Visitors can step into a tornado, ride a high-wire unicycle, marvel at indoor lighting and more, all in the name of science. Discovering the mysteries of the world sparks much excitement at these acclaimed science museums.
Suspended two stories above the floor, daring participants pedal a high-wire unicycle across an 84-foot-long cable at Cosi Columbus in Columbus, Ohio. The exhibit demonstrates principles of physics by showing how a 250-pound counterweight keeps every rider upright.
The museum offers guests many other challenges, such as driving a space rover over Martian terrain or attempting to land a space shuttle at simulator stations. Groups can choose hands-on activities to work on together at the Gadget Cafe. The experience offers various projects, such as making “flubber” or taking apart old computers.
Visitors of all ages find themselves mesmerized by the recently added American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery. From the giant, full-size cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex to the fragile feather inside a millennia-old fossilized amber, the dinosaur displays light up guests’ imaginations.
Three hundred other hands-on exhibits cover a range of science topics. Groups can factor in stops at the Giant Screen Theater for a larger-than-life National Geographic film or the Planetarium for a guided tour of the constellations.
Bradbury Science Museum
Los Alamos, New Mexico
At one point during World War II, Los Alamos, New Mexico, suddenly no longer existed. Those who knew relatives there could only make contact by writing to P.O. Box 1663.
The secrecy of the Manhattan Project and its goal of building nuclear weapons led to the town’s disappearance and eventual reappearance in 1945. The Bradbury Science Museum reveals the significance of the Manhattan Project, which was developed at the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Groups can discover the fascinating history behind the covert project as well as view full-size models of the Little Boy and Fat Man atomic bombs. Forty interactive exhibits highlight the laboratory’s current and historic research projects related to defense and technology.
Two 16-minute films explain the race to build the first atomic bomb.
They may have served as Dorothy’s worst nightmare in “The Wizard of Oz,” but the wild winds of a tornado excite scientific interest in the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Participants can feel the strength of this natural phenomenon by stepping inside a re-created tornado.
With more than 650 hands-on exhibits, the Exploratorium allows guests to turn upside down in a curved mirror, walk on a fog bridge and experience historic rainstorms. The museum is divided into six main galleries covering topics such as engineering, psychology, geography and biology.
Opened in 1969, the museum celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Though popular with children, the museum also delights adults, which the museum promotes by reserving certain times as adult-admission only.
Groups can walk through the Tactile Dome, which plunges participants into total darkness, forcing them to navigate the exhibit using their nonvisual senses. At the “Colored Shadow” exhibit, colors seem to magically spring from darkness as visitors create shadows of red, blue and other colors.
One well-attended exhibit, “Soap Film Painting,” features a giant square soap bubble the size of a picture window.
Museum of Science and Industry
For groups visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the hardest part is deciding where to go first. With 14 acres of hands-on exhibits, groups can navigate a mirror maze, manipulate a 40-foot tornado or run inside a human-size hamster wheel.
One of the largest science museums in the country, the organization offers tours that last anywhere from a few hours to an entire weekend.
The Henry Crown Space Center features the Apollo 8 spacecraft, which flew the first mission beyond low earth orbit to the moon. Nearby, groups can also control a simulated Mars Rover and try their hand at docking a shuttle to a walk-in mockup of the International Space Station.
Other favorite experiences allow participants to tinker with design software at “Dream It, Design It, Fab It,” examine their own blood running through their veins and create an avalanche.
For an additional fee, groups can tour the German U-505 submarine captured during World War II. Another optional experience re-creates a 1933 underground coal mine that guest can explore.
Museum of Science Boston
Indoor lightning bolts produced by the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator amaze onlookers at the Museum of Science Boston. The museum’s 20-minute lightning presentation explores conductors, electricity and storm safety inside a 350-seat auditorium.
This highly popular experience is one of over 700 interactive exhibits at one of the country’s largest science centers. A recently opened exhibit, “Wicked Smart: Invented in the Hub,” celebrates Boston-based innovations. Visitors can take a picture of themselves in the exhibit’s particle mirror.
The science museum also houses over 100 animals. Live animal presentations provide insight into an animal’s adaptations and environmental conditions. Groups can step into a re-created tropical oasis at the Butterfly Garden to walk among exotic plants and freely flying butterflies.
The Hands-On Laboratory invites visitors to become scientists with the tools to conduct their own experiments. Other popular exhibits include “Science in the Park,” “Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic” and the “Hall of Human Life.”