ScienceWorks is in Ashland, Oregon (also home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University). With over 100 exhibits in 26,000 square feet, there’s plenty to see – more than you’d expect for a small town museum!
Their exhibits include: the Bubble Room, Experiments with Physics and Movement, Exploring Electricity, Optical Illusions, and outdoor exhibits. (This video provides an overview of the exhibits.) All of these exhibits are hands-on and very engaging for kids from age 4 – 12. Discovery Island has fun things for the toddlers too.
In summer 2019, they also have Apollo 50 – a look at space travel, and a temporary exhibit called Wild Music, both of which I think would appeal to many of the adults in town to see Shakespeare and other plays.
It’s hard to miss with bubbles! And this room had a couple big trays full of bubble solution with all sorts of bubble wands to explore. They had a thing where you pull up a rope and you get a giant sheet of bubble film in front of you to blow on. (I wish I knew the names of those things!) and the best part: a platform you can stand on and hoist a hula hoop in the air so you’re surrounded by a giant bubble!
There were just a bunch of fun activities that I don’t know how to categorize… they’re all things that move, in some way: one where you pull really hard to lift a heavy ball in the air, then when you let it go, it pushes air through a tube to launch a tennis ball to the ceiling! (My son did this over and over… and over again.) There were water bottle rockets: you fill partway with water, then pump full of air till the pressure builds up, then you release it and they launch up a tube. A giant harmonograph – with a platform that sways back and forth, and a pen on an arm that rocks back and forth, and creates drawings. (This has to be operated by museum staff so isn’t always happening.) A stationary bike that when you ride it, you power a model train going in circles above you. And chairs on pulleys where you pull to lift yourself up high… you have to pull harder on some than others, so you can see the science of pulleys in action.
There is a flight simulator video game (similar to one in an arcade) that is apparently quite popular. I know my son spent a lot of time there.
They had a “light harp” where if you passed your hand through the center, between the top and bottom pipe, it would trigger an electric eye and play a musical note, so you could play music on the harp. There was a lightning ball, which kids love, and a “human battery” experiment where you place one hand on aluminum or copper, and one hand on zinc or brass and notice whether electrical current flows.
There was a dark room where there were several different light exhibits, including a jacob’s ladder / spark gap, and a “dancing barbies” which had 5 Barbies mounted on a spinning platform – when the strobe flashed, it looked like they were dancing.
What do you see?
Lots of exhibits related to the sense of sight: a duck-in kaleidoscope where you’re inside the kaleidoscope and can see many reflections of yourself, a microscope, a fly’s eye lens, a zoetrope, and fluorescent rocks that you could view under normal light and under a black light.
They also had LOTS of optical illusions. Here are just a few of them. The mirror that reflects half of your body so it looks like a full body is particularly entertaining when you have a very asymmetrical body like I do.
This is a special area for ages 5 and under. There are puzzles on the wall, a train table to delight toddler boys, a scarf poof which uses fans to blow scarves through a maze of tubes, a water play area (which will be repaired soon), and a pirate ship climber with buckets on a pulley to raise and lower.
Outside the building, there’s a climbing wall that reflects geological eras, and that also has “fossils” embedded in it for kids to search for. (This exhibit is really cool looking! But… hard to climb. Even for my kid who is pretty good at climbing walls.) And an echo tube where you stand at one end, yell in and listen to the echo.
When you enter this room, there’s a sign saying “Welcome to DaVinci’s garage. This space is a lab and workshop for visitors and ScienceWorks researchers alike to collaboratively design, build, test, collect and analyze data through experiments. The exhibits and activities are under development and constantly changing, so we invite you to participate in the process to help us refine and improve them.”
ScienceWorks does create many exhibits. They rent out traveling exhibits like Pterosaurs, Sportsology, and Take Flight. The current exhibit, Apollo 50, will be there through October 2019. It focused on the history of space travel – specifically the 1969 moon landing. It included model rockets, a model lunar lander, a space suit exhibit, and a table with supplies for making straw rockets. There was a motion capture screen where when moved in front of it, it would place an image of you in a space suit on the lunar surface. It was a little buggy, but my son loved it!
There was a full scale, accurate, lunar lander replica with LOTS of switches to flip and dials to turn. The flight simulator that allows you to practice a lunar landing wasn’t working quite right yet, because it’s still in development, but the kids playing there didn’t seem to mind.
And the coolest part was a working Apollo-era mission control console, first used during Gemini 4, that will allow visitors to experience launch and landing sequences from the ground team’s perspective. You were supposed to be able to press buttons to execute a computer program, but the buttons were unresponsive on the day we were there in August. But just check out how incredible this exhibit looks! And these kids stayed engaged a long time even though it wasn’t working quite yet.
Some online reviews complain that not everything is working yet – I love the fact that they let us see what cool new stuff they’re working on and that I can then talk to my kid about how much work goes into designing and testing museum exhibits.
To go with their current temporary exhibit, they had out some of the exhibits and activities from their own “Noise!” exhibit: the pipe organ, musical wrench xylophone, and string strobe. We’ve seen things like the pipe organ in many museums, but love that this one had a song book with it so you could choose a tune to play.
Wild Music – Sounds and Songs of Life is a temporary exhibit that will be on display till Sept. 2, 2019. It covers the science of music (like how the ear processes sound, how the structure of a bird’s larynx differs from a human and how that affects the music they make), and also looks at how music is found in nature and how nature sounds inspire human musicians. It is a really excellent exhibit with plenty of hands-on activities to engage kids, but also the sophistication of the information provided is deep and rich for adults as well. I think adults who are visiting Ashland for the Shakespeare festival would enjoy visiting the museum to spend a few hours with this exhibit. (For me as a parent on day 5 of a road trip with an 8 year old I found I was feeling a little too over-stimulated to really settle into this and appreciate it in its full depth. So I only tried out a few of the exhibits, but was impressed with what I saw.)
There was also a “Jamming Room” – a soundproof studio. You can lay down a beat, add tracks with animal sounds, and finish with your own voice or instrumental playing.
Wild Music is a traveling exhibit, which was developed by the Association of Science-Technology Centers, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music.
Here is a potential floor plan (source) for the exhibit which gives you a sense of what all the parts of this exhibit are. There are many photos of it here, and here’s a teachers’ guide which includes brief descriptions of all the exhibits.
The companion website has Flash-enabled activities such as testing your memory while listening to animal sounds, listening for the difference between the calls of different types of thrush, testing your hearing, and instruments to make at home.
Admission in August 2019 was $10 for kids 2 – 12, $12 for teens and adults, and $10 for seniors 65+. (A few reviewers found this too high, but since it’s the price of a movie, it feels really reasonable to me!) It’s $3 for SNAP card holders, and free for active duty military over the summer. (They also participate in the ASTC passport program, so if you’re a member of your local science museum you may get in for free.) For current details, check the museum website.
There were some vending machines by the flight simulator and one or two tables. They had picnic tables outside the front door if you brought your own food.
We were there on a Thursday in August, and there were plenty of people, but it was never crowded, and we never had to wait for anything. They don’t open till 11:00, and we were going to a 1:30 performance of Alice in Wonderland at OSF so we had to leave at 12:45. We would have been happy to have a little more time there, but weren’t quite motivated enough to return later in the day. Instead, we went to a game store in downtown Ashland called FunAgain, where they have a huge library of board games that you can play on tables in the back of the store. They just ask that you spend at least $2.00 per person in the store, which we happily did with some sodas, chips and a mead.
More STEM Destinations
We visited ScienceWorks as part of our “Road Trip of Science.” You can learn more about other science and engineering related museums we’ve visited in the Destinations section of this blog.