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This Town Needs...

Science Center, Arizona.

Science Center, California.

Science Center, Jersey City.

A Hands-On Interactive Science Museum

Seriously? That's the best idea we have for our first run at this? Well, just hear us out.

Imagine a place where kids and adults are immersed in interactive hands-on science experiments: from the engineering challenges of building a bridge, the cutting edge technology used to break down a crime scene, the programming and productivity gains of robotics (used right here extensively by West Michigan manufacturers), the new and exciting uses of bio-informatics (taught at Davenport University, GVSU, and MSU), DNA splicing, the the human body, climatology, and much more. See, now that sounds cool, doesn't it?

Who else has such a thing?

You don't have to travel far to see examples of this kind of institution. Lansing has been enjoying the Impression 5 Museum since 1972. The 25,000-square-foot facility features over 150 exhibits where kids get to use magnets to make electricity (!!!), compose their own music to study soundwaves and vibrations, create chemical reactions to blow stuff up, and use a small trebuchet to throw objects across the room to study the laws of motion, energy, and ballistics. That's right -- throw stuff across the room, without getting in trouble.

With help from the National Science Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, Ann Arbor opened the Hands On Musuem in an old firehouse in 1982 with two staff persons and 25 exhibits. It has now grown to over 250 exhibits in 40,000 square feet (they added on to the firehouse), and hosts over 250,000 visitors a year -- 60 percent coming from outside the Ann Arbor area. There, you can partake in simple experiments that teach how traffic lights and the Internet work, launch pressurized air rockets, and even recreate a tornado.

You can certainly find bigger versions in bigger cities such as Discover Place in Charlotte, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, the Orlando Science Center, and the massive California Science Center. Hartford recently opened its new riverfront Connecticut Science Center.

If you really wanted to get crazy, incorporate aspects of the City Museum in St. Louis. Though it certainly would be hard to replicate -- that place is nuts!

Don't we have the Public Museum and Children's Museum already?

Yes, and neither really fits this bill. While they are both fine institutions that Grand Rapids should be proud of, the Children's Museum is tailored toward a younger clientele than a science museum would be. And while the Public Museum does a great job exhibiting much of Grand Rapids' past and the natural environment, it's not currently set up for interactive experimentation of the sciences -- not on a large scale anyway.

Bring it home

We're reportedly a design and engineering hub of the region, so why not expand on it? We can envision a place that brings together the public and private sector in Grand Rapids, something that we've become known for: a Cascade Engineering Robotics Playground, a Meijer Test Kitchen, an MSU CHM Bioinformatics Obstacle Course, a GVSU Alternative Energy Rooftop, and an X-Rite Light Laboratory. Kids need activities outside of school to keep them stimulated, and generally speaking for the population ages 9-15 in this area, the offerings are limited to movie theaters and... the mall?

West Michigan trails the State and the country in adults with a college degree. Perhaps getting kids interested in science and technology (beyond their smart phones) might help bridge that gap. As West Michigan becomes more and more of a leisure travel destination, a downtown science center would be a great addition to the growing lineup with the new Downtown Market and river rapids restoration project.

Consider this a napkin sketch. And since we still have a magazine to run, we're hoping someone picks up this ball and runs with the idea. We can even think of some currently vacant spaces downtown that would provide a good starting point.

Onward and upward!


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