As I discussed in a previous post, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is building an addition that will house new educational, research, and exhibition areas to help visitors understand how science has developed the scientific knowledge it has attained. While there are all sorts of exciting plans in the works--multimedia presentations, interactive displays, and working state-of-the-art labs, particularly exciting for those of us with middle schoolers students and above are the possible of expanded educational programs that can go into greater depth about some of science's most pressing issues.
Today we got a preview of some of the plans under development from one of the Museum's educational staff. First, the bad news: the new facility will probably not be operational until 2012. They expect to complete construction by late 2011, but preparing the exhibits and laboratories will take additional time. In particular, there has to be a "settling in" period of some months that will allow dust, particles, or other cast-offs of the construction materials to clear the air before they can bring in the sensitive computer and laboratory equipment that will outfit the building.
However, once things get underway, they expect to be running educational programs in several different labs. The labs specifically mentioned were a macrobiology lab, a microbiology lab, and a digital visualization lab that will specialize in helping us to understand how all the data scientists collect can be displayed in a visual way so that humans can actually understand it. It sounds like these labs will come complete with fantastic microscopes and other equipment that will allow a small class to have hands-on experience with some advanced science topics.
So we still have to be patient for a little while. However, particularly for those of us in the Raleigh area, it seems like this will be a great addition to our children's access to high-quality hands-on science education. Also, for those of us who homeschool, the Museum is definitely open to and enthusiastic about working with homeschoolers to make sure their new offerings help meet our needs for the kinds of hands-on laboratory science that prepares our students for college.