Established in 1983, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is a non-profit museum that focuses on promoting education in science, math, and technology through inquiry based educational activities. Located in the historic downtown area of Mobile, Alabama, the center is the only science and technology center serving south Alabama, south Mississippi, and northwest Florida
The center was originally conceived by a group of volunteers in 1976 to create a place that would improve the community in Mobile through science-based educational programs. The public was enthusiastic about the idea and contributed actively towards its cause. One of the offerings included a generous donation of the historic Bragg-Mitchell Mansion and its surrounding site. As a result, the museum was able to set up its first building near the mansion. But when it started to grow, the need for a larger space prompted the museum to relocate to a newer and bigger location on 65 Government Street in 1998, and it has been there ever since.
Today, this Alabama museum welcomes on average 150,000 visitors annually, and it aims to “inspire curiosity and ingenuity through active exploration of the sciences.” While the center is host to more than 150 interactive exhibits and supplementary themed education programs, it also has a wide range of outreach programs, field trips, and summer camps that bring science to the public. With an onsite IMAX Theater as well, it is no wonder that the center has been widely regarded as one of the city's best family attractions.
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All the exhibits are housed inside three permanent galleries with two live demonstration stations. Visitors will be treated to a variety of hands-on science adventures that encourage learning through play.
Hands on Hall
Hands on Hall was the original gallery in the museum's Exploreum and even up until today, it is the beating heart of the place. Its interactive exhibits allow visitors to work individually or in a group to discover fundamental physics principles. Local students can enhance their in-class learning experience at this gallery, for exhibits are made to correlate with the objectives for Alabama's Course of Study for Science. Some of the major topics covered are forces and motion, light and optics, patterns and probability, and magnetism and electricity.
To explore the relationship between forces and motion, the section utilizes experiments to bring science concepts alive. For example, giant versions of simple machines are on display. Groups in particular will have fun taking on one another in a tug-of-war competition. The long rope is attached to a giant lever. One end is 2-feet away from the fulcrum while the other end is 6-feet away. Participants will soon realize that the farther they are away from the lever, the easier it is for them to win the competition.
Another unique exhibit to check out is the laser harp, which is a musical instrument that does not have strings but lasers instead. As participants “pluck” the laser beams, they are able to hear musical notes being played. This is because the lasers are directed at sensors below the instrument, and when the light beam is disrupted, the sensors detect this and send electrical signals to produce the sound.
Kids will also enjoy role-playing as a weather forecaster in the mock newsroom. They will get to see themselves live on a TV screen as they pretend to read scripts in front of a video camera. Their images are also superimposed on a different background from the blue screen that they are sitting in front of, a practice that is common in many actual TV studios.
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My Bodyworks allows participants to learn about the interesting facts of the human body from the different body systems to the five senses and internal organs. It uses the latest computing and digital imaging technologies to visualize the anatomical features that most people do not see in real life.
One of them is the 12-foothigh, 6-footwide model of the human heart. The exhibit illustrates the inner workings of the organ, including how blood flows through the arteries and veins as well as how cardiac muscle functions. Two to three times every hour, the model will start flashing lights and playing siren sounds to demonstrate what happen when a heart attack occurs.
For aspiring doctors and surgeons, there is a virtual surgery center onsite where they canper form stimulated surgical procedures. With atap of their fingers, participants can seal blood vessels and even conduct a virtual heart bypass surgery. Their hand-eye coordination will also be put to the test as they attempt to conduct scopes inside the body.
Wharf of Wonder
As a family friendly destination, the Exploreum caters to kids of all ages, including preschoolers. The Wharf of Wonder is a secure learning area designed for children ages 0 to 5 years old. The exhibit area features a mini wharf, and children are able to climb on a sea vessel used for shrimp fishing, visit a lighthouse, and weigh fish at a fish market.
The space has been specially created to encourage children to explore, collaborate, and develop their fine motor skills. As such, exhibits are specially made to be toddler safe with smaller steps, smoother surfaces for crawling, and quiet areas for resting. These measures ensure that parents and caretakers can have peace of mind while watching their young ones enjoy themselves.
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3.iHealthy Life Science Lab
Visitors of all ages can conduct actual hands-on experiments pertaining to health and biology at the iHealthy Life Science Lab. Members of the staff conduct short demonstrations designed to be educational and light-hearted at the same time. Visitors are then encouraged to join in the tabletop experiments and try their hands at manipulating tools used in laboratories. The themes for these experiments change bi-monthly so repeat visitors will never be bored. Some of these themes include the human body system, health and nutrition, and immunology.
Explore Tec Lab
The Explore Tec Lab is a state-of-the-art engineering and technology lab that offers workshops for students, industries, and the general public. The laboratory is equipped with some of the latest technology from laptops to 3D printers, are available for companies or the public to rent.
Apart from hardware, the museum also offers educational classes. Its most popular program focuses on understanding the principles of physics behind pneumatics. Participants will get to work in teams to build catapults and in the process learn about its design and mechanism. For those seeking technical learning, the SolidWorks 3D Imaging workshop utilizes a 3D-computer aided design software to dissect the mechanical parts that form a product to truly understand how the sum of the parts make up the whole.
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4.IMAX Dome Theater
The Exploreum is home to a 177-seat IMAX dome theater. Audiences are promised a unique film experience as images are projected on a huge screen with staggering and hyper realistic acoustics to enhance the feeling of motion. This helps audiences feel like they are in the thick of the action and forget they are watching a movie.
While most IMAX theaters broadcast their films on flat screens, the Exploreum features a 60-foot domed screen that surrounds the audience to provide a totally immersive experience. In fact, it is the only IMAX dome theater on the Gulf Coast. Moviegoers can also view the IMAX projector from the lobby of the Exploreum. The projector stands at 6-feet tall and weighs more than 2200 pounds, and it needs to be operated from beneath the theater.
The center offers a line of programs throughout the year. From hosting school groups at the center to conducting outreach programs in classrooms and stay-over camps, the museum hopes to inspire children to learn about science in an interactive yet educational way. There are also educational programs that cater to homeschooled children. Parents will also get to choose from science lessons that promote hands-on learning and are tailored to different ages.
Another one of its annual offering is the week-long summer camp for children from as young as 4 years old up until 14 years old. The camp is divided into age groups so that learning will be age appropriate. The program is designed to allow kids to discover science concepts through creative activities and projects as well as provide a unique opportunity for them to socialize with other young people their own age.
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65 Government St., Mobile, AL 36602, Phone: 251-208-6893
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Things to Do in Mobile, Alabama: Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center