Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Audubon Society Workshop

If you have visited McWane any time over the last few months, you have seen the majestic tree filled with birds that dominates the middle of the second floor. The tree is the centerpiece of the NatureScope exhibit which was created as a partnership between McWane and the Birmingham Audubon Society (BAS). The exhibit includes educational displays, a stage with seating for group shows, and the BAS office itself, cleverly camouflaged as a rustic cabin. BAS Education Director Helena Uber-Wamble and Administrative Director BJ Allen share space in the BAS office. According to BAS President Maureen Shaffer, “With Helena’s professional efforts and our partnership with McWane Science Center, we are reaching a whole new audience.”

This Saturday, September 11, from 10 am-1 pm, McWane and the BAS are offering a Bluebird Box Workshop! Bring your family to learn about bluebirds together. Following a presentation on the cavity nesters of Alabama and their nesting requirements, each participant will build their very own Bluebird Box to take home! The cost for the workshop is $10.00 per person. Please call 205-714-8414 to make a reservation by Friday, September 10.

“Our partnership with the McWane Science Center has helped us launch a great series of programs at the NatureScope exhibit,” said Helena. “NatureScope offers a closeup view of birds and the chance to learn their songs. Our presence on the stage to educate visitors has inspired many folks to stop and share stories of their experiences with birds in their back yards and on their journeys. The enthusiasm is contagious!”

After visiting the new exhibit, one Mom wrote this on her blog: “On Tuesday we went to the McWane Center, our hands-on childrens' science museum. We go there regularly, but on Tuesday, we got to do something we have never done before. The Birmingham Audubon Society has recently opened an office inside the McWane Center. Along with their office, they have built a fabulous exhibit about birds commonly found in Alabama. We spent about thirty minutes with the Audubon Society's educator, who taught my daighter eight common bird calls and how to listen for them in our yard. She was fascinated, and has been reading a book about birds we got at the library. She just told me she wants to go outside tomorrow morning between 6:00 and 10:00 because that's the best time to listen for the birds. Helena, the Audubon educator, offered to come to our house to do a homeschool program about the birds found in our yard. We are so excited!”

In addition to the Audubon programs and bird exhibits, new bug exhibits are now crawling inside McWane Science Center! The new exhibits include—Bug Scope, Ant Casting, and What’s Bugging You. These fun and interactive new exhibits join the environmental area that already includes live bugs like the giant millipede, the hairy Tirantula and an Emperor Scorpion. The new additions are sure to give you the creepy crawlies as well as teach about the friends that share our big back yard.

Come see what all the excitement is about. Make plans to attend the Bluebird Box Workshop, or come visit the NatureScope exhibit at McWane this weekend!

By Dana Crisson, Manager of Community Relations

Monday, May 24, 2010

The New Space Race: Um, Where are We Headed Again?

By Ben Moon, Manager of Space and Technology

If you take a look at NASA’s proposed budget over the next 3 years years, you’ll see several things that stand out.

1. We’re retiring the Space Shuttles and sending them to museums.

2. We’re not going back to the Earth’s moon.

3. We’ve got nothing to take people into space immediately after the Shuttles retire.

Things are up in the air right now (no pun intended) as Washington and lawmakers battle over NASA’s Constellation program (which was going to replace the Shuttles with the Ares rockets) to try to save it or scrap it completely in favor of private industry taking over America’s push into space.

Some disagree with the changes the current administration is proposing and believe that NASA needs a clear, stated target and not a nebulous “further into space” idea. Some argue that it’s the right move, that Constellation was over budget and behind schedule, that private industry is what space exploration needs, and that the new plan is a game changer, not unlike the moon race of the 1960’s.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said during a February NASA budget press conference that federal funding for near-term robotic missions “will pave the way for later human exploration of the moon, Mars and nearby asteroids.” Notice he used the word “later,” meaning the U.S. won’t be sending any Americans up on American-made spacecraft for the next few years.

Meanwhile other countries are still sending people into space. The Russians and Chinese are sending people into space on their Soyuz rockets and Long March rockets respectively. It’s a possibility that Americans may rent a ride on Soyuz rockets, but the Russians have already begun increasing the cost to do so dramatically.

So as the battle plays out, only time will tell exactly what the landscape of U.S. manned space flight will look like.

NASA’s vision has been “To understand and protect our home planet, To explore the Universe and search for life, and To inspire the next generation of explorers... as only NASA can. But let’s say you want to go into space now and don’t want to wait on NASA or congress or anybody. Well, there may actually be hope for you.

There are some private companies that are about to begin sending people into space, for different reasons than NASA. For the company XCOR Aerospace, its vision is the “dream of spaceflight for its founders who recognize that the only way for them to get to space is to make it affordable for private citizens.” For the company SpaceX, the goal is “revolutionizing the cost and reliability of access to space.” Virgin Galactic seeks to lead the industry of “space tourism.” Whatever the reasons may be, these pursuits are good for the industry as a whole.

For a private company, the bottom line is one of the biggest concerns. They don’t want to waste money on unnecessary pursuits or time, and certainly not mission anomalies (accidents). They take their work very seriously and this work could pave the way for new scientific discovery and better ways of doing things. It’s time they got their piece of the pie.

So what does the immediate future of U.S. manned spaceflight look like? Possibly something like this:

Or this:
Or this:
Tell us what you think....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post by Ben Moon, Space & Tech Manager at McWane Science Center

Okay, so I own a telescope. Actually I own 2 telescopes. Nerd alert, I know. But I really like astronomy. It’s so much fun to find the thousands upon thousands of things in the night sky. There is an endless supply of things to see, especially if you have a dark sky.

Vestavia, where I live, doesn’t exactly have the darkest skies. There is a lot of “light pollution” which is an amateur astronomers worst enemy, next to clouds that is. If you want to find the darkest skies you’d have to go to the middle of a desert or just leave Earth altogether. Well, as it turns out, NASA has several telescopes that have done just that.

To name a few: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope are all floating around in space, orbiting Earth, minding their own business. And their business is serious. They are doing some complicated science as they take images of the farthest reaches of the known universe. The images are not just pretty pictures for us to enjoy in forwarded emails or the occasional news story, but they reveal startling and revealing things about the space around us.

This Saturday. November 21st, McWane is unveiling never before photographs taken by these three amazing space telescopes of the central region of our galaxy, The Milky Way, to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 celebrates the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning a telescope to the heavens. Boy, have we come a long way since then!

The images are absolutely beautiful. A giant 6-foot-by-3-foot image presents a unique view that showcases the Galaxy in near-infrared light observed by Hubble, infrared light observed by Spitzer, and X-ray light observed by Chandra. Its’ the most wide ranging view you’ve ever seen of our galaxies core.

My friends and fellow members of Birmingham Astronomical Society will be here as well for the celebration, complete with their telescopes and space knowledge. The festivities begin at 10:00 am and the images will be unveiled at 1:00 pm. Don’t miss it!

Want more? Click here to learn about the Hubble Space Telescope, scope out the Spitzer Space Telescope, check into the Chandra X-ray Observatory and above all click here to learn what NASA’s celebration of the International Year of Astronomy is all about,

Hope to see you Saturday!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Word is Out about the McWane Science Center, Part II

By Dana Crisson, Educator

In my previous blog, I wrote about the fact that the McWane Science Center is popping up in internet articles written by visitors from around the world. A number of “mommy” blogs have also been singing the praises of the McWane Science Center. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that these mommy blogs are “usually written with an emotion and personality which connect with readers in ways that other niches often can’t. Moms are the ones who are trusted for their opinions and who pass along information on what products, services and ideas are the best. Moms want to know which products work and which don’t; they want to give an opinion on what’s worked for them and share their experiences with other.” I completely agree; I read several mommy blogs regularly, and as a mother of two, I really appreciate their reviews.

Birminghammom and Geekdad both gave McWane glowing reviews for summer fun, and their advice can be extended into the fall and winter months, too. From “The hunt is on for the best summer in Birmingham can offer, and McWane Science Center has to be on your list. You have no doubt visited the halls of McWane Science Center or attended a party there. But let me bring you in on a little secret: McWane is one of the best values for summer activities, hands down. Besides the regular favorites like the bed of nails or the giant piano keys, there are rotating exhibits of all sorts to keep things interesting. If you're a city girl with no intention of wading in a creek or riverbed, take the kids to the lower level's Cahaba River Tank so you know you've at least introduced them to aquatic life. Let them touch a horseshoe crab while you keep your distance.”

On the technology news website, contributor Doug Cornelius wrote about McWane in a post on the GeekDad blog titled “100 Geeky Places to Take Your Kids this Summer.” He said, in part: “Boredom may already be settling in around the house. So what are some fun, geeky places to take your geeklets? Even better, what are some fun, geeky places that kids AND adults will all enjoy? Try the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama. It features four floors of interactive exhibits, celebrating science and wonder - from an amazing collection of dinosaurs to innovative environmental showcases, imaginative early childhood playgrounds, and an awe-inspiring aquarium.”

Birminghammom gave our new Smart Café a thumbs-up: “You don't have to leave the building for snacks or lunch. Pizza Hut and Subway are here but there are also deliberately healthy choices like smoothies. Burgers are broiled and fries are prepared with a hot air fryer which doesn't use oils or grease to produce equally crispy results. Yum!” The gift shop also got a positive mention when she added that “the gift shop isn't full of the usual allowance-scamming souvenirs” but offers science-related toys and games at all price points.

In this blog, posted in September, another Birmingham mom not only wrote about how much fun her son had in our museum but also acknowledged the accommodating staff in our Smart Café. Here are some of her comments:

“Last Saturday we decided to take Miller to the McWane Science Center for the day. WOW is all I have to say. We arrived the around 11:15 and we were concerned about what we were going to feed Miller, considering he would be getting hungry soon. Little did we know that the McWane Science Center has a lunch room for all of their visitors…and they are big on nutrition there. While we were in line to order, one of the workers overheard us trying to decide what to get Miller because of his food allergies. She said, it is our job here to get him what he needs to eat, and we try our hardest to provide for those that have food allergies. So we ordered him something and we did not have to pay full price considering it was not a full meal. It was very nice (because) it is very hard to find places that will help you out on food. After we ate we bought our tickets and headed in to the museum. It was amazing all the different things that Miller could do…he could do everything and it was really fun. After going to ALL four floors, we headed back home around 4:30 and Miller fell asleep on the way home. We had a great time and can't wait to go back.”

Contributor Profile:
Dana Crisson is a Recruitment Specialist in the Education Department at McWane. She brought her two daughters to visit the science center regularly, and although her oldest child is in college and the youngest is preparing to go away to college next fall, they continue to visit as often as possible. And her entire family loves eating in the Smart Café.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Word is Out about McWane Science Center, Part I

By Dana Crisson, Educator

Good news: the McWane Science Center continues to pop up in internet articles and blogs written by visitors as close to home as Southside and as far away as London, England., Nickelodeon’s city guide for parents, gave McWane Science Center their highest rating of five out of five stars. Their comments included: "Itty Bitty Mini Golf, in the mini-sized Magic City, helps children learn their ABCs and 123s while practicing the science of their swing. And birthday parties are a hassle-free experience – the museum staff handles all the details."

A writer from posted: "McWane Science Center is Alabama’s premier science center, aquarium and IMAX Dome Theater. It features four floors of exciting interactive science exhibits and displays: visitors can make their own animated movie, build a roller coaster or ride a bicycle along a wire 30 feet above the ground. One of the Center’s main attractions is World of Water exhibit, where visitors can make waves on an eroding shoreline, investigate salt marsh creatures, and explore the awesome story of water and its importance to life on our planet. In addition to permanent exhibits, McWane Science Center constantly features traveling exhibits from other famous museums around the world."

Three satisfied travelers recently wrote the following posts on the travel site First, a Washington D.C. traveler wrote: "McWane is really a fun place! It has a wide range of things to do. Very interactive. Designed for a range of ages: lots for toddlers, lots that appeal to the kindergarten set and quite a bit for older kids as well as adults. Our daughter (4-1/2) had a terrific time and was talking about it the rest of the day. I wasn't sure she'd be entertained long before getting there, but she could have spent an entire day there (we might not have been able to keep up that long though). We'll definitely be back. I'm surprised (and disappointed) we don't have something like this in DC."

According to a visitor from Toronto, ON: "This place is absolutely awesome! We had the best time here. There was a lady on the staff named Betty who was the sweetest lady and made a big fuss over us after she found out we had come to see McWane all the way from Toronto, ON, Canada. The exhibits were amazing, and the new shark and manta/sting ray tank was something else!! My 10 year old had a blast at this place and so did we!!! And for the price, you can't go wrong!"

Then, a visitor from London, England wrote: “We brought our 4 year old & 6 year old daughters here. They had a fantastic time. There were so many fun things for them to see and do that we were not able to get to all of them. Our girls were fascinated by the many interactive exhibits that the museum had to offer. If we lived nearby, we would join the McWane Science Center so we could visit often. Our visit was one of the highlights of our trip to Alabama. We'd highly recommend it!!”

A writer named Krista Tannahill wrote the following on, a website billed as a knowledge co-operative: “With over fifteen interactive scientific exhibits and an IMAX Dome Theater, the McWane Science Center children are encouraged to become engaged in various thought provoking and imaginative scientific activities and experiments. The center has four featured floors each with a variety of unique and interesting scientific exhibits. From an impressive and in-depth dinosaur collection to various detailed environmental showcases, the science center provides numerous daily activities, demonstrations and learning opportunities throughout the day."

Tannahill takes special note of the Alabama Dinosaurs Exhibit and the Shark & Ray Touch Tank. "Alabama Dinosaurs Exhibit is an in-depth visual and tactile exhibit showcasing various dinosaurs species found in and around the state of Alabama. The newest exhibition at the McWane Science Center, the Touch Tank, allows visitors to view and touch a variety of species of sharks and rays. Visitors are educated and guided by trained staff who will teach you about various underwater creatures and their unique habitats."

The secret is out: Come to the McWane Science Center for undisputed hands-on fun and learning. But then, you knew it all along!

Next week in Part II—Mommy blogs spread the news about the McWane Science Center

Contributor Profile:
Dana Crisson is a Recruitment Specialist in the Education Department at McWane. She brought her two daughters to visit the science center regularly, and although her oldest child is in college and the youngest is preparing to go away to college next fall, they continue to visit as often as possible.

Friday, September 4, 2009

McWane brings science to Children's Hospital!

By Kathy Fournier, Director of Science Education

Outreach is a very important part of the Education Department here at McWane. With our Outreach program, we take our science programming on the road, visiting schools, churches and other facilities throughout the area. One of the regularly scheduled stops for our Outreach program is Children’s Hospital.

In the fall of 2007, our Vice President of Education, Jan Mattingly talked with staff at Children’s Hospital and developed a structure for a partnership between our two organizations. Since then we have been going to Children’s Hospital each month. This opportunity has been amazing. First, we visit the Dialysis Clinic. These children are there at least 3 times a week for 4 hours to receive their treatment, so we come in and provide some fun and educational distractions for them during their treatment. I certainly feel that the kids enjoy our visits, but what I did not expect was how it would affect me, other educators and docents who assist with these outreaches. In the Dialysis Clinic we often see the same children month after month, and as the months go by, we have been able to form relationships with these kids. I look forward to seeing them at each visit to see how they are doing.

At one of our monthly visits one of the regular patients was not there; it turned out he had received his kidney transplant and no longer needed dialysis treatment. What bittersweet news! Obviously I was thrilled that he was now healthy and no longer needed these long and uncomfortable treatments, but sad that I would no longer be able to talk with him at each visit. This particular young man had also come to McWane Science Center on a field trip from the hospital recently and was thrilled to have the opportunity to see our exhibits and educational programs. As I was as leaving Children’s Hospital that morning, I happened to see him in the lobby of the hospital--he was there for a check-up after his transplant and was happy that he had gotten a great report. I got to meet his mother, and as we talked about our visits, she told me that he now wanted to have his birthday at McWane. She said, “He can’t stop talking about McWane Science Center, about how much fun he had on his field trip there and how much he enjoyed doing the activities you brought with you when you came to visit him in the hospital.” We gave each other big hugs, and I told him to be sure to find me when he came for his birthday.

The second part of our outreach at Children’s Hospital is to provide the same programming in a room where patients and their parents can come and have a break from the hospital routine and have some educational fun. Here we do not often see the same patients each visit, but we know that the kids enjoy having an entertaining and educational activity to break up their day. Go Green, Weather Watchers and Sticky Icky Science are just a few of the programs we have been able to present to these children. I think the parents enjoy it as much as the kids! I know from experience that the days spent in the hospital with a sick child can be long, tedious and stressful. I am honored to be able to provide an opportunity for these families to give them some relief from their situation and that is both enjoyable and educational.

Children’s Hospital does a great job offering a variety of opportunities for their patients. I appreciate the fact that they value an educational experience in addition to the movie nights and the other fun activities on their schedule. This hospital outreach has been such a rewarding experience that I plan on participating in as many as possible. I value the relationships that we are building with these families, and I look forward to seeing them here at McWane Science Center when they are able to come and visit us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

From Parking Deck to Adventure Halls – the Grand Lobby Experience

By: Ruth Terry, Manager of Ticketing

It is very difficult to convince a three year old that there are more fun things to see and do after being introduced to the flying, chiming, zooming, and leaping balls of Vulcan’s Dream Machine. The art piece is the first sight you see when you step from the elevators from the parking deck into the Grand Lobby. It is sometimes difficult to convince older children (and even adults) that more levels of exciting activities wait around the curve of the spacious lobby.

Once you are able to pull away from “The Ball Machine,” other distractions pull you farther into the center. High screens of constantly changing information about what the McWane Science Center offers may catch your eye with a robot talking about having a birthday party at the McWane Science Center. Or you might see information about the latest exhibit or an upcoming exhibit.

A few steps on are three larger screens, displaying a variety of information. You might see lightning streaking across a stage while an unseen audience screams with delight; or a balloon exploding in light, the audience gasping with excitement. “Where and when can I see THAT?” you want to know. The center board has a map of Level One and the times of the day’s programs listed. On the final screen are the IMAX® films with their current show times. If you miss the IMAX times on the information screens, they are posted behind the ticketing counter.
The screens at ticketing keep up the flow of information and excitement. The prices are listed and the robot is there too, piquing your children’s interest while you receive all the vital information about your visit from the ticketing representative. On one screen, the robot will let you know about birthday parties and membership at the McWane Science Center. On the other, your child will be watching for him to pop up, sneaking peeks over and around the prices. The robot, by the way, is MAC, McWane Science Center’s robot who will occasionally roll around Level One, greeting visitors and talking about what is happening at the McWane Science Center that day.

Past the ticketing counter are more interesting distractions before you step into the Adventure Halls. First there is the IMAX® Concession Stand, where the smell of fresh popcorn wafts, tempting you to grab a bag (please remember though, there is no food or drink allowed in the Adventure Halls.) Then there is the MAXFLIGHT 2000, where you are turned topsy-turvy in a simulated roller coaster ride, if you are at least 48 inches tall. Above MAXFLIGHT 2000 is a net. Why is there a net above our lobby? It’s under the High Cycle to catch falling objects, not falling people (no matter what a ten year old might tell his little sister.) And there is the vortex, the amazing gravity powered coin spin which is not only fun to do, but helps fund the fun!

If you can resist the pull of Really Cool Stuff, our gift store, you are finally in the Adventure Halls. Four levels of fun and educational exhibits. The long journey from Parking Deck to Adventure Halls is complete. Now you only have to decide what to do first!