The St Louis Science Center is a name which conjures up images of boring people in boring white lab coats conducting boring experiments.
You'd probably better think again. This entry is a special Insider's peek at the Center... the Researcher is an esteemed volunteer who works four hours every week at the Center. He knows secrets which he can't tell you...
What Is the Center?
The St Louis Science Center is a place in St Louis, Missouri, USA for people to learn in a stimulating, enjoyable environment. There are some really, really, really cool places in the Center... and this entry aims to tell you about some of them, zone by zone.
Your journey into the realm of great knowledge begins! In the wonderful, overstuffed, leaky-roofed Lobby, we have a space for people to buy tickets, and ask for help. This is also the Lost and Found, for items and children alike. It is also adjacent to The Gift Shop.
The Gift Shop
Welcome to the Land of the Gadgetry! The Shop for Science, as it's called, often has some really fun educational materials, and some really interesting, if highly priced gadgets... most items actually tie in to whatever the special exhibit is in The Exploradome.
The Exploradome is our area for special exhibits. It changes so quickly that this entry cannot accurately tell you what is going on; it is likely to be different from writing to publication. However, there is no need to describe what's in it as it is still interesting to note that you have to enter and exit through an airlock and this is because you are inside a giant balloon when in the Exploradome. Having no supports, air pressure is used to keep the dome up, and there is a secret (ie, 'nobody has bothered to ask about') basement that you can safely go in in case of deflation.
Fortunately for the visitor, the Exploradome will not deflate with a hole the size of a bowling ball, so it is really rather safe. Tests have also shown that it takes over 15 minutes to deflate. The Exploradome, however, has a section within it that is also home to the bathrooms.
Standard public restroom, although it is a little cleaner than most. Kudos to the janitorial staff.
The Human Experience
Finally! Something real to describe! The Human Experience is a large, maze-like gallery full of optical illusions, cancer risk questionnaires, and spinning disks to demonstrate a trick of the brain - with a side effect of severe dizziness. A visitor will learn many ways to confuse himself, and facts about how he thinks; it is often quite fascinating! Across from the Human Experience and down the steps is The Environment Gallery.
The Environment Gallery - Present
This part is mostly the standard 'don't pollute' things, but most of it is quite interesting. The centre of the Environmental Center has the Stream Table (also known as the Kitty Litter Erosion Machine, due to what it uses instead of sand, and what it demonstrates) where erosion is shown with little Monopoly houses on sand or kitty litter with a pump dumping water at the top, allowing it to flow downwards, washing sand away with it, unearthing plastic dinosaur skeletons and sending houses down the creek. Other attractions include the Alien Archaeologist, a display asking what an alien would think if it dug up a landfill 3000 years in the future, a Seismograph ('Quake-o-meter') connected to the New Madrid Fault Line, and a number of maps.
The Environment Gallery - Past
Heading past a robotic Tyrannosaurs eating an almost dead robotic Triceratops, both of which are life-size, a visitor will see exhibits labelled 'DO OR DIE' where it shows what animals of the time period had to do to survive. It's a dino-eat-dino world out there...
One of the other exhibits in the section is the Earthquake Area, where it has a little infinite loop video that talks about earthquakes, and gives an example, because the platform you must stand on to view the video is rigged to an earthquake simulation machine...
Continuing on, it shows more about dinosaurs, what fossils are, and the story of the Triceratops Skull - the one that was brought to the Science Center to examine, and is currently on display. It's not a plaster cast, it's the real fossil.
One of the people digging it up tried to steal it for a private collection after it was mostly out of the rock. He got caught, and the Science Center turned the whole thing into a mystery game.
Up two flights of steps, the computer land of Cyberville awaits. With 20 computers that crash more often than they work, all connected to the Internet, users with no home computer can still do Net research. Sensor Lane demonstrates a Video Seismograph, which is just a meter that draws a line when someone jumps or stomps on the floor1 nearby. Continue to an infrared thermometer where people are endlessly checking the temperature of things that they should not be checking the temperature of in a public place, by placing them against the thermometer and checking the readout. Continuing on, a visitor will find the Wall of Hands which has proximity sensors that play music. Most people will ignore the 'Don't Touch' sign and whap those things so hard the wall shakes, but it is only needed to get within two inches of it to play a note. After the Wall of Hands, you see and learn about a metal detector, more proximity sensors, an optic sensor, and a sonic height reader that tends to mix up the inches and feet... 'You are eleven feet four inches. Oops I blew it. You are really four feet eleven inches'.
After leaving Sensor Lane, you will notice the Laser Harp, also known as the Pinocchio Harp because it has no strings, opting instead for laser beams and electronic eyes, as well as a button that changes instruments, ensuring that you can never get any quiet. This is especially true when it is accompanied by Sensor Hopscotch - a 'wired' hopscotch board that makes noise when you jump on it. There is a make-a-digital-fish area where you can make a virtual fish, watch it live its virtual life, and laugh as it ends up eaten by a virtual shark. There's also an 'Aviation Station' where you get to use almost every computer input device known to mankind, and it ends in a video game. There are some exhibits on binary, a section where you make robots out of Lego if you pay around $2.50 (free for members only) to build one of three robot designs and attack a lego robotic dragon.
The Galaxy Café
Contrary to popular belief, the food is intended for movie props only. The prices aren't cheap either....
Does this one really need to be covered again? The bathrooms are the same as the ones listed earlier, except this one's a bit smaller.
The Structures Gallery
The Structures Gallery is a section where a visitor attempts to build a bridge out of 'Tinkertoys', and many must be replaced at the end of the day due to thievery. Two 'Arch Stations', placed across from each other, are areas where people can compete to build an arch out of blocks... lots of fun when short people do it because you have to be at least 5'6" to reach the top to put the final pieces in place, which have to all lean on each other for support since your arrangement must be free-standing. Kicking it down at the end is always the fun part, but you can't kick it down if it falls on its own. There are also areas for a visitor to build structures out of blocks, showing what shapes will actually stand up. Continue on to The Bridge!
The Bridge is just a way to get to The Planetarium. It has radar guns, so you can enjoy watching cars do 70mph in a 55mph zone, and you now have evidence to back it up... it's pretty funny, really. There are also exhibits about construction materials, but the interesting part is at the end.
The Planetarium is incredible. That's the only word for it. After going down the second half of the Structures Gallery (the Underground section,) a visitor will enter the SkyPort, which is designed to look like a space port, with the Star Shuttle (a glorified elevator) instead of airplanes. There is a ticket counter to buy tickets into 'space', and a small exhibit on the history of aviation.
After purchasing tickets, head to the Star Shuttle, which looks more Star Wars than NASA. It's hard not to know it's just an elevator with a bunch of pointless buttons.
The 'Space Recruits' will then be released onto the StarBridge, with exhibits on what makes a space station tick. Problems of communication, navigation, and manipulation are demonstrated, and the visitors get to try to get around them! There's a robot arm that's hard to control, and another one which can only be seen by two video monitors, instead of direct viewing. There are star charts, and a demonstration of solar power. There's a lot to do, but most people just want to go to the StarBay.
The StarBay is a big dome with a really big planisphere (planetarium projector) in it. This planisphere, the Zeiss Mk 9, cost the Science Center over three million dollars to build. It projects an extremely realistic starfield on the huge dome. It's surrounded by 'labs about living and working in space, but nobody pays any attention to those anyway.
After a short shuttle ride back to Earth, it's time to call it a day.
That's it - a few hours of entertainment over, it's back off to the car park.