Raleigh, N.C. — Visitors stepped foot into the new wing of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Friday night. The gala opening of the Nature Research Center marked a celebration of science that drew patrons from across the state.
"I've been reading about it and been talking to a friend who works here, so we were just excited to come. I think it's wonderful," said Sarah Penry, who made the trip from Winston-Salem.
She and other gala-goers were the first to touch the hands-on exhibits in the $56 million, 80,000-square-foot museum expansion more than two years in the making.
From outside, as bands played Friday, the Daily Planet was aglow with outlines of the continents, while indoors the three-story theater played high-resolution images of the state's natural wonders. Overhead, the 90-foot "Patterns of Nature" LCD sculpture flashed in shades of gray.
It is an addition Raleigh leaders hope continues to draw tourists to the city.
"I was talking to some people from Baltimore, and they say they don't even have a museum close to this," said Raleigh City Councilman Eugene Weeks.
Among the features is WRAL Storm Central, where maps and data allow amateur meteorologists to match forecasts with the WRAL-TV team. In addition to interactive exhibits, the center will host labs where visitors can observe the work of real researchers.
"What we hope is we'll have a wonderful flow of ideas, new ideas from all the youth seeing the possibilities, seeing where science and technology can take us, respecting nature and our environment," said Roy Campbell, director of exhibits for the museum.
Next Friday, the center opens to the public in a 24-hour grand opening celebration. It begins at 5 p.m. and tours, music, food and performances continue through the night. Admission is free.