If you've been to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in the last year or so, you've probably noticed the building going up across the street with the giant globe on one side.
The Nature Research Center, a new wing of the museum, is now less than two months from opening. My family has watched the construction and that globe emerge for many months now. So I was excited to take a tour of the center this week.
I came away eager for the grand opening, which is scheduled for April 20. The center, with a variety of exhibits, hands-on activities and opportunities to talk one-on-one with scientists, offers a lot of new opportunities for kids. Toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy toddling among the exhibits. But older kids, even tweens and teens, who are interested in science, will find something for them here too.
The center will be an extension of the museum and aims to bring scientific research into the public eye. Admission is free. Visitors will be able to do everything from walk through and admire the exhibits to chat with scientists and conduct their own experiments.
The showcase for the 80,000-square-foot building is the Daily Planet, a three-story screen with surround sound and lots of other bells and whistles. It's on the inside of that big globe. The center will show nature films and feature guest speakers in the space, which can be viewed from three different levels.
And there's more. The center is still very much under construction, but some other highlights that I'm excited to see once it's all complete include:
- The skeleton of Stumpy, the whale, who was killed after colliding with a cargo ship. Unlike the whale skeletons at the museum, Stumpy is low enough for visitors to touch part of it.
- A new cafe, run by Rocky Top Hospitality, which will include seating in an outdoor patio and science shows such as MythBusters and Storm Chasers on plasma TVs. The cafe will serve beer and wine after 5 p.m.
- A replica of a submersible complete with video taking visitors down 2,000 feet to see North Carolina's coral reef.
- A 10,000-gallon aquarium with bonnethead shark and rays, among other creatures.
- Working science labs where visitors can watch what researchers are working on and talk to them about it. Their findings will be projected onto large glass walls.
- A new naturalists center, which was moved from the existing museum to a larger space in the center. Here visitors can choose from dozens of specimens. A special table in the naturalists center will recognize the tags on each of the specimens, launching an interactive video that offers more information about what a visitor is looking at. One person on my tour called it a 3D iPad; another called it a "magic table."
- An area where visitors can try out experiments with the help of center staff such as "armpit biodiversity" and DNA testing.
- A window on animal health where visitors can watch vets perform surgeries and check-ups on the museum's many animals (though perhaps not for the squeamish).
"It's all to entice you and inspire a new generation of scientists," said Jonathan Pishney, museum communications director.
I'll have more on the center as we get closer to the opening. For now, watch the video to hear more from Pishney and get a glimpse of the space (which, again, is obviously under construction).
For details on the 24-hour grand opening, click here. I'm looking forward to it!