Michigan Science Center – Detroit

In April 2023, we visited Michigan Science Center in Detroit, with our 12 year old. We spent 3 – 3.5 hours there exploring all the exhibits.

We began in the space gallery, which includes a Apollo simulator capsule which was actually used in training astronauts, telescopes to look through and rocket models. Then the STEM playground with the ball wall, paper airplanes, and a wind tunnel. I liked the display of “engineers are not born, they are inspired” which had STEM toys and quotes from adults (presumably engineers?) about their favorite childhood toys. It’s a great idea, but they could also rotate in some newer toys into the mix (these toys are all older than 1960, which is fun in many ways, but also makes it feel like it hasn’t been touched since then….)

There was a fun exhibit about traffic and about bridges that had a scale model of a local suspension bridge as its centerpiece, which was fun. They had a room with wind and weather experiments, and a health exhibit. There was a Light and Sound exhibit with prism experiments and Motion exhibits. (I didn’t get pictures of any of those.) Plus two exhibits from NISE – Nano and Sun, Earth, Universe.

Upstairs was the Spark Lab – it was mostly an empty space with tables on the Friday we were there, but maybe they do crafts / maker stuff there sometimes? (There were kid-made items on the shelves there.)

We went to the science show, which was “Frostology” where she used liquid nitrogen for several fun demos (like putting it in a tea kettle that whistles because the liquid nitrogen is “boiling”). It was a very good show – engaging and clearly explained. (The only minor quibble we have is that whenever you’re showing kids something super cool, ground them in what they already know – start by showing ice and liquid water and reminding them of the stages of matter with water and THEN talk about how liquid nitrogen is different. Show them first how a tennis ball normally bounces, and THEN coat it in liquid nitrogen and then try to bounce it and they can see how it’s now different.)

We went to a really unique planetarium show. (We were the only people in there with the host, so it may not be a popular one…) It was about soundscapes – the different types of sound in an environment, how scientists study them, how they gather data and re-create soundscapes. They did have visual images and videos as part of it, but the main focus was on the sound, which was a fun new way to use the AV equipment of a planetarium.

We ended our day in Level Up, the Science of Gaming. There were video games, arcade games (including pinball), board games, giant board games (chess and connect 4), Duplos to build with, interesting interpretive signs and a Crash Course video about games. The exhibit included Electric Playhouse (a temporary exhibit that closes Memorial Day 2023) It is some huge interactive video games (where you walk around and the system senses your motion, so you can jump on targets, or make trails on the ground). See video here.

Early in the day, there were lots of school groups at the museum on field trips, but it got much quieter near the end of the day. So, we actually hung out in Level Up for a LONG time playing games, because it was only us and a few other families in there. It was a fun way to end a good day.

To see many of the activities at the Michigan Science Center in action, watch this video. Note that it’s from 2020 and some things have changed.

One final note: We have been to many science museums across the country, and this one is solid – it’s big with a variety of exhibits – but we also wondered if they’d had funding issues, as some exhibits were dated (especially the space exhibit, as seen in the sign in the photo that talks about the Constellation program and a return to the Moon in 2020 – that was a plan prior to 2009, but obviously never happened), some were out of order (e.g. lots of the buttons in the bridge exhibit didn’t work), and some were under-supplied (the ball wall only had about 6 or 7 balls total and the wind tube had just six scarves and nothing else to fly – both these things could be enhanced for very little money by buying more balls and some parachutes). Hopefully things improve for them. I encourage all my readers to consider supporting your local science centers by: buying memberships, donating, shopping in their gift shops, and holding birthday parties there.

Read about these other area museums: Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Air Zoo in Portage, MI, COSI in Columbus, and the Cincinnati Museum Center. Or other science museums across the country. (See a map of some here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1bTp83RbUJdvwdXx41m_d3vC71u2nxBs&usp=sharing.)



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