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10 great things at South Florida Science Museum
It's hard to imagine that the South Florida Science Museum was once called the Junior Museum.
But when it first opened in 1961, it was a project of the Junior League and encompassed just 2,000 square feet.
Today, the West Palm Beach museum has grown to 22,000 square feet and is midway through a $54 million campaign to build an even bigger site on 11 acres near the airport.
With 120,000 visitors each year and a busy summer science camp, there is rarely a quiet day at a place where kids are encouraged to touch, talk and discover.
We give you 10 reasons to channel your inner geek.
Robots: Machines rule through September while the museum hosts Robotics, an exhibit from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center featuring interactive robotic stations and replicas of famous robots. This Saturday and Sunday, get nostalgic with Robo-Fest, featuring special guest June Lockhart, star of the 1960s TV series Lost in Space, and Bob May, the man who wore the B-9 robot suit on the show. "Danger, Will Robinson!"
Space travel: Check out the impressive collection of NASA uniforms, where Mercury and Apollo are represented. (Space underwear, anyone?) Along with uniforms, there are dozens of artifacts and models from the Russian and Chinese space programs on long-term loan from Rick Newman, a Boca Raton businessman and collector.
Recollections: While "interactive" is the museum's middle name, Recollections is one of the most popular examples. Walk inside a small, dark room and stand in front of an oversized screen. A camera takes your picture and seconds later converts your full-sized image into a multicolored silhouette. You are a human kaleidoscope.
Suzie: Though she's on vacation during the robot show, Suzie is the only adult female Mastodon skeleton on display in the state. She was found somewhere near the turnpike and Okeechobee Boulevard in 1969.
Ancient Egypt: For a taste of pharaohs and kings, there's a mini-exhibit that includes a mummified falcon and an Egyptian mummy from the Roman period. The young child is believed to have been born with a cleft palate, a likely explanation for his early death.
Sea shells: Dr. Saul Rotter, of Palm Beach, spent his life collecting shells from as far away as India and the Philippines and as close as Texas and the Florida coast. A part of his collection is on display and includes bivalve, cowry, olive, murex and cephalopod shells. (When the museum gets its bigger digs, more shells will be shown.)
McGinty Aquarium: The only public aquarium between Miami and Orlando features more than 4,000 gallons of saltwater, including a Florida coastal estuary tank with sea horses and a Pacific reef tank with bright zebra morays, snowflake morays and surgeon fish. Watch the reef tank online at sfsm.org.
Aldrin Planetarium: In 1965, the museum called NASA: "Send us an astronaut and we'll name our planetarium in his honor." An astronaut, new to the space program, came to West Palm. But just four years later — July 20, 1969 — Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. The rest is history. For kids younger than 5, there's a Friendly Stars show every day at 1 p.m. At 2 p.m. daily, another show gives guests a tour of Palm Beach County's night skies.
Dark Side of the Moon: On the second Saturday of every month, the planetarium goes rock 'n' roll with a musical laser show. Pink Floyd is most popular, but Nine Inch Nails and Metallica also have their groupies.
Miniature Rock Collection: One of the most popular — and sweetly enduring — items in the museum store is a $1.50 souvenir pencil that holds a collection of tiny rocks. When you remove the pencil's eraser, the rocks can be removed.
John Tanasychuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4632.