We were driven along the Lake Shore to the South Side of Chicago where we spent the next day (6 hours!) at the amazing Museum of Science and Industry.
I have to say, it is the best one I have ever visited, full of fabulous displays, interactive experiences and beautifully curated. It is a must see. The museum building has a rich history dating back to 1893 when it was built for the Chicago Worlds Fair. Its 14 acres and stunning! One of the most impressive elements is how accessible and knowledgeable the guides and scientists are.
Our first stop was the “MythBusters” exhibit. The kids are big fans of the show.
We enjoyed many interactive displays including: one where you test out which leaves you more soaked, running or walking through the rain, which the kids volunteered for, a card flicking booth, and a station where we could make the videos go backward or forward in very slow motion.
Here is a video (click image to watch) of me attempting to pull the table cloth off the table without spilling everything I did pretty well, no? We discovered the secret to making this work…but I don’t want to ruin it for you.
There was also a Live “MythBusters” show where a lucky volunteer from the audience tried to dodge a paintball. Well, lets just say its a good thing she had on a helmet!
Then it was onto the “Science Storms” exhibit. All about the science of storms. We learned about tsunami waves, lightening, thunder, tornadoes. The video displays in this section were incredible. I was mesmerized by the video of an avalanche. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Another display allowed you to program and view what happens when different types of tsunami waves crash against a shoreline.
There are scientists in lab coats walking through the museum doing on the fly style experiments and engaging visitors. One scientist brought us into lab and told us about liquid nitrogen and let us experiment with it. Malcolm put on heavy protective mitts and made ice cream using the liquid nitrogen which looks like smoke. We even got to eat it and no surprise, it was pretty good.
We viewed what looks like the worlds largest train set at an exhibit called “The Great Train Story”. It lays out the train journey between Chicago and Seattle, and tells a great story in between. Great for kids and train lovers alike. One of the best parts was finding the hidden unexpected gems that the designers incorporate into each scene. They obviously have a sense of humor.
The “U-505 Submarine” was next. The German U boat 505 is the only German submarine that was captured during World War II and brought to the U.S. Intact. It was donated to the Chicago Science Museum and, to house it, the museum had to dig a huge hole in the middle of the front lawn, create an enormous underground room and have the U Boat lowered into it. It is, far longer than I ever would have imagined. We had a tour inside the cramped quarters where 39 men would spend 100 days, never showering, with only one uniform to wear the whole time, sleeping in shifts because there was only room for 30 narrow bunks. During the tour, we heard the sound effects of a torpedo being launched and the sounds of it actually hitting one of our merchant boats. It was gut wrenching. We heard the music (from French cabarets) that the German soldiers listened to, and the guide dramatically recounted the events of the day the U Boat was captured by the American Navy. They had been tracked for a long time and they knew it and tried to evade. One day they surfaced and the American boat was very close so the Germans had to submerge, fast, and to a very dangerous depth. They had a limited time they could stay so deep and, eventually, they were forced to resurface and that’s when they were captured. It made for an instructive, exciting and, ultimately very moving experience. All of us agreed that being in a submarine would be our least favorite form of military duty. I think the award-winning German film, Das Bot, gives a great sense of what it must have been like…enough to drive some men totally mad. I thought of President Jimmy Carter who served in a nuclear submarine. There are photo displays with a wealth of information as well as a memorial.
After emerging from the submarine, we were more than happy to go outside into the sun to visit the “Smart Home”, a totally green, modular home. We are all relatively knowledgeable about environmental matters but all of us learned something. This is a great place to learn about the latest in green technology. They even send you home with pamphlets that contain additional information about everything in the home.
On the way out: Chickens being hatched in the “Genetics & Baby Chicken Hatchery” exhibit, and a single strand of hair from Abraham Lincoln!
A quick word of advice for those of you who may visit the museum in the future. The museum is huge. If you do visit with your family check out the museum website, try to plan what you will do in advance, and know that you wont be able to see everything. We will definitely be back.