Mobius Science Center is a hands-on science museum in Spokane, Washington, which is a fun and interesting visit for any kid or adult who is interested in STEM topics. In this post, I’ll talk about each of their exhibits, which I’ve clustered by themes – click on any of these links to go straight to that topic: economics, physics/movement, topography, electricity, space, brain teasers, building, animals, and their temporary exhibit space.
- Who Used this as Money and Why is a historic / cross-cultural exhibit, showing furs, donut-shaped stones, and other means of exchange. The item is displayed, and you lift the flap to learn more.
- How does Trade Connect Us where you were to imagine what was in shipping containers. It would clues like “video card + memory + motherboard + cpu + hard drive” and said “components from Costa Rica, Ireland, Malaysia, the Philippines, the U.S., Germany, Taiwan, China, Canada, Thailand, and Singapore.” You look in the lens to see the computer that was made with components from around the world.
- Face Value. You use a computer interface to design your own money, where you choose two designs, then take a photo of your face (or something else – like a stuffed puppy). Then you print a copy of your money. Our 8 year old loved this activity.
- Real or Counterfeit. Shows examples of what is done to make counterfeiting harder, with lift the flaps and other interactive elements.
- The Real Cost of Credit. Illustrates that although it sounds better to pay $25 a month than pay $1000 up front, it costs a lot more in the long run, due to interest.
- Balancing Your Budget. You take blocks representing life necessities (housing, food, health care, transportation) and optional expenditures (movies, video games, etc.) and place them on one side of a balance scale to find the balance with your income. (This is not a perfect exhibit, because money and weight are not the same, and it doesn’t perfectly represent that housing may cost way than video games… but, I feel like my eight year old really grokked the idea it illustrated of having to make decisions and tradeoffs to live in your means.
- Budgeting computer game. Has you make decisions about how much to spend on rent, and salary choices and so on to see how to manage to save money up each month. I wouldn’t have expected it to engage a child, but my 8 year old played this forever.
Overall, this was a good exhibit on money and economics. It’s not really what I expect in a science museum exhibit. That said, we’ve gone to enough science museums that we’ve seen most of the standard exhibits somewhere else, so it was nice to see something new.
Physics / Movement
These activities weren’t in a single coherent exhibit like the economics, but I’ve clustered them together as a general theme.
- Harmonograph – you put a piece of paper on a plate that rocks back and forth, then lower the pen that’s on a bar that rocks back and forth, and set them both a-rockin and it draws a design. I find these surprisingly captivating.
- Magnetism – they had three or four exhibits on magnetic force and movement, including a lazy susan that had five magnetic substances on it, and you could spin them past a magnet and see how they reacted.
- Ball Wall. I think no science museum or children’s museum is complete without one of these – they’re a great tinkering activity as you try to line up all the pipes and ramps to send a ball successfully down.
- Balancing Game. You were on a rocking board were supposed to stand on it keeping it balanced for as long as possible. But it’s super easy to knock it out of balance. Most two-legged folks I saw couldn’t balance for more than a few seconds. On my one leg, I balanced for 20 seconds before I got bored. 😊 But that’s not just that my balance is good, it’s that it’s all focused in one spot, and the challenge of this is balancing your weight over two spots.
- Air Bottle Rockets. You pump them full of air, release them and they shoot up. These are fun, but need to re-calibrated or adjusted in some way, because we weren’t getting great launches.
- Rotating Plate. This is a cool plate that rotates like a record on a record player, with balls, discs, and hoops you could roll onto it to see how the rotational movements interacted. Lots of fun to play with!
There was a table with a gentle flow of water running down, and foam or plastic shapes you could set up them to see how they affected the flow of the water currents. Simple, but engaging for a wide variety of ages.
Shaping Watersheds. There was a box filled with sand that you could shape into mountains and valleys. There were contour lines and shading projected onto them to indicate elevation. You held your hands over the top of the sand, and could see blue “water” projected onto it and watch how it flowed. Hard to describe, but really interesting to explore!
With Light It Up, you crank a handle to simulate a hydropower turbine and the harder you crank, the more lights turn on in the power grid. My eight year old loved that he could turn on more lights than I could. With MagCircuits, you wire circuits with magnetic metal bars. (This was cool if you already understand circuits, but I thought it would have been good if they had a super simple circuit to wire first that you could teach the concept with, then explore the full set-up.) There was also a smaller system for turning a crank to light the bulbs.
They had the exhibit Sun, Earth, Universe from Explore Science and the National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Net). We’ve also seen this exhibit at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix and Eugene Science Center in Oregon. You can find pictures of the exhibit and a teaser video online.
The exhibit includes posters with facts about the planets; information about the chances of finding sentient life in the universe; and a chance to try out equipment to detect the invisible – using infrared, ultraviolet, magnetic fields, microscopes on cartridges to reveal unseen info. My favorite part is the build a spaceship project – you assemble cardboard pieces that represent power, communication, navigation and science options, then you test it to see if it could withstand space travel and landing.
Puzzles – Brain Teasers
They had several brain teasers, which are probably best for age 12 and up. As a one-time visitor, these are fun and challenging.
The back section of the museum was dedicated to building: there was a table with Keva blocks and other blocks for free building. There was a cardboard construction project where you could use prefabricated cardboard pieces plus straws and masking tape to build a cardboard car. There was a large motor play area with (hundreds?) of small cardboard boxes to build with. There was also a stop motion animation kiosk, where you could make a short film using blocks (or using the stuffed animal you carried in with you 😊.) It was quite easy to use and for kids to feel like they’d made a successful animation.
They had a few live exhibits – a bearded dragon and another lizard, a snake, fish, and some turtles.
They have an area in the back corner that’s not always open (maybe just on weekends?) where they rotate in different activities. On the day we were there, it was Fossils. When we arrived, they told us about it, and just after that we confirmed that the museum was open till 5. They didn’t tell us the Fossils would close early, so I don’t know whether or not that was always planned. But they closed it around 3:45 and we waited for them to re-open it, and then around 4:15, they packed it all up and put it away. If we’d known it was closing early, we wouldn’t have saved it for last. We were, I think, the only family in the museum at 4:15, so it would have been easy to let us know it was closing, or to check in with us to see if we’d seen it before packing it up.
Summary – Overall Impression
The museum is well kept. It’s fairly small, but there are plenty of worthwhile exhibits illustrating a wide variety of science concepts in ways that are approachable for ages 6 and up. It’s on the small side, but worth doing, especially in combination with the Mobius children’s museum. We spent an enjoyable 90 minutes there as one-time visitors.
For locals, the main “replay value area” to return to again would be the building blocks – which I think would be great for 4 – 8 year olds, and maybe the lab – the others are more of a one-time learning experience.
There’s not a café or anything at the museum – the gift shop sells a few chips and crackers sorts of snacks, I think. But, you’re walking distance from several restaurants and a mall food court.
As of 2019, admission is $10, or $12 if you also want to go to the Mobius Children’s Museum. (They participate in the ASTC Travel Passport program, so if you’re a member of a science museum elsewhere, you may be able to get in for free.) We were there on a Sunday afternoon in summer and there were about 25 other people in the museum.
For up-to-date information on hours and admission costs, check the museum’s website.
More STEM Destinations
We visited Mobius Science Center (and the Mobius Children’s Museum across the street) as part of our “Road Trip of Science.” You can learn more about other science and engineering related museums we visited on this trip and at other times, in the Destinations section of this blog.