The Science Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke is the oldest science museum in the state of Virginia. Established in 1970, it was founded by a small group of teachers and volunteers who wanted an informal education facility for educating the public about science. It has now evolved to encompass exhibits about technology, ecology, geology and meteorology among many other topics in its three-storey building.

Today, the downtown Roanoke museum has become a premier center for hands-on education in Virginia. Its mission is to make science accessible to the public as well as inspire life-long learning. Alongside permanent exhibits on health, energy and natural science, it is home to numerous live exhibits as well as a planetarium. The museum has also received accreditation from the American Association of Museums. Photo: Science Museum of Western Virginia



The crown jewel of the museum is the Butterfly Garden and Bug Zoo. This exhibit allows visitors to be surrounded by live butterflies from all around the world. With more than 40 species of butterflies, the largest of which has wings as long as 8 inches. Visitors will also be able to walk through the picturesque setting within the enclosure that features warm temperature all-year round, lush greenery and a water feature that forms part of the overall tropical rainforest ecosystem.

Keep a lookout for special cases where chrysalises are being hung from. Every week, the museum would import these pupae from Southeast Asia, Central and South America to add to the collection. Kids would be treated to an important lesson in the life cycle of butterflies as they witness the adult butterflies emerging out of their shells.

The bug zoo is part of the same exhibit that houses a variety of exotic creepy crawlies, from bird-eating tarantulas to orchid mantis and Halloween crabs. Interestingly, the food source needed to sustain these insects could all be found inside the Butterfly Garden. This includes plants for the herbivorous insects and a small farm of feeder insects for the carnivorous species.

Healthy Earth Gallery

The Healthy Earth Gallery focuses on the physical environment of Virginia. One of the exhibits Journey Underground explores the diverse geological features of Virginia. From the high rocky summits in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the low-lying islands facing the Atlantic Ocean, the exhibits traces the history and formation of the earth as well as the local terrain.

The OmniGlobe explores the wonders of our earth and the universe. Visitors could try playing with sand in the Augmented Reality Sandbox to build mountains, create valleys, and stimulate rainfall to understand about the water cycle and how it affects the river terrain. The exhibit uses 3D visualization applications to augment reality in real time as participants learn about earth science concepts while their hands are engaged in tactile activities. Meanwhile, kids can pretend to be a meteorologist and present weather news in front of the camera at a mock newsroom. They can also get up close with live river creatures at the touch tank to help foster their scientific curiosity. Staff will be present to guide them to stroke animals such as a horseshoe crab, sea star and various shelled creatures. Watch them squeal with delight as they get up close and personal with these animals.

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»Healthy Bodies Gallery

Healthy Bodies Gallery

The Healthy Bodies Gallery explores how the human body and systems work. On display are actual human organs that have been plastinated or chemically preserved so that visitors can have a peek of specimens from inside a real human body. Little explorers can also take a closer peek at the inner workings of our body through larger than life human organs where they can crawl through intestines and peek inside the mouth.

One of the highlights in this section is Mindball, a game that requires participants to compete against each other using mind power. To participate, players would have to wear headbands fitted with electrodes and attempt to move the ball towards the opponent’s goal using nothing but their brains’ electrical waveforms. Audiences would be able to monitor the players’ brain activities, which is visually presented on a screen throughout the match.

How it Works Gallery

The gallery discusses about recycling efforts that have been developed or are currently ongoing in western parts of Virginia. One of the section showcases the recycling process of steel, one of the most common recyclable metals. Through recycling, it seeks to preserve natural resources to reduce the environmental impact during the production of steel products. Exhibits in this gallery seek to help us become better stewards of our environment.

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Maker Lab/Open Lab

The Maker Lab is an open space inside the museum that encourages individuals to allow their creative juices to flow. Using craft supplies local communities have donated, the museum has recycled it to encourage visitors to get their hands moving in creating new pieces of artwork. To get started, there are a Lego brick wall and a gear wall for kids to assemble and re-assemble plastic pieces in an infinite number of ways. Through such creative play, it teaches them to think laterally, develop problem-solving skills and improves creativity, all while having fun.

The Open Lab is staffed with volunteers who are trained to assist friends and families with performing two-dozen science experiments, which they can choose from. These experiments are conducted in a safe and controlled environment, and are therefore family friendly activities for adults and children alike.

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»Children’s Curiosity Corner

Children’s Curiosity Corner

The Children’s Curiosity Corner is designed for preschoolers who are younger than five years old. Some of the toddler-friendly activities include large puzzles and a fossil dig, which is an all-time favorite with young kids. Sand play not only stretches their imagination but also promotes physical development.

Pixel Play

Revisit old school arcade games at the Pixel Play exhibit. Participants can play on 50 original and functioning upright arcade cabinets just like the good old times with your friends and family. The upside is that no quarters are needed to play these games because it is already included within the admission cost. Some of the traditional arcade games to expect include Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Asteroids. Also hidden within the exhibit are ‘knowledge bombs ‘and ‘culture coins’ that users will have to uncover to find out ways science is linked to video games.

Education programs

As an informal education resource, the museum has education programs both onsite and offsite. The annual summer camp is one of the highlights among its offerings. The all-day camp offer kids hands-on opportunities to explore science concepts under the supervision of experience educators. The camps are age-specific and cover a range of topics from robotics to biology, which will cater to a wide variety of interests.

On a regular basis, the science museum offers 40 different science-based programs that could be conducted on site or in the schools’ classrooms. These courses are based on the state’s standards of learning so educators can be assured that they are relevant to their teaching materials. They are design to encourage students to adopt the scientific way of thinking and testing hypotheses, alongside learning science concepts and teamwork.

Teacher professional development workshops are also organized for educators who are looking for engaging ways of teaching STEM competencies. The workshops are typically organized to be a hands-on experience so as to inspire teachers to translate what they have learned back to enrich their classroom practice.

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Things to Do in Roanoke: Science Museum of Western Virginia