25 incredible Science Centers that will leave you absolutely astounded!
The first science center in the United States was opened in west St. Petersburg, Florida in 1959. It was founded as a science education facility and continues to this day, hosting tens of thousands of school children tramping through as part of their school-year field trips or participating in courses and workshops. Other science centers opened shortly thereafter, like the Pacific Science Center in the Seattle World's Fair building in 1962 and the Discovery Room in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
The hallmark of a science center is the emphasis on interactivity and experimentation. In contrast to museums, science centers encourage kids to touch, feel, shake, listen and learn! They inspire curiosity about how things work and then deliver on the questions with the answers. Get your hands on this list of science centers across the country that are dedicated to instilling a love of discovery and exploration about our planet and beyond.
COSI is short for Center of Science and Industry, but think of it as a place where children can cozy up to science with an assortment of age-appropriate activities and free-range environments that encourage unbridled discovery. Parents' magazine named it the best science center in the country and you know what they say about listening to your parents.
The Museum of Science is a modern museum rooted in history. It was started by a group of men interested in sharing their fascination with natural history specimens with each other and the public. They formed a society, which led to the Museum of Science, which is now one of the world's largest science centers. Exhibits range from the mellow, like a walk through a butterfly garden to more adventurous, like designing your own virtual reality roller coaster ride.
The St. Louis Science Center started as a planetarium, so you get to explore the stars as well as the science of what happens here on earth. Pretend you are a paleontologist working a dig site where you can unearth the replicas of real fossils found in the Badlands of Montana or learn about astronomy, ecology and energy. The sky's the limit!
The Exploratorium is designed to stretch your imagination with "eye-opening" exhibits and online experiences to "spark curiosity and ignite creativity." Explore it all, from the Arts to Waves with real and virtual tours and hands-on experiments. Make an appointment to challenge your senses in the light deprived Tactile Dome or play with light and sound in the Bechtel Central Gallery.
Sci-Port began as a collection of exhibits around town in places like bank lobbies and malls that captured the imagination and support of the community for a science center. They have a permanent location in Shreveport, Louisiana now that includes hundreds of exhibits across six Discovery Galleries. What's unique about Sci-Port is their portable science and math programs that bring hands-on exhibits to more than 20,000 students each year, including many in underserved areas.
The Liberty Science Center has a seeming limitless choice of things you do, including climb the infinity chamber, explore the land of Diego and Dora or watch a movie about the robots coming a home near you in their IMAXÂ® Theater. On the weekends you can experience a lightning show, courtesy of Tesla and for an additional fee, embark on a tour of the Titanic told through their collection of more than 100 artifacts.
Planetariums are a common attraction at science centers. At the Maryland Science Center stargazing on their urban rooftop observatory is free and open to the public on Friday nights. On the first Fridays of the month admission is discounted, but any day of the week they are open you can access their exhibits like Newton's Alley where motion and gravity are explored or enjoy the spectacle of full size dinosaur skeletons, like T. rex.
Gingerbread Lane is now open at the New York Hall of Science, so you can tour the sweet constructions made by chef Jon Lovitch that sprawl across 500 square feet and take him a year to compose. Gingerbread Lane won the Guinness World Record for largest gingerbread village the past two years and is hoping for a three-peat! Ongoing exhibits center around health, math, molecules and sports and projects and programs encourage families to explore together and invite the community to get involved.
Journey to space at the California Science Center or immerse yourself in the earth's ecosystem to learn how plants, animals and people are all connected. Explore the River Zone or the Forest Zone or spend time with the littlest science lovers in the Creative World Discovery Room where technology aids in discovery while also being a topic of exploration.
The Franklin Institute is a science center and museum that is recognized as a leader in science and technology exploration. Their 12 permanent exhibit galleries include deep dives into the workings of the brain, the heart, planes, trains and machines! Limited special engagements are on display, like a closer look at Genghis Khan's contribution to history and Vatican Splendors with artifacts and religious art, some that have never before left Vatican City in Rome.
Each of Discovery Cube's locations' mission is to inspire and educate the next generation of scientists, supporting them with knowledge and facilities they will need to make a positive impact on their communities. The Orange County location features exciting educational opportunities like the Extreme Dinosaurs Exhibit which allows visitors to explore the prehistoric world that once was. OceanQuest at Newport Beach focuses on helping visitors develop a greater understanding and appreciation for the wonder that is the ocean. And the Los Angeles location has a variety of highly kid-friendly exhibits like the Dora and Diego: Let's Explore exhibit, offering adventures with their favorite explorers.
Chocolate is the current featured exhibit at the Exploreum! That's a fun topic and a fun name, which signifies the melding of hands-on and interactive experiences with tried and true educational programs that teach kids important lessons about chemistry and biology with down-to-earth projects that explain things like electricity, gravity and even how our bodies work. Emphasis is also placed on understanding the unique ecosystem of the Gulf Coast with a goal of promoting science literacy for the residents of the region.
The name Carnegie conjures images of science, technology, and music. Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Science Center, which is one of four Carnegie museums in Pittsburgh. The Science Center includes a planetarium, an Omnimax Theater, which is a "four-story IMAXÂ® dome theater," and the biggest screen in the Pittsburgh area, adding to the magical effect of screenings like The Polar Express, Robots and Titans of the Ice Age. Programs, camps, classes and workshops instill a love of learning and live shows complement the exhibits and educator resources.
The Michigan Science Center took up where the Detroit Science Center left off when it closed in 2011. For a limited time you can meet a T, rex named Sue who is the "most complete and best preserved T. rex ever discovered." Sue is one of three special exhibits like Toytopia and Nano. The exhibit galleries are organized around topics like Engineering, Health & Nutrition, Kids Town, Motion and Space. Live shows, a 4D and IMAXÂ® Dome Theater add to the attractions and the planetarium hosts shows that deal with "our place in space" and a closer look at what we can't always see in the night sky.
The Pacific Science Center was designed and constructed in time for the 1962 World's Fair by Minoru Yamasaki, famous for having designed the original World Trace Center. The structure hasn't lost any of its glamour over the years. The iconic arches and fountains delight visitors and residents alike and are lit up at night and with the changing seasons. Exhibits and programs cater to kids of all ages and many of the exhibits encourage families and groups to learn together. Adults are not forgotten and catered to with lectures and "science cafes," and if science is your thing, those 21 and older are invited to join them for a New Year's Eve celebration that treats revelers to the best view of the annual fireworks show that welcomes the New Year in Seattle.
Journey to space; learn about pandas or the workings of the human body with an exhibit called BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life. It might make your skin crawl to see human specimens preserved for educational purposes, but the workings of the human body are so compelling you won't be able to turn away. Special events include Winter Break Camps, for kids who want to keep on learning even when school is in recess and it's become a yearly tradition to bring your little ones in their comfy clothes or pajamas, for PJs in North Pole City, where parents and kids come together for a very special viewing of The Polar Express in their IMAXÂ® theater, followed by story time, crafts and photo ops with the train and Santa!
The Children's Museum of Science and Technology is a place for kids, as you might have guessed by its name. Children are front and center in the creation of the exhibits, camps and classes and they can even have their friends in to help them celebrate their birthdays. The museum operates as part of the State University of New York's Polytechnic Institute's Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. That's a mouthful, but their aim is not to complicate science but to make it accessible and to "instill a sense of wonder and discovery in young minds, inspiring a lifelong exploration of science and technology."
In addition to the permanent and special exhibits, SciWorks offers 17 acres outdoors where you can take a walk in their wildflower gardens that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, lay down a blanket for a picnic or watch animals hanging in their natural environments. Indoors, the permanent exhibits inspire wonder about our planet, including local and global conservation efforts, the SciLab where you can view fossils and artifacts and the Planetarium, where a laser light show illuminates the night sky in their multi-media theater.
The Montshire Museum of Science prides itself on being both hands-on and self-guided, so you can spend the day tooling around at your own pace amongst their more than 140 exhibits housed in a building surrounded by 110 acres that aid in learning about nature and the environment. Kids of all ages can learn about air and weather, light and sound, the earth, the stars, water and how it moves. More than likely, the experience will move you to want to learn more about how things work and what we can do to preserve life on our planet.
Field trip! That's like a road trip for kids-something you look forward to while you keep saying "are we there, yet?" At the Discovery Science Place they like to say science is their middle name. And, it is! In fact, science is at the heart of everything they do, like Science Saturdays, where short, free lessons are delivered around topics like the human body or the human mouth! Speak up if you're not getting this-The Discovery Place is dedicated to "igniting curiosity in young minds through fun, hands-on exploration." With its reasonable admission price and exhibits that are accessible by guests in wheelchairs, they welcome children and adults of all abilities to experience our world through their lens.
At the Lawrence Hall of Science, the University of California, Berkeley has a hand in the hands-on exhibits designed to deliver school quality science in an after school environment. Their "Science Out-of-School" programs tease out the inner scientist in us all with explanations of how science figures into everyday activities. Programs for schools include K-12 activities designed by "leading educators at UC Berkeley" and their festivals, science shows, field trips and workshops "help shape the future of science learning."
Science City is proud to have won an "EDGIE" award for 2015 that signifies their status as an exceptional visitor experience. They have also been named one of the country's 25 best science centers by Parents' Magazine. One of the many unique attributes of Science City is its location within Union Station, which has both architectural and historical significance. The individual attractions that capture the imagination are too many to mention, but with names like Dinolab and Digsite, Engineerium, Kinderlab, Maze Park and Maker Studio, you won't be bored for a minute!
The Kentucky Science Center is for kids, grownups, educators and members that make the work of the nonprofit possible. They believe in the power of play to transform learning experiences and they design their environments to welcome the young and old alike. Anyone interested in the science behind how things work will find an exhibit to lean in to or get his or her hands on. They like to say that everyone is a natural scientist and certainly everyone is welcome to explore the wonder of science or kick back in their four-story digital theater.
The Museum of Science and Industry has a rich history and is happy to claim the distinction of being one of the largest in the world. They are also proud of their relationship with the Center for the Advancement of Science Education (CASE), which helps them accomplish their mission and vision of "motivating children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, medicine and engineering." The museum is generous in offering admission free to active military personnel and Illinois residents 52 days each year. Just show your current ID to get in to see the more than 35,000 artifacts, permanent exhibits and special programs in the "only remaining building constructed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition." For those more interested in entertainment than education, they also boast "Chicago's only five-story domed OmnimaxÂ® theater."
The Wonderlab started in 1995 with the help of volunteers who brought "hands-on science" activities to the community at events. In 2003 they found a permanent home for their programs and exhibits in their current location, but the business of bringing science to the community is still helped by their many partners like Indiana University and Ivy Tech, and many local businesses, artists and nonprofits. The Bubble-Airium is a popular exhibit that explains the serious science behind something seemingly so silly. Visit the Hall of Science where exhibits focus on the "diversity of the living world," let the little ones play in the indoor Discovery Garden or venture outdoors to the WonderGarden with a look at how plants change over the course of the seasons as well as the impact of solar power.