Destination: Nature Research Center's Natural World Investigate Lab
Posted January 31, 2014 10:43 a.m. EST
The first time we went to the Nature Research Center soon after it opened almost two years ago, my then seven-year-old immediately gravitated toward the second floor Natural World Investigate Lab.
Here, like the scientists she watched elsewhere in N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, she could sit at laboratory tables and conduct experiments of her own. That first visit was quick. My then two-year-old wasn't so taken with the opportunity.
But I brought my grade schooler back on her own a couple of weeks later. That time, we spent nearly two hours there so she could complete just about all of the experiments, ask questions and look at all sorts of things under a microcope. And we've been pretty regular ever since especially now that my preschooler enjoys a visit there.
In fact, Bob Alderink, the lab's coordinator, recognized us when I returned earlier this week for an interview though I hadn't introduced myself before then. The lab is open seven days a week, closed sometimes for school groups, homeschool classes and other special programs. From time to time, Alderink or other lab staffers will show off some fun experiments on their own.
"There's really almost no topic that we don't cover," said Alderink, a science educator at the museum since 1994.
The lab, designed to look like any other lab you might find in a research facility, has long tables topped with experiments. Here, kids can follow along with a friendly instructor on an iPad to build a bridge or to learn to use various beakers, pipettes and flasks to measure liquid. Kids can make their own fingerprints or look at things up close with a high definition TV microscope that doesn't require the usual adjusting needed with traditional microscopes.
The Nature Research Center is really designed for older kids, but the lab offers something for everybody here. My preschooler enjoys the trays where kids can work with the beakers, flasks, pipettes and other instruments on their own (without guidance from an iPad). In fact, my younger daughter enjoyed it so much that when she realized we had funnels, a cookie sheet and cups, she often makes her own volumetric tray at home.
"She's four years old and she's using the exact same kind of equipment our scientists use," Alderink said.
And that's why my kids love this place. The experiments don't talk down to them. They are simple, interesting and teach some great lessons about how the natural world has informed how we do things. At the same time, they're trusted with real equipment that scientists use every day.
The lab is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. It's one of three investigate labs at the Nature Research Center. There's also the Micro World and Visual World labs.
For more about the Natural World lab, watch my video interview with Alderink. The Nature Research Center is part of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Admission is free. All activities in the lab are free.