A new museum designed to showcase science found in the backyard of eastern North Carolina will welcome its first visitors on Saturday with dozens of interactive and educational exhibits.
The opening of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Greenville will feature a one-day exhibit that will feature exhibits and demonstrations from a host of organizations to help put science at your fingertips. Representatives from Queen Anne’s Revenge, Sylvan Heights Bird Park, Bald Head Island Conservancy and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh are among the guests at the Greenville Museum’s long-awaited ribbon cutting.
“It will be a big celebration,” said museum director Emily Jarvis. “People can come here that day and spend hours doing what it would take to travel all of eastern North Carolina to experience.”
It has been over a year and a half since the A Time For Science Centers in Greenville and Grifton officially became the fourth and fifth branches of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The planned opening date for the renovated Dickinson Avenue museum was summer 2020 when affiliation was announced in February of that year.
But the following month, museums around the world closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was September 2020 before the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh could reopen. The opening of the Greenville Museum, initially rescheduled for spring 2021, has been postponed for several months due to delays in the arrival of exhibit materials.
The Raleigh teams have spent time throughout the summer completing the installations and helping local staff with the finishing touches that they believe will be worth the wait.
“We are delighted to add the nearby Greenville and Contentnea Creek facilities to the family of the Museum of Natural Sciences,” Eric Dorfman, director and CEO of the Raleigh Parent Museum, said in a statement. “One of the museum’s primary missions is to share our love and knowledge of science and nature with people across the state, which greatly enhances our ability to do so in East Carolina. North.”
The Greenville location, in a former Pugh gas station, added approximately 3,500 square feet of adjacent warehouse space in 2020, more than doubling its size. The nearly 6,000 square foot museum will feature information on topics ranging from astronomy to groundwater. There will be a discovery area for the youngest, a naturalist area and a fossil wall.
Some of the features of the renovated building are modeled after the design of the State Museum areas. But the location of the branch isn’t simply intended as a smaller version of the Raleigh Museum, the state’s most visited museum and the largest of its kind in the Southeast.
Education director Maria McDaniel said the local museum will focus on eastern North Carolina, including its “Cemetery of the Atlantic” coastline.
“We’ve tried to get the whole museum to talk about what’s in your backyard,” she said, “what science is in your backyard.”
Located a few blocks from the East Carolina University campus, the museum will offer a different kind of pirate experience. A 24-foot replica of a ship is the centerpiece of a pirate science exhibit. Visitors will be invited to receive a pirate’s name upon entering the exhibition space, where they will also receive a “treasure map” that will guide them through several educational stations.
“The whole exhibit is approached from a hacker’s perspective,” McDaniel said. “What do I need to know, as a pirate, to survive? “
Several stations in the exhibition cover topics of interest to pirates, from nutrition (“some of them died of scurvy”) to sailing and knotting. While students are not invited to board the ship (except on certain guided tours of the museum), they will learn about many of its features, including sails, cannons, and other defensive weapons. Some parts of the ship are labeled to help visitors understand how they would have worked.
Near the pirate ship, an on-water exhibit will provide real-time data on the state’s waterways, including carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, as well as salinity. Visitors to the museum will have the opportunity to explore erosion and learn about ancient and future shores. They will also be able to see seashells, including not only seashells, but also others, such as turtle shells.
Animal information is available in the museum’s discovery forest, which features a large tree with a slide for children. The area offers toys and books for kids to explore, and challenges them to find hidden creatures, including a butterfly, snake, and salamander, as well as observe an eagle and black bear at scale.
Like the water exhibit, the museum’s weather station will also provide real-time data, as well as an augmented reality sandbox, an interactive educational tool used to help people understand mapping , topography and watersheds. There is a green screen that students can use to present the weather like a meteorologist on TV.
A new interactive astronomy lab will allow users to press a button and be transported visually to the surface of Mars or even into the canyons of the Red Planet. A health exhibit near the entrance will provide an overview of the human body and organ systems, with information on everything from medical imaging procedures to coronavirus.
“What’s really good is that in all of these areas we’re going to have regular public programming,” Jarvis said. “The exhibits are super exciting, super eye-catching and we hope they will pique people’s interest. But the most exciting thing after the opening day is that we will have all of these programs available to people in the community.
Some programs, such as a free children’s story hour, will be scheduled weekly. Others, including the Lab RATS (Research and Technological and Scientific Advances) college program and Get the GIST (Girls in Science and Technology), will require registration. The museum plans to host a robotics program on Saturday morning and occasional Friday night lectures for adults.
A few weeks before the museum opened, McDaniel was already responding to requests for field trips. The museum is partnering with the Greenville Museum of Art to provide school groups with a one-day opportunity to focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).
“The children will come to do half a day with the art museum and half a day with us,” she said. “They’re going to have lunch at our picnic tables and then we’ll swap the kids.”
The first requests came from classes within Pitt County schools, even though the new museum is in the district’s backyard.
“They will spend the day with us exploring Greenville by visiting two of the museums we have here,” McDaniel said. “How cool is that?”
Saturday’s official opening event will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Greenville, 729 Dickinson Ave. There is no admission fee. Given the surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the museum will limit the number of visitors allowed inside at any time. Masks are mandatory indoors and are requested at outdoor exhibitions in cases where people are unable to maintain a distance of 6 feet. The Pitt County Health Department plans to be on site from noon to 2 p.m. to offer free Moderna vaccines.