GeekDad Goes to OMSI


OMSI signOMSI sign

If you ever find yourself in Portland, Oregon, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a great spot to take the kids. I took the geeklings while we were there for spring break. I’d mentioned it as a geeky place to visit, and Daren Lewis had also mentioned it a few years ago. I wanted to give you a slightly more in-depth look at OMSI.

Samson the T-RexSamson the T-Rex

Samson the T-Rex

Samson the T. Rex

One of their newest exhibits, which opened in December of 2009 is Samson, a T. Rex skeleton. At least, it appears to be a T. Rex. Because its skull shows some substantial variations from other T. Rex skulls, researchers are still questioning whether Samson is a different species.

But even if it does turn out that Samson isn’t a new species, there are a few other facts that make him pretty special. For one, with 170 of the 300 original bones, Samson is the third most complete T. Rex skeleton ever found, and has the best preserved skull. The actual bones are on display (with the rest of the skeleton filled in with replicas); the skull, which was too heavy to mount, is in a glass display case nearby where you can get a close-up look at it.

This exhibit is also Samson’s worldwide museum debut; before this he had only been on display at auction, and is currently on loan to OMSI from the buyer. Samson is on display at OMSI through this summer, so if you’ve got some budding paleontologists, he’s definitely worth a visit.

I think, though, my kids weren’t quite as excited about Samson as I was. They’re currently six and three, and I don’t think they quite grasped the significance of how complete the skeleton was or that you could get so close to the actual skull (albeit behind glass). They’re just not the dinosaur nuts that I used to be… at least not yet.

Science on a SphereScience on a Sphere

Science on a Sphere

Science on a Sphere

Another eye-popping exhibit was the Science on a Sphere, which first opened last summer. This exhibit is a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. What you see is a six-foot-tall sphere, suspended in midair, with various dynamic images projected onto it, covering the entire surface. The sphere can display atmospheric conditions, animal migration patterns, paths of hurricanes and ocean temperatures, as well as images of Mars or the moon and other things.

I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the live demonstrations, which I think would have gotten my kids more excited about it and also provided more background on what we were seeing. There are some computer monitors which give a brief explanation of what you’re currently looking at, but there isn’t a way to interact with it, choose the next display, or tell how long it will be until the image is going to change. We did see three different displays while we were there but without the interactivity it may not hold younger kids’ interest for as long.

I do think the Science on a Sphere has some great potential, though, and according to OMSI’s press release it is only “the first step in a long-term partnership between OMSI and NOAA to provide education on the Earth’s oceans and atmospheres, the health of its ecosystems, and the effects of human impacts on these systems.”

Reporting the weatherReporting the weather

Reporting the weather

Other features

The best part of any science museum, of course, is all the hands-on stuff, and OMSI has plenty of that. My kids particularly liked the green-screen weather reporter station even though they had to wait for a lot of other kids to clear out before they got a turn. Another favorite was the water bottle rockets: you get to choose the amount of water and air to pump into the 2-liter bottle, and then launch it. (It’s on a metal track so that it won’t fly off just anywhere, but if you get too close you can still get in the splash zone.)

There’s one room that’s full of blowers, flexible tubes and ping-pong balls, and young inventors can go wild building contraptions to move the balls around and shoot them into baskets overhead. We also got to play with a Van de Graaff generator, and they even had a dancing water bowl. Some of the stations were ones I remembered from when we lived in Portland a few years ago and are showing signs of wear, but there was a lot I hadn’t seen before. If our schedule had been a little less hectic my kids and I could have enjoyed a few more hours exploring.

Although the Hubble IMAX movie had just started the weekend we were there, our timing didn’t work out so we watched the Deep Sea instead, which was fantastic. It was in 2D but the domed wraparound screen was immersive and my kids loved it.

For more information including hours, directions and ticket prices, visit the OMSI website.

Wired: Enough exhibits and hands-on activities to keep kids of any age engaged and entertained. On-site cafe is reasonably priced and nearly everything is recyclable or compostable.

Tired: During school field trip season, could use some crowd control; some exhibits could have used a little more direction or explanation.

OMSI provided passes for admission and the IMAX for this review.

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