A miniature metal skyscraper with rainbow arcs captivates a dozen child architects in the center of the room. Together, their little hands use hundreds of magnetic tiles to create the ultimate design of their imaginations inside the new SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity.
Known as MOSAC, the 50,000 square foot STEAM educational facility on the Sacramento River opened late last year with more than 22,000 square feet of exhibit experiences and a 46-foot domed theater in a state-of-the-art planetarium. (By the way, STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.)
Inside a room called Building Sacramento, children and adults are encouraged to get down on the ground or find table space to build a structure using chunky foam blocks, KEVA planks made of wood and plastic Magna-Tiles. For MOSAC’s director of marketing and development, Shahnaz Van Deventer, the sound and sight of families creating together makes Building Sacramento one of her favorite exhibits.
“It’s a multi-generational space, where kids can play with parents, parents can engage and grandparents even get competitive,” says Van Deventer. “They just ply their own little building engineer to create these mega-structures. And of course, there’s always that massive noise when one of those big buildings comes down, either by design or by accident.
Nine themed galleries dedicated to water, energy, engineering and space offer more than 100 interactive exhibits that encourage hands-on learning. A room called Nature Detectives, for example, shows the inner workings of a living beehive housed behind glass. Visitors watch the busy bees move in and out of the museum through a glass tube as the industrious insects build their honeycomb to appease the queen bee.
“This is where children come in and use their natural gifts – their senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell – to interact with nature, which is really there. where their first sting of curiosity occurs,” says Van Deventer. “It’s that thing that we want to tap into as a science institution — those natural questions that kids just want to understand and explore.”
MOSAC allows up to 400 people to enter the museum every two hours. Masks are required inside, and timed ticket reservations allow everyone to comfortably enjoy each exhibit. When visitors check in at reception, they also receive tickets to watch a 15-minute film in the planetarium, which is equipped with six 4K projectors. The theater seats up to 120 people and was built by Evans & Sutherland, a world-renowned pioneer in immersive experiences. Its powerful Digistar technology transports guests from their reclined theater seats to the outer edge of our Milky Way galaxy and beyond.
“It’s impressive,” says Van Deventer. “Not only are we able to do astronomy shows, but we are able to leverage a library of different types of films that have been produced for dome projection.” Visitors can expect dedicated feature film nights soon. Additionally, as MOSAC continues to settle into its new home, there will be more events, such as science talks, after-school programs, live demonstrations, and hands-on experiences for adults.
“You always hear these amazing stories of how a kid goes to a planetarium and then he gets that aha moment!” said Van Deventer. “That’s the inspiration behind why they say, ‘You know what? Yeah! I want to be an astrophysicist” or “I want to be the next to go to the moon.” These are those inspirational moments where you’re immersed in something so captivating it shoots your imagination sky high.