The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
By Jenni Hart, Photography by Davies Photography
Emlyn Koster, PhD, director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, estimates around 80 percent of the adults he asks have an instant, indelible memory of their first museum visit. Unlike early museums that served primarily to house collections of preserved specimens, however, modern museums are reaching beyond creating memories, instead engaging and inspiring visitors to think differently about their relationship with nature. “We no longer think of museums as a place for looking back in time, where the story finishes with dinosaurs or the ice age,” Koster says. “Instead, it is about the continuity of time: past, present and future.”
At the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, this future orientation means visitors become participants in the museum experience through interactive exhibits and events, workshops, classes, and citizen science projects. When visitors leave, Koster is hopeful they will be better equipped to seek answers to critical issues surrounding climate change, sustainability and health, among others. “We are serving as a vital resource for the inseparability of nature and humanity,” he says, referring to the Museum’s vision.
An exhibition opening October 22nd, “The Secret World Inside You,” will feature models, computer interactives, videos and art installations that explore the human microbiome, a rather innocuous-sounding term referring to the trillions of bacteria, viruses and other microbes living inside you and crawling on your skin. As the exhibit demonstrates, most of these organisms are not only harmless; they are necessary for healthy digestion and a strong immune system. Whether you are fascinated or repulsed by the exhibit’s revelations, if you leave determined not to over-indulge in hand sanitizer or demand antibiotics from your doctor when they are unnecessary, you can credit the Museum with helping to curb the damaging assault on the delicate balance of the human biome.
Koster says it is that sort of discovery that demonstrates the relevance of a natural sciences museum. “We are, unfortunately, separated from nature,” he says, referring to society in general. Through a long and arduous process involving many stakeholders, the Museum addressed that disconnect when it arrived at its current mission statement: “The purpose of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is to illuminate the interdependence of nature and humanity.”
Koster reflects on the deep sadness he felt upon learning of the Indonesian tsunami that took hundreds of lives in October 2010. “I felt guilty that we hadn’t done more to educate people and make them aware of the impact nature can have,” he says. “I want to see a time when museums serve in ways that are truly relevant and can help people.”
Visit the Museum’s Daily Planet Café on Thursday evenings for lively discussions on a wide variety of scientific topics. Everyone is welcome in this comfortable, relaxed space, where scientists engage attendees with new developments in their fields. Science Cafés have been embraced around the world as a way to create communities of people who care about and want to gather and discuss important, relevant and timely scientific issues.
Beginning August 26th, Final Fridays will take place on the last Friday of each month, and will feature movies, programs and food. Come explore the intersection between science and movies with A/V Geeks’ Skip Elsheimer, who will entertain audiences with trivia and commentary on movies from his impressive collection of 24,000 films. Hands-on science stations and subject experts will complement each night’s theme. Do zombies exist? Are there really 40-foot-long anacondas? Did old sci-fi movies get anything right about the 21st century? Come to Final Fridays and get the answers to these and other burning cinematic questions. Dinner, drinks and popcorn are available for purchase before the show.
BugFest is the largest single-day bug-centric event in the country and features more than 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. This year the Museum celebrates the 20th anniversary of its largest education event on Saturday, September 17th, 9am-7pm. Interact with entomologists and other scientists or get an up-close look at fascinating arthropods from North Carolina and around the world. BugFest also features the Café Insecta, where the brave can sample buggy dishes prepared by local chefs. The best part is, it’s all free!
- 940,000 Visitors
- 91,000 Off-site visitors to Prairie Ridge and Whiteville campus
- 1.4 million serious content users on website
“The attendance numbers tell only a part of the story. You can talk to guests on the elevator and get a mountain of anecdotal information about where they are from and what they enjoyed most about their visit. It helps you connect with why you exist.”
~ Emlyn Koster, Director