Don't-Miss STEM Museums
Take the family to play and learn at museums with terrific science, technology, engineering and math experiences.
Photo By: Orlando Science Center
Photo By: Eric Long/National Air and Space Museum
Photo By: Visit Utah
Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez Photography/Orlando Science Center
Photo By: Robb McCormick Photography/COSI
Photo By: Robb McCormick Photography/COSI
Photo By: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Photo By: Pacific Science Center
Photo By: Kent Nishimura/Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
Photo By: Explora
Photo By: Hill Aerospace Museum
Photo By: VisitABQ.org
STEM Museums: Fun and Informative
Let Mickey wait. At the Orlando Science Center, you can engineer a roller coaster and give it a test run on an 18-foot zipline — and that's just one American museum packed with incredible STEM experiences (science, technology, engineering and math). We make some 850 million visits to U.S. museums each year, more than all our visits to major league sports events and theme parks combined. (We know that sounds unbelievable, but it's true.) Most offer STEM exhibits and activities for all ages, so kids can explore future careers while adults learn more about navigating our complex world.
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
With "STEM in 30," middle school students watch fast-paced, 30-minute webcasts, live from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. They might see a live broadcast from the NASCAR Hall of Fame and learn how racing technologies apply to space travel, or explore the fictional Star Trek universe. It's even better to visit in person and gaze through the museum's 16-inch telescope to safely view the sun and planets, or explore air and space craft that range from Civil War hot air balloons to the Apollo Lunar Module.
Museum of Ancient Life, Lehi, Utah
Watch real paleontologists work on a 150 million-year-old Barosaurus in the lab at Utah's Museum of Ancient Life, one of the world's largest dinosaur museums. You'll also find 60 mounted dinosaur skeletons in its galleries, along with 50 hands-on exhibits. Dig for fossils in a quarry, let the little ones experiment with water and sand at the erosion table or sign up for a "Late Night with Rex" adventure and take a scavenger hunt. The Museum of Natural Curiosity is also in Lehi, where you'll find over 400 interactive experiences, a high ropes course and more.
Orlando Science Center, Orlando, Florida
There's something for everyone at the Orlando Science Center. Its Kinetic Zone, where you can engineer your own roller coaster, is one of its most popular STEM offerings, but you could opt to explore physics in a flight simulator, lift yourself off the ground with a pulley system, launch an air rocket and more. Visit from Jan. 12-15, 2018, during Otronicon, Central Florida's interactive technology expo, to check out state-of-the-art video games and virtual reality experiences.
COSI Planetarium, Columbus, Ohio
Ohio's largest planetarium, at the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI, offers spectacular views of our incredible universe. Gaze into the 60-foot dome and take a virtual treasure hunt through the solar system, investigate a mysterious black hole or watch a live stream of the stars and other deep sky objects hurtling overhead. Let young kids play in the little kidspace® exhibit, which is designed to strengthen their sensory-motor skills and develop cognitive abilities.
COSI, Columbus, Ohio
Ride COSI's high wire unicycle — if you dare — for a lesson in physics. You'll cross an 84-foot cable while balancing yourself two stories (that's 17 feet) above the floor, but don't worry. A 250-pound counterweight lowers the cycle's center of mass so you remain safely upright. COSI says theirs is the only high wire unicycle in the world. See the website for restrictions; for example, riders must wear closed-toe shoes and weigh under 250 pounds.
National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Virginia, is the National Air and Space’s second facility. Two enormous hangars house thousands of flight artifacts, including the Space Shuttle Discovery. Look for portable carts called Discovery Stations, where you can make a stop-motion animated film with space toys, or learn about the forces of flight: lift, weight, drag and thrust. Catch a science demo or fly a combat sortie in a simulator while you do 360-degree barrel rolls in a P-51 Mustang or F-4 Phantom II.
Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Washington
Engineers and budding engineers, dive into Tinker Tank at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. You can experiment with wind tables (think vertical wind tunnels), gravity walls, amusement parks made of cardboard, blocks, electric circuits and more as you learn and play with aerodynamic concepts. Activities change from time to time, so there's something new to explore. Don’t miss the Tropical Butterfly House, a 4,000-square-foot exhibit filled with butterflies imported each week from sustainable farms in Central and South America. Check out the planetarium to find up-to-the-minute NASA photos, movies and research info.
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii
Hit the Hot Spot Theater, in the Bishop Museum's Science Adventure Center, for a sizzling lesson in volcanic activity. Twice-daily demos show how volcanoes formed the Hawaiian Islands, and visitors can touch different types of lava rock. The show ends with a dramatic lava pour, when real lava flows out of a 2,000-degree furnace. Visitors can also turn a wheel to coax wax "lava" out of a hole in the ground; by the end of one day, the wax poured by multiple visitors will form an entire shield volcano (one that is built up slowly, as opposed to a cone volcano, produced by a massive explosion). In the NASA-themed exhibit, use a simulator to control a robotic arm and repair a satellite, among lots of other activities.
Explora, Albuquerque, N.M.
Explora's science, art, technology, engineering and math experiences have signage in both English and Spanish. Discover how friction and slopes affect marbles or balls rolling down ramps, make an animated digital character or experiment with moving air and electricity; activities are changed so visitors keep coming back. Let the kids use the gears, weights and pivot points in Math Moves!, an interactive exhibit that helps explain concepts like percentages, fractions and ratios.
Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill AFB, near Ogden, Utah
Stroll the grounds and galleries at the Hill Aerospace Museum, a field museum for the USAF Museum System, to see over 90 military aircraft, missles and aerospace vehicles. Each year, some 40,000 students in grades K-12 participate in the STEM Education Program to learn about aviation concepts, but the museum itself is for all ages. Sign the kids up early for STEM camps that offer demos and hands-on activities about rocketry, electricity, weather and other subjects. You don’t need a gate pass onto Hill AFB to enter the museum.
New Mexico Natural History and Science Museum, Albuquerque, N.M.
Stan the T-Rex, the second largest T-Rex ever found, guards the atrium of the New Mexico Natural History and Science Museum. Once you get past him, enter the Hall of the Stars to learn about the night sky, or go hands-on with specimens and native animals in the Naturalist Center. A geoscience wing, where research is conducted, houses fossil and mineralogical collections. Teachers, check out the Wild Music Teacher Guide to help your students understand the biological origins of music, such as the songs of birds or the croaks of bullfrogs.