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Meet The Carnegie Science Center’s 37,000 New Square Feet of Innovation

December 12, 2016

By Meg Campbell

For 25 years, the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh has been inspiring creativity and innovation. More than half a million visitors come through their doors annually, making the Science Center the region’s most visited museum, and in June 2018, those visitors will have even more to explore in the new Science Pavilion.

The three-floor pavilion will add 37,000 square feet of space to the Science Center and feature nine STEM Learning Labs and a 14,000 square foot Special Exhibitions Gallery. The Gallery will allow the Science Center to host the kinds of large touring exhibitions that have often passed over Pittsburgh for lack of available space.

“These exhibits book a number of years ahead. We’re looking at a very interesting one right now that isn’t available until 2021,” said Ann Metzger, The Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director of the Carnegie Science Center.

Metzger and Ron Baillie, The Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director of Carnegie Science Center, have already booked the first two exhibits for the Gallery, the first of which will open in June 2018. While they aren’t yet publicly announcing the first exhibit, the global touring exhibition is the confluence of innovation, creativity and play sure to inspire and delight visitors of all ages.

And the STEM Learning Labs?

“One of the programs that has been at capacity for some time are summer camps and classes for kids ages four to 16. We open them in January and many are filled quickly by February,” said Baillie. “These nine new spaces will allow us to significantly grow that programming to the kids who we serve.”

These Learning Labs will also serve as a resource for students and teachers in area schools who may not have regular access to STEM technology.

“Science centers are a tremendous compliment to the formal education system. We think that we are in the business of inspiration. We walk out on the floors and see many many young people who have ‘Wow! Aha!’ moments,” said Metzger.

“Suddenly with a hands-on experience, they begin to appreciate the science and want to know more. We also…through many of our STEM programs expose kids to scientists who are working in the field. ‘Who really does this? Why do I need to know this?’ That’s a really important part of someone’s education. When you think about what’s inspired you, it’s always outside the walls.”

The Science Center isn’t just for kids, though. Far from it, in fact.

In preparation for Spark! A Campaign for Carnegie Science Center, the drive that is funding this expansion, among other new offerings, the Science Center undertook the largest audience research study in the state of Pennsylvania, engaging more than 13,000 people from various backgrounds.

One sentiment emerged loud and clear: People view the Science Center as a trusted voice for science.

It’s not surprising that many people felt that while they often heard about issues in science and technology, it was rarely in a way that was not politicized.

“A role that we understand for the Science Center is to share science in the most unbiased and unpoliticized way that we can, not to tell our visitors what to think, but to give them tools and information to make decisions,” said Baillie.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto today talking about the role of science centers as conveners.

A post shared by Carnegie Science Center (@carnegiescictr) on

Recently, they hosted a three-part program on Marcellus Shale development and fracking. Different professionals from different parts of the issue described the science, sticking only to their areas of expertise.

“The conversation was so rich and people were engaged in positive ways…We were able to take a difficult topic…and break it into pieces and talk specifically about the science related to that and send people away with facts and information,” Baillie continued.

The new space will allow them to host more events like that, in addition to their existing free monthly programming for adults which brings in regional scientists and innovators in a pub atmosphere to discussion their work over dinner and drinks.

Carnegie Science Center/Indovina Associates Architects rendering of the Science Pavilion Exterior. Image via Carnegie Science Center.

Carnegie Science Center/Indovina Associates Architects rendering of the Science Pavilion Exterior. Image via Carnegie Science Center.

Of course, there is still plenty the Science Center is doing between now and 2018 to make sure Pittsburgh kids are finding their future inspiration.

One of the ways they do that is by bringing together resources beyond its doors for the region. They maintain Stemisphere.com, an online, searchable database of STEM resources in the region.

“It became this one-stop shop, this place you can go to find out what’s happening related to STEM education in our region. Now we’re replicating that website for other regions in the country,” noted Baillie.

They also stress that just because they’re a science center doesn’t mean art and creativity aren’t integral to their work.

“We’re often asked about our STEM education programs. Does [STEM] mean that we’re really not in favor of the arts? That’s absolutely not true. We embrace creativity, design, those more creative aspects of science and technology in all of our programming. That’s where innovation comes from. The engineering process combined with creativity combined with an artistic flair,” shared Metzger.

“One of our goals always is to showcase regional innovation so that young people can be inspired. We bring in local universities and companies who meet with the kids…and showcase what they’re working on right now and talking to the kids about the work they do. Think about it…all of these entrepreneurs…used to be in 5th grade. Those are the kids who come through our doors.”

And speaking of doors, the Science Center will keep theirs open during the duration of construction. While there may be certain exhibits closed to accommodate disruption, they plan to stay open the whole time.

So what are you waiting for? Plan your visit and find your inner scientist.