my words here. So that being so ubiquitous and in the culture and in the energy sector, I think it was really important to try and learn that and incorporate it and not have a biased view on it. Yeah, like I said, a lot of what we do is, in here at least, is try and just tell the facts. This is a really comprehensive view on all of the energy applications and processes here.

00:15:22 Bill
You've mentioned energy a couple of different times and the 3000 where you're able to shrink down a big guy like me, getting that small would be tough perhaps, but still, nonetheless, things like the energy jukebox and that are those interactive displays. Can you just share a little bit more about them and how they assist in that learning process?

00:15:43 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah. That was really fun to work with a lot of the artists that put that together. So we wanted to do more of a schoolhouse rock style of content there and a way to deliver that. And so catchy songs that people would be able to memorize and walk away with, especially kids. We had our design teamwork with a lot of musicians that actually play in rock bands in venues. So they were able to come together and put some of these songs together with our content team to help deliver them.

00:16:26 Jordan Yates
What is a song that is from the jukebox that gets stuck in your head the most and can you sing it for us?

00:16:33 Dustin Newcomb
No, I have luckily blocked all of that from my mind because they are so catchy.

00:16:41 Jordan Yates
He just doesn't want to sing for us, but maybe I will try to insert a clip of it into here. We'll see what the copyright issues are like on that, but that would be fun. If you remember it and you want to give us a little solo, knock yourself out. Okay. Well, so what we've seen today, especially when I was trying to park, is that there's summer camp going on. I think I mentioned that earlier in the podcast. What other ways has or have the community utilized you all as a educational resource and how do they go about that? Say if they do want to do a summer camp or a class field trip or something like that, how do you all help foster it to where it's very accessible for communities to come in, use your stuff?

00:17:29 Dustin Newcomb
Our educational department has a lot of community outreach, so they work not only with schools but with homeschool groups and different areas of the community to help pull people in. So we'll have overnights here, we'll have summer camps like you said, and then we try and gamify some of this too, so it's not dry learning, but people are actually up here able to explore and have fun. And we do work with a lot of companies, so their interns, intern groups will come through and we'll be able to showcase some areas for them that apply to the energy sector that they work in.

00:18:11 Jordan Yates
Yeah, I wish I would've come and seen this when I started my first internship in oil and gas because I remember my first thing I did was oil and gas service company and it was kind of midstream, kind of upstream, and I was so confused for one between downstream, midstream, upstream, and then I learned in upstream there's fracking, there's all the drilling and the completions, and then you go to production. And I wish even as a adult when I had that, that I could have come here and walked through it because then I think I would've had it click a lot sooner. And like you said, having interns come here, I think that's genius. I think this is a very interesting exhibit that you guys have, so I don't really have a question there. I just wanted to comment. I think that it's really cool and I'm jealous of myself now that five years ago I couldn't come in, check this out. I wish I would've realized it existed. I guess a question out of that would be what kind of, I guess, marketing, promoting do you guys do to where people know about this place?

00:19:14 Dustin Newcomb
A lot of the technology that we used here when we opened in 2018, it was like Energy City behind us was some of the cutting edge stuff that nobody else had done. So we invested a lot of time and energy on that, and that was its own marketing tool. Our marketing department is really strong and like I said, works with a lot of the funders and other groups, so it put us on the map when we opened. And a lot of museums have since incorporated some of the stuff that we've done, but I would say that we were kind of the first on a lot of this to put it out there into the public, so that really helps bring people in.

00:20:01 Bill
It's a wonderful, wonderful museum that you have here. Lots of things being in the industry, as Jordan said, being confused. I've been in it for 47 years and I'm still learning many different things about it. And to see some of this, helps to drive that point home that there's a lot of different things and a lot of things that even people that have been in it for as long as I have and longer still learn and can learn from it. And you provide a home to foster that and it looks lovely and I'm glad that we're here today. You've done well.

00:20:38 Jordan Yates
So, how has, and I guess since 2018, has there been any evolvement in any of the exhibits or has it been the same since 2018?

00:20:49 Dustin Newcomb
We have updated some of the content. So about every five years we will go through and look at what's changed in the industry, what's coming up and what's new. Right now we're not going to change out any of the physical interactives or exhibits. We've kind of amended, some things.

00:21:09 Jordan Yates
You're good.

00:21:11 Dustin Newcomb
But yeah, we have updated a lot of the content and animations and photographs and things like that, some of the easier stuff to do on our schedule. In addition to this hall, I'm also project managing three other halls, so-

00:21:28 Jordan Yates
Oh my goodness.

00:21:29 Dustin Newcomb that just opened for sharks and Tutankhamun, and then a matter in motion, which is quantum physics to or astrophysics to quantum chemistry. That's what it is. So I have to learn a little bit about everything, which is really cool. But yeah, we have a pretty heavy rotation with our exhibits, so trying to parse this out so that we can update the content but not get caught up in our loss of resources.

00:21:59 Jordan Yates
What is cooler, sharks or fracking? There's only one right answer.

00:22:07 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, that one's a hard one. Fracking's pretty cool.

00:22:09 Jordan Yates
I think sharks are cool, but yeah, fracking's cool too. Set you up on that one. Okay. So as you guys have opened up, what impact would you say you guys have had on the community that you've personally noticed since being here in 2018, and how has that evolved over time?

00:22:27 Dustin Newcomb
Well, it's kind of cool to meet people out in the wild who work in the energy sector, and when I tell them where I work and they put two and two together, most of the people in Houston have been to Weiss Energy Hall or know about it. So that kind of recognition out in the energy sector is really cool to come across and I think just seeing this as a teaching tool has been really eye-opening, especially when we design them and develop other exhibits. This was a good litmus test and it kind of broke the mold for the museum moving forward.

00:23:05 Jordan Yates
If you had to incorporate another kind of energy, say you get a fifth floor magically, what other kind of sector would you really focus on? Any upcoming new energy types that you think would deserve a lot of attention?

00:23:19 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, fusion. I would delve more into the experimental stuff just because it seems to be growing exponentially now, and I think there's a lot of avenues we could explore with that, especially scenically, artistically. That would be kind of fun to do.

00:23:37 Jordan Yates
Yeah, no, I imagine that would be really cool. Bill, did you have some more questions?

00:23:42 Bill
I'm really, I'm just taken back by how neat, really and truly this place is, and as we continue to move forward, you talked about updating and continuing to evolve, tune it if you will, to be educational for people and to continue to do that. Do you have anything that's ground shaking other than say the fusion component of it, some of that next generation things that'll come about as far as poof, it all happens this way.

00:24:16 Dustin Newcomb
Not off the top of my head. I think going back and taking a look at some of the advances in technology and incorporating actual pieces of technology would be good as far as a collections' viewpoint. But yeah, I think we built this so that it is more of a flex space, so we can easily pull out a section and redo it. I think at some point here we're going to really sit down and start looking at that and trying to update here as we get closer to the 10- year mark.

00:24:47 Jordan Yates
I'm excited to see that when it happens. Just a couple more questions in this episode. I feel like I should have asked this sooner, but for whatever reason, I love to do things out of order. When someone comes to the Weiss Energy Hall, what kinds of exhibits do they see? I know we've mentioned fracking, we mentioned a few other things, but what are some of the other more popular exhibits? I kind of want to do a little video tour possibly later, but what is something that they could anticipate seeing if they came here?

00:25:18 Dustin Newcomb
Now we spent a considerable portion of the exhibit talking about the history of our knowledge of energy and the academic view of it. So everything from the formation of the universe to hydrocarbons that are being formed in the sea, things like that. So when you come here and you can actually go through everything chronologically from the big bang all the way to unconventional hydrocarbons and future tech or the way we laid it out, you can explore and whatever catches your eye. There's a lot of eye candy up here, so being able to go and check out a giant spinning drill bit and learn a little bit there or pop over to Energy City. So we have a bunch of little vignettes here that talk about the different energy sources as well and put it all together for you.

00:26:11 Bill
Tying that together, is there one that is more of an attraction than another for people when they come? Which one is that?

00:26:18 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, I think Energy City has put us on the mat, so a lot of people will come and just park themselves here for a good 45 minutes and watch the show. My office used to be up here and I would come out here with my laptop and work. It's a very zen space.

00:26:33 Bill

00:26:34 Jordan Yates
I like it a lot. In this day and age, I feel like oil and gas has always been a bit of a polarizing topic, but when you guys were taking over the fourth floor and making this exhibit happen, was there any pushback by any regulatory or commissions or anything that was like, " No, we don't want to spend this much money on oil and gas. No, we don't want to dedicate a floor," or was there an overwhelming amount of support for this exhibit?

00:27:00 Dustin Newcomb
Overwhelming support from all of our funders and from a lot of groups in the energy sector and consortiums. Yeah, we definitely wanted to give a really comprehensive and accurate outlay of, so the majority of this is oil and gas, but we also have a large section about renewables, and that portion I think reflects how it actually is in the wild. So the amount of renewables versus oil and gas, it's that squeezing the balloon. At some point that'll become a greater asset, but right now oil and gas is still kind of our meat and potatoes.

00:27:48 Jordan Yates
I like that. I like oil and gas and I like meat and potatoes, so that's a good combination there. Okay. Well, I think I've just about asked all my questions for this episode. I guess one more that I'll have is maybe somebody's not in Houston, maybe they don't have access to come here. Is there anything in this journey that you've learned that would translate to say another company or individual that wants to get more involved in the educational outreach for this energy industry? Do you have any tips for them of what they could do other than come here?

00:28:26 Dustin Newcomb
Yeah, that's a tough one. I'll have to think about that. I know we have a lot of online resources and we've worked with groups to help take portions of this and put it online. A lot of our animations and teaching tools can be used that way. So I think the internet is probably our easiest and best resource at this point.

00:28:51 Jordan Yates
Got to love the internet. I think Sami told me that you all have recently launched a podcast. Is this something that comes up in that podcast that you're aware of, any of these topics or is it more about the museum in general?

00:29:04 Dustin Newcomb
The museum encompasses a wide array of topics, so this is come up maybe a couple times, but there's also sharks and Tutankhamun and things like that that we have to compete with.

00:29:15 Jordan Yates
I mean, sharks are pretty cool, so that's going to be a rough one, but it looks like they'll need to go check that out. Do you know the name of that podcast?

00:29:25 Dustin Newcomb
Not off the top of my head.

00:29:26 Jordan Yates
We'll link it below. Awesome. Well, that's just about all I have. Bill, anything else you have before we sign off?

00:29:33 Bill
I'm good. Thank you.

00:29:35 Jordan Yates
I like it. Well guys, thank you so much for listening to another episode of The Energy Pipeline. I'm your host, Jordan Yates, and I'll see you next time.

00:29:44 Speaker 2
Come back next week for another episode of The Energy Pipeline, a production of the Oil and Gas Global Network. To learn more, go to

Jordan Yates Bio Image

Jordan YATES


Jordan Yates is a Marketing Engineer at a specialty ceramic capacitors company. Her interest in the sales and marketing side of the Manufacturing & Energy Industry have gained her recognition in the digital space, specifically LinkedIn. She is the host of her podcast, 'Failing For You' and The Energy Pipeline. 

Bill Jensen - Co-host - Bio

Bill Jensen


As a Senior Technical Fellow at SPM Oil & Gas, Bill Jensen brings more than 47 years of oil field experience that enables him to create innovative solutions for customers. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Houston in Mechanical Engineering, Machine Design. With his background, Bill hopes to share some of his experiences on The Energy Pipeline to highlight how the industry has evolved from the past, present and discuss what’s next for the future. 

Dustin Newcomb - Guest - Bio

Dustin Newcomb


Dustin C Newcomb is a Special Projects Exhibits Director at The Houston Museum of Natural Science. He has close to 30 years of experience in the design, planning, fabrication, and project management of museum exhibitions. Dustin project managed the 30,000 square foot highly immersive, technologically interactive Wiess Energy Hall for the Houston Museum of Natural Science which opened in late 2017/early 2018.