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Great Lakes Science Center

By Doug Kish, MA

Looking for a place where the kids can have fun and still learn something? Then the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio is the place to go. Our recent tour of the Science Center was a learning experience. Their mission statement is “To make science, technology, engineering, and math come alive” and with three floors of displays and interactive experiments, they are certainly succeeding in that endeavor.

Prior to even entering the facility, there are exhibits which demonstrate the use of advanced energy technologies in the region. Their landmark wind turbine reaches 150 feet into the air demonstrating how wind power can create energy. The wind turbine provides about 7% of the facility’s annual electrical needs. The turbine contains parts from local companies who use it to monitor and test their materials, and to make changes necessary to improve performance. WindWorks is a permanent art installation surrounding the wind turbine. It features two concrete pathways positioned so the shadow of the turbine aligns with them twice each day. On the spring and fall equinoxes, the shadow precisely matches the outline of the paths at solar noon. The 300-foot solar energy canopy located at the main entrance contains 156 photovoltaic panels which provide the power necessary to light all of the Science Center’s exhibition space for one hour. Over the course of a year, it produces an average of 100 kWh per day which is equal to the average electrical use of four homes.
After collaboration with the NASA Glenn Research Center, in 2010 the NASA Glenn Visitor Center was relocated to the Science Center. In this area you can get up close and personal to space artifacts from the past, present and future, including the actual 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo command module. You can see a moon rock brought back to Earth on the Apollo 15 mission and learn how astronauts work and live on the International Space Station. Taking your photo in a spacesuit is a must, after which you can climb inside a full scale model of a Mercury capsule. See a performance of “Liftoff!” on the Discover Stage, showing how you get to space by first getting off the ground. Science educators roam the area engaging visitors in hands-on activities. On occasion, former astronauts visit the Center to speak about their experiences, answer questions and give autographs.
Live science demonstrations throughout the day invite visitors to participate and learn about space, aeronautics, and electricity. There are various Big Science Shows, and young people are invited to visit the Cleveland Creates Zone maker exhibit where they can invent, design, and create various items. The BioMedTech Gallery contains interactive exhibits, videos and educational displays focusing on the latest medical technologies and how they relate to our lives. Information is available about careers in the biomedical field.
The Polymer Funhouse for children ages 7 and under is an area for youngsters to interact with polymers. They can climb into the ball pond with thousands of colorful balls, go into the light house and experiment with lenses, a periscope and kaleidoscope, have fun with the costumes in the dress-up area, or relax in the literacy corner. The outdoor area, Port Polymer, features a variety of hands-on water-themed exhibits. Children can climb on a paddle-wheel boat constructed mostly of recycled polymer-based materials. There is a water wheel and balancing bucket, water fountains and water turbines. The outdoor portion is open Memorial Day through Halloween, weather permitting. The Science Phenomena area is where we spent quite a bit of time. Here visitors explore electricity, magnetism, light, optics, motion, mechanics, sound and resonance with more than 100 hands-on experiences. For example, you can form a tornado, take a virtual flight on the Sky Glider and make light dance under a plasma ball.
Few people realize that there is a high school located at the Great Lakes Science Center. The MC2 STEM High School is the result of a partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Science Center. Focusing on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), the school exposes students to design and implementation practices scientists and engineers use as they learn to become innovators, logical thinkers and inventors. Their unique curriculum incorporates Science Center resources, exhibits and programs to turn scientific theory into reality. School is in session year-round as students attend classes for four ten-week sessions over the year, each followed by a three-week break. Their custom-built classrooms are located on the ground level of the Science Center.
At the time we visited, Reinberger Hall, the special exhibitions gallery, had several smaller versions of 2016 Summer Olympic events in track and gymnastics. Visitors were encouraged to participate in a mock event for an Olympic competition experience. On our visit we saw The Last Reef: Cities Beneath the Sea on the 6-story domed screen in the OMNIMAX Theater. It was an underwater journey through coral reefs and sea walls, featuring the anemones and crustaceans that live in those areas of the ocean. The movie theater was scheduled to close on September 5 for a significant makeover, including a serious projection upgrade. Scheduled to reopen in mid-October, the theater will be known as the Cleveland Clinic Dome Theater featuring the world’s first giant dome cinema laser system. All new seats and new carpeting will complete the renovations. The digital conversion will allow access to new films and lower operating costs. Movies will be changed periodically and theater tickets will remain a separate charge. Admission to the Science Center is not required to attend a movie.
The Café on the lower level offers a variety of foods ranging from snacks to full meals, and beverages. In addition, there is the Science Store with an array of take-home experiments and souvenirs to remember your visit. Located in the North Coast Harbor area, adjacent to the Science Center is the Steamship William G. Mather. This restored 618-foot ship allows visitors to experience what life was like on a working Great Lakes freighter. Originally built in 1925, you can see the cargo holds, brass and oak pilot house, elegant guest quarters and four-story engine room. The Great Lakes Story exhibits on board include interactive experiences about how the Great Lakes were formed, the environmental threats they now face, and how science and technology is used to help restore the health of these lakes. Tours are available from May through October and tickets can be purchased at the Science Center.
The Great Lakes Science Center is a non-profit organization funded by the citizens of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, grants, funds, and corporate and individual gifts. They have several membership packages available for individuals and families which include unlimited admissions, complimentary/reduced parking rates in the attached parking garage, unlimited theater tickets, free additional guests, 10% discount at the Science Store and Café, and a monthly e-newsletter, to name a few.
For information about membership packages and to see a list of the current exhibits, educational programs, and Cleveland Clinic Dome Theater movies, see their website at

Great Lakes Science Center

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