Formula for a Science Museum

This weekend, Matt and I went to the Science Center in Baltimore thanks to a nifty LivingSocial deal.  As Scientists(TM) and self-proclaimed nerds, we really enjoy playing around at museums.  We take somewhat different approaches to each exhibit, however: I read each posted sign or instruction (for hands-on exhibits), while Matt runs around touching things and speed-reading through various visuals.

I posted briefly about the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry on my last failed blog, and after our trip to Baltimore this weekend Matt and I realized our standards are now too high.  Chicago’s exhibits are top-notch and there is plenty of space for children to roam without getting too underfoot.  Baltimore’s exhibits followed the same tired pattern of every general science museum:

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves
  • Planets and Space
  • Flight
  • Earth and Nature
  • Dinosaurs
  • An IMAX theater
  • Science Store! (always my favorite exhibit)

Now the Baltimore museum did have a cool future energy-efficient cars exhibit, but from our travels it seems that is a new addition to the “must-have exhibits” in today’s science museums.  My favorite exhibit was the one with the least amount of children roaming about, a new study about race in the vein of “are we really all that different?”  We noticed that even though the exhibit was “new,” much of the data cited were from older studies, so even it seemed out-of-date.

The children seemed to enjoy themselves (which is most important), but after our Chicago experience, Matt and I left disappointed.  Chicago had the Bodyworks exhibit on display when we visited, which preserves real body parts so people can observe what they look like on the inside.  We were particularly impressed by the progression of fetuses (feti?) in various stages of development that had been preserved.  There was a baby chick hatchery with fresh chickens being born to a live audience, and there was a full-size train engine inside.  Even the food court was impressive.  Of course, we were also dazzled by the Science of Storms exhibit which included many of our friends and colleagues, as well as the IMAX dome showing of “Tornado Alley.”  We saw an IMAX film in Baltimore as well, but the screen was not a dome and the movie was made in the 1980’s.

Anyway, I think the take-home message is to support your local science museums, financially.  These places need the funds to update and maintain their exhibits–it could mean the difference between a two-story and a two-foot tornado simulator.