You don’t have to travel far to see Egyptian mummies, explore deep space, or unearth a world of dinosaurs. All it takes is packing up the kids and spending a few hours on the open road to experience the region’s impressive stash of science-themed museums. They might just get something the classroom doesn’t always supply: fun.
COSI, or the Center of Science and Industry, was rated as the number one science center in the country by Parents magazine in 2008 (take that, Smithsonian). The massive downtown Columbus museum—organized by theme and filled with hundreds of exhibits—was designed by renowned architect Arata Isozaki and incorporates an old high school building. Channel your inner Indiana Jones in the Adventure section, which allows you to try your hand as an archaeologist by unearthing secrets in the Valley of the Unknown and navigating the Maze of Reason. Make sure to check out WOSU@COSI, a working public television and radio studio with its own green screen and studio. And don’t leave without trying the unicycle high wire, an 84-foot balancing act suspended two stories up (don‘t worry: you’re kept safe by a 250-pound counterweight). COSI even features rotating daily shows, including Japanese Black Hooded rats that play one-on-one ratsketball.
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
Usually, to visit a planetarium, zoo, and aquarium you’d have to do some serious traveling. Unless you’re going to Dayton, that is. The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is one of just four museums in the country that is also accredited as an official zoo, housing everything from Madagascar hissing cockroaches to a pair of river otters named Shiloh and Sushi. And instead of just looking from afar like at a normal zoo, you get to learn extra stuff about your favorite animals, such as why a skunk has its stripes (answer: to alert predators to their stink-producing skills). The museum also has a techy side: Jump into the Splash exhibit and learn all about water in the Miami Valley, from conservation to treatment to careers. Climb into the Mead Treehouse, an enclosed treehouse outside of the museum’s walls that’s perfect for bird watching. And get a little dose of ancient history when you visit Nesiur, the Egyptian mummy, in the African Room. As for Oscar Boonshoft Science Central, it’s a hands-on utopia. Draw, build, and then demolish a home, create some slime, or even make your own snow. From November 15 through 17, Boonshoft will host the Dayton Regional Science Festival, which will feature plenty of family friendly events celebrating technology, engineering, mathematics, and—you guessed it—science.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Atop the entrance to the world’s largest children’s museum is a statue of one of the animal kingdom’s largest creatures, the Brachiosaurus. Just inside, you’ll see the massive Fireworks of Glass sculpture, a 43-foot-tall tower made from 3,200 pieces of glass blown by world-famous artist Dale Chihuly. Then inside the Dinosphere exhibit, you can see Bucky the T. Rex and Kelsey the Triceratops and learn about the process of excavating fossils. Raising a budding scientist? Visit the Biotechnology Learning
Center, which features daily labs on everything from recycling to cell modeling. Through December, kids can build a car in the LEGO Travel Adventure or you can live vicariously through them as they hop on the life-size Lego Travel Adventure Vehicle.
Great Lakes Science Center
If space is your thing, Great Lakes Science Center is your place. At the NASA Glenn Visitor Center (part of the museum since 2010), you can get a look at John Glenn’s flight suit, view a shuttle landing simulator, and even see the Skylab 3 Command Module, which took three astronauts to the Skylab Space Station in 1973. And space stuff isn’t all you’ll see here: Go inside the 618-foot William G. Mather steamship and learn about Great Lakes shipping history or see Northeast Ohio’s first wind turbine and solar panel array, which when combined, supply a portion of the museum’s electricity. Through January 6, the Frogs exhibit displays more than 70 frogs and toads of 15 different species, including Poison Dart Frogs and Fire-bellied Toads. Explore how important they are to ecosystems and hear a cacophony of croaks and chirps.
Originally published in the November 2012 issue