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Discovering Science Locally

The Science Museum of Virginia Sparks Curiosity in Richmond

Article by Joanna Tannenbaum

Photography by Philip Andrews Photography

Originally published in Midlothian Lifestyle

The Science Museum of Virginia is more than just a home to fascinating exhibits and programs spun around the world's historical, scientific, cultural, and artistic objects. It is a neoclassical building rich in Virginia history. Long before it was a museum, it was Broad Street Station. This passenger rail station saw thousands of travelers a day pass through Richmond starting in 1919. After decades of being a traveling hub, Broad Street Station transitioned into a new phase, becoming a ground-breaking STEM center when the Science Museum of Virginia opened in January 1977. Today, it's a beautiful site featuring four floors of interactive labs, extraordinary artifacts, hundreds of hands-on experiences, and worldly exhibitions to amaze and enlighten local Virginians and visitors.

In February, Midlothian Lifestyle and Short Pump City Lifestyle received an exclusive tour of the museum, and a sneak peek of its newest exhibition, Playing With Light. With Communications and Curiosity Director Jennifer Guild as a guide, magazine staff experienced a day of learning, inspiration, and fun. “The Science Museum isn’t going to teach guests everything they need to know about science,” Jennifer explains. “There’s too much! But we will share some ways science is connected to your daily life in unexpected ways.” With 14 exhibitions, dozens of stand-alone exhibits, plus demos and programs guided by educators, facilitators, astronomers, and volunteers, guests will undoubtedly walk away with newfound knowledge.

The Playing With Light exhibition explores the world through various STEM disciplines, including physics, technology, material science, biology, engineering, and astronomy. With 21 full-body interactive exhibits, the exhibition offers guests the chance to sneak past a laser light security block, step inside a giant kaleidoscope, draw with infrared paint, freeze their shadow, make a laser beam bounce across the water, and build a powerful telescope. Playing With Light offers exploration, creativity, and learning through experimentation, a fundamental scientific process. The exhibition is included with admission and is open now until August 20, 2023.

According to Jennifer, the most popular exhibition at the museum is Speed. Highly interactive elements such as the sprint track, a pitching cage, and an air hockey robot have been calibrated to display accurate speed measurements. The exhibit presents a natural Moon rock, an SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane, and the slowest machine ever built. “It’s not just about what’s displayed,” Jennifer explains. “Guests appreciate the way the STEM information is presented in the Speed exhibition because it’s not all science theories and formulas. The content is about what people care about—food, animals, sports, weather—and is presented in an unexpected way.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of the museum is The Forge. Part workshop, part gallery, the Forge celebrates innovation, design, and fabrication. The innovators gallery features Virginia-made products like a Girl Scout cookies box; aluminum foil; ChapStick; a heat and puncture-resistant HybridSil glove; blotting paper used in offices; a Hamilton Beach drink mixer with an AC/DC motor; a cider can showcasing the Stay-on-Tab, and Robitussin, the over-the-counter cough medicine. Each of these inventions illustrates the power of STEM. The Forge's workshop allows guests to be creators using traditional tools and state-of-the-art technologies like CNC routers, 3D printers, laser cutters, and more.

Managed by highly skilled educators, The Dome is another incredible museum feature. The Dome allows guests to explore space through a quarter-acre wrap-around screen, high-tech projectors, and a robust sound system. Jennifer says, "There is no place in Virginia better to delve into the cosmos than in The Dome." With that thought in mind, it's unfortunate not everyone can visit the museum, but the organization does not let that stop them from fulfilling its mission of reaching all Virginians. Through free content, like videos, graphics, STEM at Home activities, and blogs, anyone with internet access can experience what the Science Museum of Virginia offers. “We love a good song remix, pop culture remake, puns, and costumes,” says Jennifer. “It's clear from our content that staff will do just about anything to entertain and inspire Virginians.”

Every exhibition at the museum operates on a different schedule. Some are open for three, six, and twelve months, and some are permanent. “Having numerous spaces to house exhibitions and a dynamic schedule allows us to rotate the content in a way where there is something new to experience and explore,” Jennifer says.

Science Museum of Virginia’s Recently Installed Exhibits

·      Giant Lever

·      Human Hamster Wheel

·      Body Puppet

·      Eye Tracker

·      By the Numbers

·      Virtual Fish Tank

·      Interactive Light Swarm

The same holds true for the museum’s labs, the makerspace, and The Dome. Each month museum staff switches up the lab activities they feature, the Forge workshops they offer, and the films they show. To experience a balance of fun and depth through exhibitions, labs, programming, and Dome features, plan your visit to the Science Museum of Virginia today and explore the world in a whole new way.

To purchase tickets and learn more about upcoming events at the Science Museum of Virginia, visit:

  • Jennifer Guild, the Communications and Curiosity Director at the Science Museum of Virginia, demonstrates an interactive display to young museum-goers.
  • pg. 4, middle left

"Over the last 45 years, the Science Museum has reimagined every inch of the unique building and its campus to ensure we are showcasing science that sparks curiosity, encourages discovery, facilitates connections, and changes perspectives." - Jennifer Guild, Communications and Curiosity Director at the Science Museum of Virginia

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