Saint Louis Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri
On the west side of St. Louis, Missouri is a sprawling expanse of park land, rivers, and woods known as Forest Park. Consisting of just over 1,300 acres of lawn and forest, the park hosted the famous 1904 World’s Fair dubbed the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
The park is locally redubbed the “Heart of Saint Louis,” and it holds some of the most important cultural institutions in the state of Missouri and even the entire United States, including several history, and art museums and the world famous St. Louis Zoo. Clinging to the southwestern edge of the park, along the Interstate 64 boundary, is a stable of buildings that make up the Saint Louis Science Center. At over 300,000 square feet, the complex is among the largest of its kind in the nation, and in 1991, it was the most-visited of any science museum in the entire world, and today it sees well more than a million visitors pass through its doors each year. Saint Louis Science Center
The beginnings of the Saint Louis Science Center can be found as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century. A group of wealthy businessman with a penchant for traveling the world and collecting items and artifacts from the many varied cultures they encounter, as well as aggregating examples of plants and animals from around the globe, came together to create a venue for their combined collections. The enthusiasts, which included notable physicians and doctors, also had hands in creating other important organizations including the Missouri Botanical Garden and Missouri Historical Society. The group was christened in 1856 as the Academy of Science of St. Louis, and went on to open a museum space to display their eclectic objects. It was the first such scientific society west of the Mississippi. The society still exists today and continues its altruistic mission pursuing science literacy and supporting educational programming.
Over a hundred years after its beginning, the Academy founded the Museum of Science and Natural History in the city of Clayton’s Oak Knoll Park.
In 1969, the voting public in the city and county of St. Louis, MO elected to approve the creation of a tax district to fund the St. Louis Zoo as well as the Art Museum. Two years later the Science Museum was added when the tax district became the Metropolitan Zoological Park & Museum District, and at that time the Academy of Science of St. Louis divested itself of the Museum of Science and Natural History and functions as a separate organization even today. Photo: Saint Louis Science Center
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»Things to See
Meanwhile, in the city of St. Louis proper, a second root was growing toward the eventual bloom of the museum as we know it today. The city set aside $1 million in 1955 for the creation of a planetarium, and courted renowned and visionary architect Gyo Obata to design the structure. He would later go on to design the Smithsonian’s iconic National Air and Space Museum. The building he brought to life is the most distinctive of all the buildings in Forest Park, with an idiosyncratic hyperboloid structure as its roof, looking at the time like an extraterrestrial machination toward which the inner dome would project its synthesized galaxies. The construction of the building was jeopardized when the project ran far over budget but a donation by the co-founder of St. Louis-based aviation manufacturer McDonnell Douglas allowed it to proceed and purchase vital resources and equipment, including the centerpiece projector.
In 1983 the city of St. Louis sold the projector to the Museum of Science and Natural History and leased the land along with it. Extensive and costly renovations ensued and the building reopened as the St. Louis Science Center.
The Center opened its new flagship Main Building in 1991 following a $34 million expansion project which saw the construction of the building across Oakland Avenue on land once occupied by the headquarters of the Falstaff Brewing Corporation, and it was connected to the old location by a pedestrian bridge that spanned the highway. The new facility opened up seven times as much space as the museum campus had previously, and included the addition of an IMAX theater to the museum’s offerings.
In February of 1997, the St. Louis Science Center added the Exploradome, an air-supported structure that added 18,000 square feet of classroom space and a hall for travelling exhibitions. The location was only temporary, but the success of the shows that took place there inspired the Science Center to build Boeing Hall, which when it opened in 2011 dedicated 13,000 square feet to the purpose. Photo: Saint Louis Science Center
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The St. Louis Science Center offers visitors an exciting array of over 700 different exhibits in its 10 galleries.
In the 50,000 square feet of outdoor space previously occupied by the inflatable Exploradome, the museum offers the GROW exhibit, an exploration of the process that the food supply chain undergoes to take food from the farm to the consumer.
The St. Louis Science Center’s Life Science Lab offers dedicated spaces for educational programs covering a variety of scientific areas that include genetics, agriculture, medicine, and biotechnology, and provide guests with opportunities to engage these topics with hands-on lessons and activities. Visitors can sign up for Daily Dissection classes, which offer a chance to examine the internal structures of worms, insects, starfish, squid, and even sheep eyeballs. The Activity Benches let guests don actual lab coats and safety glasses and use authentic scientific tools. The classrooms even offer a recreated Pacific Coral Reef ecosystem, which visitors are free to take a look at any time there are no classes happening. The display includes clownfish, live corals and a brittle sea star, and a touch screen allows guests to learn about the organisms and the intricate relationships they form.
The Science Center includes a fully featured Makerspace, where STEM concepts—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—converge in a hands on environment that invites visitors to use the many different tools and materials to explore their creativity and curiosity. In the Makerspace, visitors will find the Air Ball, an exhibit that offers experiments to see how wind affects objects differently, and the Float and Fly, where guests are given simple materials to build an object and test its flight capabilities. At the Sail Race participants can design a sail and race it at the track, then experiment with designs to challenge and set the daily best time. Guests can use magnetic pipes at the Ball Run to get a ball from one end to the other. The Rigamajig invites visitors to build large structures form the supplied materials. Photo: Saint Louis Science Center
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The Discovery Room offers young children an immersive learning environment particularly designed for kids aged 1 through 8. The exhibit hall explores various elements and states of matter. The Water section features Dora the Axolotl, a water table and 270 gallons of aquarium space. Nature gives children a glimpse into animal medicine, an exhibit of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and a large screen microscope. The Sky section features a rocket that stands two stories tall and includes an emergency escape slide and interactive computerized control panels.
The St. Louis Science Center explores the wonders of the earth sciences in its Ecology & Environment exhibit. The earthquake exhibit explores the phenomenon with a floor that actually rumbles, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit follows the behemoth dinosaur as it hunts its prey. The Dana Brown Fossil Prep Lab and Dig Site is a one-of-a-kind exhibit that provides a close look at the experience of being on a real archaeological dig in the Badlands of Montana.
The Human Adventure takes a close look—so close it even gets inside—the human body and its various systems and experiences. It explores the senses, the mind, the body and the brain and how they all interact and come together. Visitors can even test their vision, hearing and memory against each other with interactive exhibits.
The Omnimax theater offers an unparalleled theater experience with 70mm film projection system projecting on an impressive five story tall screen and a 79-foot diameter dome for a full field of vision visual experience, rounded out with a 15,000-watt surround sound system.
The James S. McDonnell Planetarium features the world’s fourth Zeiss Universarium Mark IX star projector, which has the ability to project over 9,000 points of light onto the planetariums 80-foot wide dome. Photo: Saint Louis Science Center
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»Plan your Visit
Admission to the St. Louis Science Center is free of charge. Some exhibits and special attractions might require the purchase of an additional ticket. Parking is free at the planetarium, and paid options are in place at the Main Building in Forest Park, but is free for members of the Science Center.
The St. Louis Science Center is conveniently located off of major highways and easily accessible from most directions. From I-64, I-170 and I-44, take the Kingshighway Boulevard exit to Oakland Avenue and the Center is on the left.
From Forest Park, taking either I-64 or I-44, simply follow Kingshighway to enter Forest Park and follow it to Clayton. From there turn left into the planetarium lot.
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Address: 5050 Oakland Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, Phone: 314-289-4400 Photo: Saint Louis Science Center
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Saint Louis Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri
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