A miniature metal skyscraper with rainbow arches 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-based educational institution on the Sacramento River opened late last year with more than 22,000 square feet of exhibit experiences and a 46-foot dome 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 tablespace to build a structure using bulky foam blocks, wooden KEVA planks and plastic Magna-Tiles. For MOSAC’s director of marketing and development, Shahnaz Van Deventer, the sound and sight of families creating together make Building Sacramento one of her favorite exhibitions.
“This is a space for multigenerations, where the kids get to play with the parents, the parents get to engage, and the grandparents even become competitive,” Van Deventer says. “They’re just exercising their own little building engineer in them to create these mega-structures. And of course, there’s always this massive sound when one of these big buildings just collapses, 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 live beehive housed behind glass. Visitors watch as busy bees travel in and out of the museum through a glass tube as the industrious insects build their honeycomb to appease the queen bee.
“That’s where kids come in and they’re using their natural gifts—their senses of sight and hearing and touch and smell—to interact with nature, which is really where their first pique of curiosity happens,” Van Deventer says. “That’s that thing that we want to tap into as a science institution—those natural questions that kids want to just figure out and explore.”
MOSAC allows up to 400 people to enter the museum every two hours. Masks are required indoors, and timed ticketing reservations ensure everyone can enjoy each exhibition comfortably. When visitors check in at the front desk, they’re also given tickets to watch a 15-minute film in the planetarium, which is equipped with six 4K projectors. The theater seats up to 120 and was built by Evans & Sutherland, a world-renowned pioneer in immersive experiences. Its powerful Digistar technology transports guests from their tilted theater seats to the outer rim of our Milky Way galaxy and beyond.
“It is impressive,” Van Deventer says. “Not only are we able to do astronomy shows, but we are able to pull on a library of different types of films that were produced for dome projection.” Visitors can expect dedicated feature film nights soon. Also, as MOSAC continues to settle into its new home, there will be more events, such as science lectures, after-school programs, live demos and hands-on experiments for adults.
“You always hear those incredible stories of how a child goes to a planetarium, and then they get that moment of aha!” Van Deventer says. “That’s the inspiration behind why they say, ‘You know what? Yeah! I want to become an astrophysicist,’ or ‘I want to be the next one that goes to the moon.’ It’s those moments of inspiration when you are immersed in something so captivating that it piques your imagination to the heights.”