Opening of Nature Research Center draws 70,000 visitors

khui@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2012 

  • The Nature Research Center, on Jones Street in downtown Raleigh across from the Legislature will assume its normal schedule.

    On its regular schedule, the Nature Research Center will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The center may be open later than 5 p.m. for special events.

— Tens of thousands of science fans jammed through the doors of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ new Nature Research Center during its 24-hour grand opening celebration this weekend.

The lure of seeing what was behind the museum’s $56 million expansion kept a steady stream of visitors heading into downtown Raleigh. Museum officials said Saturday they came close to meeting their goal of 50,000 visitors during the 24 hours it was open. The museum reported 45,000 people came through the doors and another estimated 25,000 were part of the outdoor celebration.

The first impression from many of Saturday’s visitors, some who had waited nearly an hour to get inside, was overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Devona Morgan of Raleigh, who came with her 11-year-old son, Darion, and 5-year-old daughter, Daneya. “I’m glad Raleigh has something like this for kids.”

One of the goals of the new wing, organizers say, is to use the 80,000 square feet of extra space to give visitors more hands-on involvement, whether it’s touching exhibits or talking with scientists and researchers.

“You can tell a kid a thousand times about something, but scraping a fossil for DNA is something he’ll remember,” said Brad Kiser of Moncure, who came Saturday with his wife, Jacquie, and 7-year-old son, Luke.

It didn’t get any more interactive than the chance to operate a robotic surgeon on loan from Rex Hospital for the grand opening.

“Where else can you get to play with a $2 million robot?” Kiser said.

While the robotic surgeon is gone after Saturday, many of the other exhibits and activities will still remain.

With the crowds so large, activities were streamlined for the grand opening so that as many people could go through the new wing as possible. Exhibit organizers say people should return for a more slow-paced visit of the museum to do the experiments that weren’t offered.

“We hope to see you back when it’s less hectic,” Meghan Lobsinger, a weekend captain for the Naturalist Center, told visitors on Saturday.

In the Natural World Investigate Lab, instead of the more complex experiments that will typically be offered, visitors were shown how to calibrate a microscope. This included zooming in on the tail side of a penny to see President Abraham Lincoln seated inside the Lincoln Memorial.

“It was pretty cool,” said Marra Wilkins, 10, of Knightdale. “I didn’t realize that Lincoln was there.”

Among the other things that visitors will get to do in the future but weren’t offered for the grand opening are talk to the staff while they’re working in the veterinary center and use the new smart tables at the relocated and expanded Naturalist Center.

But even with what was available Saturday, Darion Morgan summed up the Nature Research Center for a lot of visitors.

“It’s a science wonderland,” he said.

The new wing drew visitors from around the state. But the distinction of having traveled the most for the event likely goes to Dr. Kanwaljit Soin, a noted physician and women’s rights activist from Singapore who came to Raleigh at the request of Meg Lowman, director of the Nature Research Center.

“It’s something that when I get back to Singapore that I’ll impress should be emulated.,” Soin said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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