The McWane Science Center is one of the best science museums in the state, for several different reasons.
Located in the historic building of the former Loveman’s Department Store in downtown Birmingham, it is a non-profit enterprise.
It is very unique from some of the other science museums in the state, as it combines 3 very different formats, a museum, a theater, as well as an aquarium.
It grew to want it is today from the merger of two older science centers, in part due to the financial support from one of the most philanthropic family businesses, in the city of Birmingham.
The success of this center in this downtown location helped to spark a revitalization in the area, and it is seeking to expand to become one of the largest science museums in the nation.
The history of the McWane Science Center all began with the opening of the Red Mountain Museum, which was formerly located on the south side of the city of Birmingham.
At the time, it was a city-owned museum, and the employees spent nearly two decades leading expeditions across the state for one major goal; collect specimens.
They collected tens of thousands of both fossils as well as geological samples, and in the year 1994, the city merged the Red Mountain Museum with another museum.
They merged with the nearby children’s museum, Discovery Place, with the private entity Discovery 2000, Inc.
Opened in the year 1998, this new downtown museum was later named The McWane Science Center, and currently sets as the second largest collection of natural history in the State of Alabama.
This entire process was made possible after a $10 million donation from the McWane family, and this is the reason the name was changed to the McWane Science Center.
As owners of one of the largest water and sewer pipe manufacturing companies in the world, the philanthropic efforts of this generous family dates back to the turn of the 20th century.
In the year 1904, J.R. McWane and his Birmingham Steel and Iron Company, were central figures in both the financing as well as the construction of the Vulcan Statue.
The Vulcan Statue is to this day a symbol of Birmingham Industry and sets on top of Red Mountain.
The first phase of the McWane Science Center opened on July 11, 1988, in a brand new 180,000 square-foot facility.
The center reported $ 1 million in earning its first nine weeks of operation and has grown every year since.
It is estimated to have over ½ million visitors annually, and because of this, it continues to grow.
The Center employs approximately 120 people, but also need several volunteers to help with their educational programs, as well as greeting people.
There are several attractions for you and your family to see at the McWane Science Center, and here are the first two.
The John W. Woods IMAX Dome Theater
First on this list of attractions is The John W. Woods IMAX Dome Theater, which is a very unique experience you must see.
The unique theater has 250 seats that set under a 5 story, 79’ diameter, tilted screen, that is comprised of hundreds of precision-engineered and highly reflective perforated aluminum panels.
The IMAX Dome image fills up the entire field of vision of the visitors, and audio surrounds you to create a sight and sound experience you will never forget.
The theater also features a revolutionary IMAX with a Laser projection system, to create amazing images of three very unique attributes, unsurpassed contrast, clarity, as well as luminance.
Combined with six channels if digital surround sound, it adds another dimension to your experience.
The McWane Science Center Collection
The McWane Science Center Collection is the next attraction, and it is made up if nearly a half-million specimens as well as artifacts, that are related to the natural history of the beautiful State of Alabama.
This collection also includes Native American artifacts, rocks and minerals, preserved biological specimens, as well as hundreds of thousands of fossils.
Here are two examples of some of these incredible collections.
It is believed by most experts, that in the United Sates, Alabama is one of the best places east of the Mississippi River, to find the remains of these prehistoric animals.
The exhibit of Alabama Dinosaurs displays actual dinosaur fossils that have discovered around the state.
This collection includes rare finds from the Alabama tyrannosaur to the very dangerous dromaeosaurs, also known as “raptors”.
In this attraction at the McWane Science Center, visitors will see the faces and fins that once swam in the ancient oceans of Alabama.
You and your family will come face-to-face with a 15-foot sea turtle, and a 17-foot fish that is chasing its prey.
You can also peer into the jaws of the most dangerous sea monster of its time—the “Mosasaur”.
The Explore Lab
The Explore Lab is totally devoted to the visitor’s hands-on exploration of geology, paleontology, anthropology, as well as zoology.
You and your family can help classify feathers, butterflies, rocks, shells, and much, much more.
There are computer stations that take you and your family to interactive roles in learning about the scientific methods.
You can develop your skills with microscopes, touch fossils, skeletons, as well as rare minerals.
You can also watch scientists working on specimens and artifacts, and the daily activities include cleaning, repairing, identifying, and labeling of the specimens.
Nature Scope is the next attraction to visit, and it is a unique exhibit designed jointly by the McWane Science Center, and the Birmingham Audubon Society.
The exhibits include a collection of birds from Alabama, including a Bald Eagle, a Wild Turkey, two very rare Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and a skull for a Dodo Bird.
The exhibit also includes an Audubon Cabin and a demonstration stage, where visitors can fully enjoy the nature programs and live animal shows.
For the visitors that like bugs, you can also see emperor scorpions, a tarantula, as well as a giant African millipede.
There are also a number of other permanent exhibits that include the following.
The Itty-Bitty Magic City, the Fox 6 Weather Lab, and Science on a Sphere.
There is also the High Cycle, the World of Water Aquarium, and the Shark and Ray Touch Tank.
The McWane Science Center, however, does not just focus on science.
It also strives to inspire children of all ages through science, technology, engineering, as well as mathematics.
This is referred to as STEM, and the center firmly believes that STEM learning involves inquisition.
In other words, students are not learning at the McWane Science Center by lectures, they are learning by doing, asking questions, and creating their own hypothesis.
They can do this at the center by testing and re-thinking their own ideas and beliefs.
McWane Science Center | Encyclopedia of Alabama
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