The long-awaited Nature Research Center is finally open

April 20, 2012 

NRC01-NE-042012-RTW

Governor Bev Perdue, Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Chris Chappel, and Dr. Betsy Bennett celebrate the opening of the Nature Research Center on Friday April 20, 2012 in Raleigh, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

  • If you go The Nature Research Center, on Jones Street in downtown Raleigh across from the Legislature, continues its 24-hour opening party until 5 p.m. Saturday. • There will be musical entertainment, food trucks, children’s activities and crafts throughout the day. • No strollers will be allowed in the buildings; stroller check-in will be available. • Water is free if you bring your own refillable bottle. • CAT buses will run free all day Saturday as part of “Free Fare Day” in honor of Earth Day. • R-line buses, which are also free, will operate on their regular schedule, from 7 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. • While there is plenty of parking in downtown lots and on the street, the museum encourages visitors to ride their bikes. Bike racks will be available on-site. On its regular schedule, the Nature Research Center will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

RALEIGH At 6 p.m. Friday, the Nature Research Center welcomed its first saucer-eyed kid to gawk at robotic bats, its first grabby fingers to touch a computerized map of Australia, its first nose pressed to a tank with a stingray swimming inside.

More than 1,000 people jammed Jones Street downtown for the museum’s 24-hour grand opening. They stood in a line that stretched around the block to Lane Street, waiting 45 minutes for a chance to stand inside the three-story globe that gradually took shape over the past year.

If for nothing else, history will mark this day as a moment when school-age kids in Raleigh rushed to peer through a microscope on a Friday night, when Wii and Netflix usually beckon.

For all the butterfly collectors in the Triangle, all the junior herpetologists, all the budding engineers who started out on Legos, Friday delivered a new shrine.

“We’re taking scientists out of their lab coats and isolated labs and putting them into the spotlight,” said Meg Lowman, director of the Nature Research Center. “They are the new rock stars.”

The NRC arrives as the shiny new wing of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, which already draws 700,000 people a year, more than any other museum in the state. Adding 80,000 square feet and costing $56 million, the new wing expected to send attendance rocketing up by nearly 30 percent.

“We’ve shown people again today that in North Carolina, with our tax dollars, we’re willing to go the extra mile,” Gov. Bev Perdue told the gathered crowd. “To dream big dreams.”

The celebration began with pomp, symbolism and science geekery, starting with the pounding of the Shaw University drum line and finishing with a giant crane puppet sailing over Jones Street, carried by six people. Sir Walter Raleigh strutted past the crowd, kissing hands. Vendors gave out free seashells and invited passers-by to isolate the DNA from a strawberry.

Water from the world

Samples of water collected from around the world – the Ganges River, the Thames River, the Vatican – were mixed in a locally made pot, then poured over a newly planted tree at the NRC’s entrance.

“Isn’t it wonderful that what you are involved in right now is happening in the only place in the universe?” asked Chuck Davis, founder of the African-American Dance Ensemble, which performed Friday. “Smile, y’all. For the remainder of your life, smile.”

Even as they waited in line, visitors had science thrust at them. Volunteers worked the crowd offering owl’s feathers to touch and containers of seaweed to smell. For parents, who’ve been passing the globe-shaped SECU Daily Planet for months, Friday was a chance to finally tell their kids, “Yes. You can go in now.”

“Our daughter Annika is two and a half, and we’ve been telling her wait till April,” said Frank McKay, math and science teacher at Exploris Middle School. “She doesn’t know what April means, but she’s champing at the bit to get in here.”

Annika, and a thousand more saucer eyes.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service