Nature Research Center Opens with a 24-hour Science Celebration

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Triangle families can look forward to a free, fun 24-hour celebration of science starting at 5 p.m. April 20, when the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in downtown Raleigh, opens its new wing, the Nature Research Center (NRC).

The new wing spans 80,000 square feet and is designed to be a place where scientists can conduct research while the public can watch and gain an understanding of what they’re doing. The center’s goals are to shine a light on the work of scientists, demystify their research by explaining it in a way anyone can understand, better prepare science educators and students and inspire a new generation of young scientists.

The celebration is expected to draw 50,000 people, and museum officials say visitors can expect a dazzling display of lights, roving street performers, musicians and internationally known scientists.

Take the kids to learn about such diverse topics as health, sustainability and forestry at a global town hall, which will be held in the SECU Daily Planet, a three-story multimedia space that includes a 40- by 40-foot high-definition screen.  Inside the center, you’ll find interactive science and technology exhibits and be able to perform science activities and explore research collections with interactive touch tables. You’ll also be able to experience what it feels like to ride inside a submersible 2,000 feet below the ocean’s surface and predict the weather in the WRAL Storm Central exhibit.

Here’s a look at some of the events.

4 p.m. Pre-show and Procession
Friday, April 20
Listen to Shaw University Jazz Band starting at 4 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., a procession from the Governor’s Mansion begins with dancers from the African-American Dance Ensemble, the Paperhand Puppets and International Focus of Raleigh, 25 local international groups dressed in native costumes, led by Sir Walter Raleigh.

The opening ceremony kicks off at 5 p.m. with actor Ira David Wood III and Chuck Davis, founder of the African-American Dance Ensemble, officiating. Retired astronaut Dr. John Grunsfeld will also speak at the opening ceremony. Grunsfeld logged more than 58 days in space on five shuttle missions, including 58 hours and 30 minutes of spacewalk time. He also visited the Hubble telescope three times, performing a total of eight spacewalks to service and upgrade it. Currently, Grunsfeld is the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. He now oversees all planetary missions as well as the Hubble and (future) Webb telescopes.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the doors of the Nature Research Center will open and round-the clock-tours will launch. Walk-throughs will continue through the evening, overnight hours and into the next day until 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21. The entrance will be through the main doors on Jones Street, with visitors exiting over the skyway bridge that crosses Salisbury Street into the main Museum building. Exhibit areas will be open and staffed to provide an interactive experience and an array of activities to enjoy. The 24-hour celebration concludes at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

Here’s a look at the areas of the center you can explore:

SECU Daily Planet
The SECU Daily Planet is a three-story multimedia program area that employs unique audio and visual technologies. Visitors can view images of the natural world from a 40- by 40-foot screen from all three stories. They can also listen to presentations from researchers as they talk about their current research.

Exploring the Deep Sea
Visitors can get inside a model submersible and take a virtual tour 2,000 feet below the ocean’s surface and hear about scientists talk about their research on deep-water corals.

Window on Animal Health
Visitors can watch and interact with scientists, veterinarians and pre-veterinary students conducting animal handling, animal checkups and minor surgeries. There will be an audio and visual component to this lab, which gives the public opportunities to ask questions, meet the veterinary services staff and learn about veterinary medicine. An example of this is a recent exploratory surgery to remove a mass from a gecko.

Investigate Labs
There will be three Investigate Labs (Biodiversity, Science Modeling, Micro-world) where visitors can work alongside scientists in hands-on research.

Meet the Scientist
Visitors will also have the opportunity to talk to researchers in special areas around the NRC as these scientists conduct research on climate change, population movements around the globe, meteorites or looking into deep space.

Citizen Science Center
Visitors can learn how to become a citizen scientist on a number of interesting projects like bird-banding, observing chimpanzee behavior or the “School of Ants” project that identifies thousands of unknown ant species in and around North Carolina.

Daily Planet Café
Visitors can eat, relax and engage in conversation at the NRC’s street-side café and talk to scientists in an informal setting about their area of research. In many ways, this café will be like a sports bar for science.

WRAL Researching Weather Platform
This exhibit uses real artifacts, instruments and data to research and predict weather. An interactive area will let visitors see how rockets, weather balloons, thermometers and wind/water gauges to provide a glimpse of what real-time weather is like in several different locations throughout the western hemisphere, as well as access to these locations via a webcam.

WRAL Storm Central
Visitors can track a hurricane or predict the next day’s weather and compare their prediction to WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel’s, based on information from the National Weather Service, maps and Doppler radar technology. They can even determine how cloudy it will be, if the wind will be blowing or whether there will be any precipitation.

This article includes information provided by The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

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