Catch the Wind in Durham
Posted June 26, 2007
Check out today's video of my visit to the N.C. Museum of Life and Science's new exhibit, "Catch the Wind."
Photographer Anthony Shepherd and I went up there Friday afternoon. Museum spokeswoman Allison Savicz gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the new exhibit. It's a series of outdoor stations, exploring the nature of wind and its effect on the environment.
The first thing you notice is the huge, 30-foot-tall "seed tower." A magnetic conveyor belt grabs big foam "seeds" and drops them 30 feet, showing you how those seeds gently fall through the wind. A shady spot in the woods reveals a mist garden, which lets you see how air moves, blowing through buildings and plants.
The museum has installed an "ornithopter" in the exhibit. It lifts visitors off the ground with flapping wings, modeled after birds and insects. Apparently, weights in the machine move to balance the weight of the passengers. Wings on the machine flap, sending you about 12 feet in the air. This is not a ride in a Boeing 737, or anything like that -- but the little ones will enjoy it. [Note: There is no in-flight meal service.]
Everyone will enjoy the big sailboat pond. Stations are set up around the 5,000-square-foot elliptical pool, allowing visitors to operate radio-controlled sailboats. Depending on the captain, the sailboat pond was either a lovely day on the water -- or the scene of fierce naval battles. We met one kid who admitted to engaging in martime warfare out there. Smaller kids can play with tiny sailboats in an adjacent sailboat tub.
Those are just some of the big attractions in the new exhibit. "Catch the Wind" is a serene, calming outdoor experience -- a quiet getaway for you and the kids this summer. They'll have fun and might learn something.
Of course, there is a lot more to the N.C. Museum of Life and Science. It has terrific indoor exhibits, exploring many facets of science and technology. This is not a behind-the-display-case kind of museum. There are plenty of interactive, hands-on exhibits, focusing on weather, geology, aerospace and more. Everyone loves the Magic Wings Butterfly House, which lets you experience exotic butterflies in their native tropical environment. It's like being outside on a humid, 80-degree day, but it's all inside.
The museum has plenty to do outside, as well. In addition to the new wind exhibit, you can visit "Explore the Wild" and see bears, lemurs, wolves and more animals in their natural habitats. (We saw some of the museum's black bears playing in the water Friday afternoon.) You can also take a fun train ride on Ellerbee Creek Railway.
The museum also is raising money to bring back the popular dinosaur trail. New scientific discoveries and the elements took their toll on the old trail. Hurricane Fran's damage dealt the final blow in 1996. The new Dinosaur Trail will be the final piece of the museum's "BioQuest" master plan, which includes the Butterfly House, Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind exhibits.
It's a great place for the family this summer. It's easy to find, between Duke and Roxboro streets on Murray Avenue in Durham. There is an admission, which you can read about here. Durham County residents get in free every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.