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The Science of Fun
The Science Floor in the center of Science Museum Oklahoma has plenty to explore, like the Segway Park and the Resonant Pendulum.
Photo courtesy SCIENCE MUSEUM OKLAHOMA
Attractions new and old keep Science Museum Oklahoma buzzing.
By Sara Cowan
Published January/February 2018
Whether they still call it the Omniplex, the Kirkpatrick Center, or use its contemporary name, Science Museum Oklahoma has a place in the imaginations and memories of Oklahoma children both current and former. This vast, unconquerable landscape of fascination continues to evolve quickly enough to offer even weekly visitors a chance to see something new each time while maintaining many of the old favorite exhibits that are just as enchanting as they were decades ago.
Clint Stone, vice president of programs at the museum, witnesses this wonder daily.
“Watching families play together using the Echo Tube is priceless— especially the look in the kids’ eyes,” he says.
Stone says he loved the theremin as a child and still goes to play on it each week during his work on the museum floor while training staff and interacting with visitors.
Other children of past decades—the museum was founded in 1958—may recall gazing through the windows of the impossibly fancy Pullman parlor car, with its tapestries and China, clambering up through the clear acrylic caves of the Crystal Molecule, or clapping and shouting at the sound-activated lights on a tree. Students contemplated and practiced poses for the Shadow Stopper long before the day of a field trip to impress classmates with gravity-defying leaps and handstands. To many an adult’s delight, numerous pieces remain, although some have been replaced by equally impressive attractions.
A strong theme through the museum addresses a need of many young children: movement. Interactive playgrounds like GadgetTrees and Power Play invite kids to learn about physics and simple machines while they race, climb, slide, and test their strength and balance. Abundant tumbling mats in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame give preschoolers the perfect opportunity to wear themselves out before their afternoon nap.
The newest and most impressive part of the museum, however, is CurioCity. The 20,000-square foot collection of fully immersive experiences includes theatrical play, sound experiments, and an aquatic activity room where water seems to drip upward toward the ceiling. Other activities include carnival games, geometry demonstrations, and a dancing skeleton screen. But the greatest achievement is that all of these exhibits are as educational as they are fun. Stone has seen children gain confidence as they visit repeatedly throughout his career at the museum.
“Kids who used to cling to adults are now climbing up Odd-A-See Tower,” he says. “They’re not afraid to fail.”
Sherry Marshall, president and CEO, has been with the museum since 1994, when she came on as a museum educator, but she has had a nearly life-long relationship with the space.
“I attended a summer science workshop here when I was nine years old,” Marshall says. “I credit that experience with sparking my interest in science education.”
Over the past five years, the museum has seen significant growth in attendance and memberships. Marshall says more than 500,000 visitors come annually, and the response to new exhibits and programming has been enthusiastic. As for the molecule?
“This is truly a case of an exhibit being loved to death,” Marshall says. “Over time, it showed its wear, and we retired it to make way for new exhibits like GadgetTrees.”
For young learners and continually curious adults, Science Museum Oklahoma grows with its audience, securing its place as an institution of the past, present, and future.
Get There: Science Museum Oklahoma, 2020 Remington Place in Oklahoma City, (405) 602-6664 or sciencemuseumok.org.