A new museum designed to showcase science found in eastern North Carolina’s backyard will welcome its first visitors on Saturday by having dozens of interactive and educational exhibits out front.
The opening of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Greenville will include a daylong expo event that will feature displays and demonstrations from a host of organizations to help bring science within reach. Representatives of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Sylvan Heights Bird Park, Bald Head Island Conservancy and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh are among those invited to the Greenville museum’s long-awaited ribbon cutting.
“It’s going to be a great celebration,” museum Director Emily Jarvis said. “People can come here that day and spend hours doing what you would have to travel all around eastern North Carolina to experience.”
It has been more than a year and a half since A Time For Science centers in Greenville and Grifton officially became the fourth and fifth branch locations of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The projected opening date for the remodeled museum on Dickinson Avenue was the summer of 2020 when the affiliation was announced in February of that year.
But the next month, museums throughout the world closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was September 2020 before the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh could reopen. The opening of the Greenville museum, originally rescheduled for the spring of 2021, was postponed for months longer due to delays in the arrival of exhibit materials.
Teams from Raleigh spent time throughout the summer completing installations and helping local staff with finishing touches that they believe visitors will find worth the wait.
“We’re thrilled to add the Greenville and nearby Contentnea Creek facilities to the Museum of Natural Sciences family,” Eric Dorfman, director and CEO of the parent museum in Raleigh said in a statement. “One of the museum’s primary missions is to share our love and knowledge of science and nature to people across the state, and this greatly improves our ability to do that in eastern North Carolina.”
The Greenville location, in a former Pugh’s service station building, added about 3,500 square feet of adjoining warehouse space in 2020, more than doubling its size. The nearly 6,000-square-foot museum will feature information on topics from astronomy to groundwater. There will be a discovery zone for the youngest visitors, a naturalist area and wall of fossils.
Some of the features of the renovated building are modeled after the design of areas of the state museum. But the branch location is not simply designed as a smaller version of the Raleigh museum, the state’s most visited museum and the largest of its kind in the Southeast.
Education Director Maria McDaniel said the local museum will focus on eastern North Carolina, including its “Graveyard of the Atlantic” coastline.
“We tried to make the whole museum about what’s in your backyard,” she said, “what science is in your backyard.”
Located just a few blocks from the campus of East Carolina University, the museum will offer a different kind of pirate experience. A 24-foot replica of a ship forms the centerpiece of an exhibit on the science of pirates. Visitors will be invited to receive a pirate name when they enter the exhibit area, where they also will receive a “treasure map” that will direct them through several educational stations.
“The whole exhibit is approached from the point of view of a pirate,” McDaniel said. “What do I need to know, as a pirate, to survive?”
Several stations within the exhibit tackle topics of interest to pirates, from nutrition (“some of them died from scurvy”) to navigation to knot-tying. Although students are not invited to climb aboard the ship (except on certain tours led by a museum guide), they will get a look at many of its features, including sails, cannons and other weapons of defense. Parts of the ship are labeled to help visitors understand how they would have worked.
Near the pirate ship, a water exhibit will provide real-time data about the state’s waterways, including carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, as well as salinity. Museum-goers will have a chance to explore erosion and learn about ancient and future shorelines. They also will get to see shells, including not only sea shells but others, such as turtle shells, as well.
Information about animals can be found throughout the museum’s Discovery Forest, which includes a large tree with a slide for children. The area offers toys and books for children to explore and challenges them to find hidden creatures, including a butterfly, snake and a salamander, as well view an eagle and a black bear that are sized to scale.
Like the water exhibit, the museum’s weather station will also provide real-time data, along with an augmented reality sandbox, an interactive educational tool used to help people understand mapping, topography and watersheds. There is a green screen that students can use to present the weather like a meteorologist on TV.
A new, interactive astronomy lab will allow users to press a button and be transported visually to the surface of Mars or even into canyons on the Red Planet. A health exhibit near the entrance will provide a look at the human body and its organ systems, with information on everything from medical imaging procedures to coronavirus.
“The really neat thing is, in all of these areas, we’re going to have public programming a regular basis,” Jarvis said. “The exhibits are super exciting, super eye-catching and we hope that they pique people’s interests. But the most exciting thing after grand-opening day is that we’ll have all of these programs available for people in the community.”
Some programs, such as a free, children’s storytime event, will be scheduled weekly. Others, including the middle school program Lab RATS (Research and Advancements in Technology and Science) and Get the GIST (Girls in Science and Technology), will require registration. The museum plans to host a robotics program on Saturday mornings and occasional Friday night lectures for adults.
Weeks ahead of the museum’s opening, McDaniel was already fielding requests for field trips. The museum is partnering with the Greenville Museum of Art to offer a daylong opportunity for school groups to focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).
“The kids will come do a half a day with the art museum and a half a day with us,” she said. “They’re going to have lunch on our picnic tables and then we’ll switch the kids.”
The earliest requests have come from classes within Pitt County Schools, even though the new museum is right in the district’s backyard.
“They’ll spend the day with us exploring Greenville by going to two of the museums that we have here,” McDaniel said. “How cool is that?”
Saturday’s grand opening event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences at Greenville, 729 Dickinson Ave. There is no admission charge. In view of the spike in cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks, the museum will limit the number of visitors permitted inside at any given time. Masks are required inside and are requested at outdoor exhibits in cases where people are not able to maintain 6 feet of distance. The Pitt County Health Department plans to be on site from noon to 2 p.m. to offer free Moderna vaccines.