The Connecticut Science Center

Hot News: Science is Cool!

By Barbara Malinsky/Photos courtesy CT science Center

It is rocket science…and earth science, planetary science, energy science, health science, and so much more.  From the microcosm of the human body to the macrocosm of the universe, the Connecticut Science Center provides hands-on exhibits that make discovery fun for all ages.   Its mission is “to inspire lifelong learning through interactive and innovative experiences that explore our changing world through science”.

The brilliant, stimulating facility is jam-packed with so many areas to investigate that one trip isn’t enough to experience them all.  “This museum is about the science of today.  Science is all around us from a baseball pitcher throwing a pitch to engineering a bridge.  People are afraid of science but we are breaking ­down the barriers of what science is,” publicist Ed Main explained.

Build It and They Will Come

The CSC is part of the Adriaen’s Landing complex which also includes the Connecticut Convention Center, Front Street – a multi-use complex of residential units, entertainment and retail venues – and the privately developed Hartford Marriott Downtown Hotel.  Connecticut is well known for its excellence in education so when this site became available, the idea for an inquiry-based science center resonated with the public because they wanted something substantive.  The CSC opened in June 2009 and exceeded attendance expectations in its first year.   It will soon connect through walkways and plazas to the Connecticut River with access to the riverfront, cruises, and the nearby Founder’s Bridge.

A Magic Carpet Ride

Designed by Connecticut-based, world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, the CSC has redefined the Hartford skyline.  A stunning matrix of glass and steel, it grows upward and outward, its riverside stretching toward the Connecticut River.   Entering the main lobby, visitors are welcomed into a 143-foot soaring, sun-drenched atrium where the suspended, kinetic sculptures of West Cornwall artist, Tim Prentice, give form to ambient air currents.  ­­An undulating roof, dubbed the Magic Carpet, echoes the building’s pitch toward the river creating a connection to the peacefully flowing stream somewhat like a diving board relates to a pool. The configuration of the roof is a visual metaphor for the flights of discovery waiting inside.  The architectural design immediately establishes a sense of arrival and anticipation.

LEEDing the Way

The building itself is an example of scientific innovation and cutting edge technology.  It is the embodiment of the power of science to change our world and adapt to altering needs.  It has received gold level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification – a designation given to “green buildings” that meet certain criteria for energy conservation.  Beginning with the site itself, the actual soil was treated before building to meet impeccable environmental standards.  Most of the steel used was made from recycled autos while the carpeting is reimagined recycled plastic.  Energy-saving glass and sensors detect light levels.  The rooftop garden not only insulates the building but also provides an oasis, a gathering place providing stunning river views.

The Jewel in the Crown

The crowning achievement of the design is actually found not at the crown or apex of the structure but rather outside where a hydrogen fuel cell provides its energy needs. Invented by Connecticut’s United Technologies, it powers the center during operating hours and, when closed, sends its energy back to the grid.  The CSC is the first in the country to use a hydrogen fuel cell to provide the majority of its power.

A Baker’s Dozen 

The price of admission gives access to 11 galleries and two theaters.   All exhibits encourage interaction with a “please touch” message.  The spaces are arranged thematically and present scientific concepts in a playful environment. Sight and Sound, Forces in Motion, Energy City, Exploring Space, Invention Dimension, KidSpace, Picture of Health, Planet Earth, River of Life, Sports Lab, and a rotating exhibit bring abstract knowledge to life.  Two theaters also present timely scientific topics.  The 200-seat Hoffman Foundation 3D Movie Theater is state-of-the-art.  Pop on your 3D glasses and be transported to any number of places in and out of this world.  Now Playing – Wild Ocean.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Yes we are!  We’ve just arrived at KidSpace that features I Spy author Walter Wick’s (Ink, September 2008) search-and-find challenges. Squeals of laughter, oohs, and aahs can be heard approaching the area.  This gallery was designed for the youngest future scientists who are seven years old or younger. Donned in waterproof aprons, they are exploring the power sources of wind, water, and magnetism.

Planet Earth opens a window to the world of meteorology.  The earth is constantly evolving in both small and large ways.  Changes might be as small as the weather or as grand as tectonic plate shifts causing earthquakes and tsunamis.  Mark Dixon of WFSB (Channel 3) delivers his noon weather report every day from this green screen location and you can simulate your own weather report from here as well.

Exploring Space is more like a theme park attraction where you can strap yourself into a flight chair and experience flying over Mars, venture into a Black Hole or observe a supernova as you navigate the galaxy.  It’s 2010, A Space Odyssey.

Connecticut’s Who’s Who

Invention Dimension highlights inventors from Connecticut.  This state is the “little engine that does”.   Did you know that Pratt and Whitney engines rocketed our astronauts into space and that United Technologies designed and constructed the space suits?  The first nuclear submarine was developed in New London.  Did you know that Igor Sikorsky invented the helicopter that is not only useful for military purposes but saves lives every day evacuating the displaced, sick, and injured?  By extension, Elisha Otis, inventor of the elevator, made the skyscraper possible and Edwin H. Land gave us virtually instant photographs with his Polaroid Camera.

Even in the recreational department, Connecticut has made its mark in the world producing the wiffle ball, Frisbee, erector set, Ovation Guitar, and Cannondale bike.  The concept for the Frisbee originated when cavorting Yale students began tossing pie plates from the Frisbie Pie Company; a Yale medical student created the erector set. The Cannondale Bicycle Corporation pioneered the aluminum frame.

Bill Nye the Science Guy 

Actually, five full-time science guys and gals are on staff at the CSC.  These Gallery Scientists are there on a daily basis covering five floors of exhibition space where they perform a variety of demonstrations inspired by the CSC’s exhibits and real-world events and are available to work with you.

Spurred by the concept of the “no child left behind” initiative, the CSC is also a destination for field trips from schools throughout the state.  All programs are tied to the Connecticut State Curriculum guide for grades five through eight.  Pfizer has sponsored four labs on the lower level where students participate in scientific experiments. In addition, the CSC has partnered with Central, Eastern, Southern, and Western Connecticut State Universities.  Called the i4 initiative, it will showcase science research at these four universities and support career paths for students pursing fields in science.  Applications include genetics, geology, navigation, and technological simulations.

Simply Irresistible

The exhibits are so seductive that I simply had to participate

in some of them.   What did I experience at the CSC?   Well, just in my brief time there, I learned that I weigh the same as a nine-month Polar Bear cub.  I touched a meteorite from Mars; explored a Black Hole; learned about Connecticut’s premier role as a cradle of innovation; gave a mock weather presentation on a green screen; created alpha brain waves that moved a ball; converted my movements to color patterns projected on screen, fashioned an aerodynamically primitive helicopter from a paper cup, and renewed my energy snacking on local, organically grown food at the cafe.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Science is powered by curiosity and imagination, observation and experimentation, success and failure.  In fact, success and failure go hand-in-hand.  A poignant quip by Thomas Edison is prominently displayed in one of the galleries.  “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”  The CSC invites adults and children alike to come and experiment, to discover the wonder of science for themselves.  Its vision is “to inspire the next generation of scientists and creative thinkers who will impact our future by solving today’s problems from curing diseases to saving the environment”.  As the most technologically advanced center in the country, it is the benchmark by which all others will be measured.

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