Discover Connecticut: the Connecticut Science Center
The brand new 154,000 square foot Connecticut Science Center in Hartford is an entertaining and educational way to spend an entire day with the whole family, while leaving much to explore for additional excursions.
The center’s 10 galleries and 150-plus exhibits were designed with a primary focus on interactive education, and the amount of hands-on activities is almost overwhelming. The interaction is geared toward personalized experiences and competitive thinking - one exhibit allows participants to write, perform, record, and keep their own weather forecast, while another allows attendees to engineer and race Lego carts against one another.
It is impossible to describe all 150-plus interactive exhibits in a single article, and this one simply touches on the more incredible of the activities. The science center is a perfect destination for families with children – it is loaded with incredibly clever and educational exhibits that are plain fun for all ages. Kids will have a tremendously fun and educational time at the exhibits, games, and activities. Parents will unquestionably find themselves just as entertained as their children.
The highlights are numerous. One exhibit puts participants in padded, reclined seats for a spaceship simulator. Pilots can then traverse the Milky Way at their own digression. A futuristic, digital tabletop displays an interactive video game in which players reach with their arms to steal and ward off positive and negative health aspects like a live action version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Many exhibits incorporate some combination of competition, building, and education, including constructing carts, pasta bridges, paper airplanes, bikes, and rollercoasters, as well as a skiing simulator, levitating beach balls onto platforms with air guns, and manipulating a wind tunnel to race sailboats.
Red-shirted gallery scientists roam the building and man stations, running exhibits and answering science queries.
The center is located 30 minutes from North Haven, just a few turns off of exit 29a on I-91 North. Opened June 12, the two-tower building was designed by world-class architect Cesar Pelli, crafter of the top-10 tallest structure Petronas Buildings of Malaysia. One tower leans toward the Connecticut River and over I-91, as if peaking down on motorists, while the other remains back.
A typical family museum trip lasts three to five hours, according to a science center pamphlet, not including time spent in the center’s theaters.
A majority of the center’s walls are huge panes of glass, allowing ample ambient light to flood the structure. Both towers afford incredible aerial views of the area, stretching from Hartford to the Manchester hills. The towers are connected by the atrium’s open walkways, which offer heart stopping looks at 10-story drops for those brave enough to peer over the steel guardrails.
Parking for over 450 vehicles is located underneath the center in a garage which is easily found by following the directional signs. From there, take an elevator up into the gigantic, open, 10-story atrium. Notice the open elevators, allowing for a look into their mechanics.
The museum has six oversized floors which span the height of 10 stories. The first floor atrium includes the café, gift shop, 3-D theater, ticketing, and gallery entrance. The wheelchair accessible theater is currently showing “Dinosaurs Alive” and “3-D Sun.” Children in the theater shrieked in delight as dinosaur fossils came to life onscreen. Additionally, the first floor includes a children’s gallery designed for ages three to seven, but open to all.
Floors two and three are museum staff offices, while floors four through six house the other galleries. Museum publicist and media tour guide Edward Main suggested attendees begin on the sixth floor and work their way down.
One on side of the sixth floor is the recently planted, open rooftop garden. The garden offered amazing aerial views of the city and surrounding towns. The three indoor galleries opposite the garden housed a number of earth-centric exhibits. The meteorologist station can be found here – participants can e-mail themselves a copy of their recorded forecast. Channel 3 will soon be airing its own weather forecasts live from the same green screen, Main said.
Continue through the galleries to find more interactive activities, including a flight simulator that travels the entire expanse of the Connecticut River. An interactive river section allowed attendees to divert and damn rushing water with sediment and debris. Participants in a wet lab run by two gallery scientists inspected insects, water, and plant matter from samples of two rivers in West Hartford to determine the healthier waterway. An interactive, digital globe showcased weather patterns.
The “4-D” climate change theater, which is free with gallery admission and not to be missed, mixes live action props and weather simulation with an animated film. Next, head to “Energy City,” where activities include determining one’s carbon footprint, positioning solar panels for best use, and a converted, energy-efficient pinball machine.
Proceed to the “Picture of Health” gallery on the fifth floor to find the tabletop digital game. Across from the table is this reporter’s favorite exhibit, “Mind Ball,” a stress level tug of war. Two contestants wrap straps around their heads. A long tube containing a ball is between the players. The straps measure alpha and theta brain waves and send the signals into the tube, and the ball inside moves toward the more stressed competitor. The game ends when the ball comes to the end of one side of the tube.
Other health exhibits include hands-on prosthetic limb examples and an interactive activity in which participants feed and exercise a computerized individual to see the results.
Continue on into the sports lab and its many interactive exhibits. Activities include performing calisthenics to learn one’s heart rate, throwing a beanbag to receive instructions on how to improve pitching mechanics, and building mountain bikes.
A favorite in the sports lab is the helmet testing device, Main said. Place a helmet on a dummy’s head and crank back a giant, weighted hammer. Release for impact, and a computer will calculate the mathematics of the crash, including whether of not the person would have lost consciousness in the collision.
Continue toward the Invention Dimension gallery. In the hallway, check out the hair-raising Van de Graaff generator. Inside the invention gallery, build spaghetti bridges and test their strength, manipulate the sounds of circuit hacks of childhood toys, and construct Rube Goldberg machines.
Proceed to the space gallery. Interactive exhibits here include the spaceship simulator, traversing Earth and watching weather patterns from the view of space, and piloting a rover over the surface of mars on a simulator.
The fourth floor contains traveling exhibit space, currently occupied by a gallery of competitive and scientific games. Activities include the skiing-simulator, cart building and racing, stop motion animation creation, a peddle station to determine how much horsepower one can produce, and the rollercoaster assembly. The noisy room resembled an arcade, and children hurried eagerly from exhibit to exhibit.
Across the hallway is the “Forces in Motion” gallery. This room includes more racing carts, paper airplanes levitating over large air fans, a robotics exhibit, shooting carts along a magnetic levitation track, and controlling a wind tunnel to race sail boats. “I want to play too!” a young boy said, waiting his turn to race a boat.
In the motion gallery, do not miss the floating beach balls. Levitated by the Bernoulli Effect, the beach balls are guided through the air by participants into rings five feet off the ground.
Finally, proceed to the “Sight and Sound Experience” gallery. Activities here include a floor that lights up and produces noise when walked upon, lights on a wall that expand as participants move through the motion sensor, a light show created by one’s voice, and a music board that reacts to touch like a DJ’s discs. The room is one gigantic, science-fueled jam session.
The first floor café dishes up everything from hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, and oven fresh pizza, to roasted Portobello mushroom sandwiches and lemon thyme vinaigrette salad. The gift shop provides the usual science-themed paraphernalia, as well as Hartford memorabilia.
Museum summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
General admission is $16 adult, $14.50 65 and up, $13 ages three to 17. Movie passes are $6, $5, and $4, respectively, and combo movie and general admission passes are $19, $17.50, and $16. All admissions are free for ages 2 and under.
The center is located at 250 Columbus Blvd. For more information, visit www.ctsciencecenter.org or call 1-860-SCIENCE.