North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

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North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is located in North Carolina
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Location within North Carolina
Established 1879
Location Raleigh, North Carolina
Coordinates 35°46′56″N 78°38′22″W / 35.782186°N 78.639422°W / 35.782186; -78.639422
Type Natural history museum
Director Dr. Emlyn Koster

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. This museum is the oldest established museum in North Carolina and the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast. It has about 1.2 million visitors annually.[1][2] As of 2013, it was the state's most popular museum or historic destination among visitors.[3]

The museum's campus consists of four facets: the Nature Exploration Center (NEC; formerly the "Main Building") and the Nature Research Center on Jones Street in Downtown Raleigh, the Prairie Ridge Ecostation satellite facility and outdoor classroom in northwest Raleigh near William B. Umstead State Park, and the North Carolina Museum of Forestry located in Whiteville, North Carolina.

The museum is a division of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.[4]

Nature Exploration Center - exhibits[edit]

First floor[edit]

Nature Exploration Center (NEC) front entrance
  • Natural Treasures of North Carolina contains dioramas of various wildlife and artifacts pertaining to nature in North Carolina, including 25 megalodon teeth displayed in a life-sized model jaw, a mounted specimen of the extinct Carolina parakeet, and part of a trunk of a 700-year-old bald cypress tree.
  • Coastal North Carolina includes exhibits of fish native to North Carolina's coast and inland waterways and a live sea horse exhibit. Here visitors will find five of the museum's seven whale skeletons, including the massive 55-ton sperm whale (nicknamed "Trouble") which was a symbol of the museum.
  • WRAL 3-D Theater - 3-D films are shown in this 250-seat venue daily. Films have included Titans of the Ice Age, Dinosaurs Alive!, and The Last Reef.

Second floor[edit]

  • The North Carolina: Mountains to the Sea exhibit displays North Carolina's natural habitats from the western mountains through the central Piedmont and on to the Coastal Plain highlighting the interrelationships between them. A two-story, 20-foot (6.1 m) waterfall, live freshwater turtles, and native live fishes are on display here also.
  • Underground North Carolina features gems and minerals (North Carolina is the only state in the United States where rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds have all been found), as well as the ingredients of the ground, soil and seismic displays.
  • The Nature's Explorers exhibit covers the museum's beginnings, showing the tools and techniques naturalists used 100 years ago to collect and preserve specimens.
  • The Discovery Room is a family-oriented hands-on exhibit where visitors of all ages can explore the natural world using a combination of natural, live, and human-made objects.

Third floor[edit]

Dinosaur displays at North Carolina Museum of Natural Science
  • Prehistoric North Carolina chronicles prehistoric life in the state and throughout the southeastern United States. This section also features the fossilized remains of a remarkably well-preserved Thescelosaurus (nicknamed "Willo").
  • The Terror of the South exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Acrocanthosaurus fossil skeleton in a three-story glass-enclosed dome, displayed as if it were hunting a life-sized Pleurocoelus model, as re-creations of winged Anhanguera (pterosaurs) circle the domed ceiling on wires.
  • The Tropical Connections section of the museum is anchored by a large interactive globe which allows visitors to highlight the climate regions of the Earth. This exhibit focuses on environmental issues and includes live emerald tree boas, tree frogs, and mata mata turtles.
  • In the Windows on the World theater, museum volunteers and employees give frequent demonstrations and talks, and share live animal visits with museum visitors as well as remotely to classrooms throughout the state.
  • Curiosity Classrooms - These two classroom spaces allow the museum to further its educational mission to foster a deeper experience with the natural world through observation, discovery, live animal presentations, and hands-on experiences by providing school programs, birthday parties, workshops, and summer camps. Access to the classroom spaces is limited to scheduled participants.

Fourth floor[edit]

Special exhibits gallery[edit]

Rainforest Adventure[5] is on exhibit April 26, 2014 - September 1, 2014. Created by Minotaur Mazes, visitors are invited to explore an interactive maze featuring the sights and sounds of a tropical rainforest.

Nature Research Center - exhibits[edit]

Iconic globe is a 3-story multimedia theater on the museum interior

The Nature Research Center (NRC) is an 80,000 sq ft (7,400 m2), four-story wing next to the Nature Exploration Center, across Salisbury Street, connected by a breezeway named the Betsy M. Bennett Bridge to Discovery.[6][7] The $54 million addition allows visitors to play a hands-on role in new research. The April 20, 2012 opening lasted 24 hours and drew 70,000 visitors.[8]

In addition to hands-on activities and visitor viewing of scientists working in the NRC's four research laboratories, the museum makes use of distance learning to broadcast lessons and virtual field trips to classrooms around the state.[9][10]

First floor[edit]

Nature Research Center
  • SECU Daily Planet Theater - Inside the iconic globe, this three-story theater with a 45 x 45-foot HD screen and multi-channel surround sound plays host to cutting-edge science presentations and scenes from nature.[11]
  • Our Changing Ocean - This 10,000 US gal (38,000 l) aquarium replicates a typical hardbottom habitat off the North Carolina coast. The exhibit features an artificial reef ball to encourage sustainability of North Carolina’s reef systems and fisheries. Inhabitants include a diverse assemblage of native fishes, including a bonnethead shark, and invasive lionfish.
  • Investigating Right Whales - Visitors can see and touch the skeleton of "Stumpy",[12] a North Atlantic right whale whose death[13] led to laws that require slower cargo ship speeds in whale migration routes.
  • Exploring the Deep Sea - A model submersible allows visitors to take a virtual dive 2,000 ft (610 m) to the ocean floor off the coast of North Carolina to study deep-sea coral called Lophelia.
  • Exploratory Gallery - Presents projects and breakthroughs in engineering, health and modeling, from a topless Chevy Volt to robotic bats to new medical imaging techniques.
  • Citizen Science Center - Exhibits how to get involved in scientific research and experience being a citizen scientist. Visitors can watch the birdfeeders at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation via live video feed and record which species they see.
  • North Carolina’s Green Gems - This exhibit displays four of the largest emeralds ever found in North America, including three uncut specimens discovered in western North Carolina in 2011. The collection also includes North America’s largest cut emerald, the famed 64.8-carat Carolina Emperor.[14][15]

Second floor[edit]

  • Researching Weather - Displays of the many methods used to study the weather: from weather balloons and rockets to weather stations and satellites.
  • Window on Animal Health - Provides visitors with an opportunity to peer into the world of veterinary medicine and to interact with vet staff, students, and interns working on real medical cases and performing real procedures including physical exams and surgeries. The Window is equipped with 2-way audio between visitors and staff and offers video for visitors to view close-ups of microscopic images and medical procedures. Patients include species such as reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, small mammals and invertebrates.[16]
  • Naturalist Center - Features some of the museum's 20,000 education specimens ranging from fossils and bones to preserved reptiles and birds. This exhibit also showcases audio and video of certain specimens at two interactive tabletops.

Third floor[edit]

  • Unraveling DNA - Visitors learn about DNA replication and “model organisms” — the animals most often studied in genetics labs. The “Light Bright” interactive displays how much DNA humans share with other animals.
  • From Dinosaurs to DNA - Focuses on new tools and techniques that are helping scientists change humankind's understanding of the natural world and everything in it, from dinosaurs to DNA.
  • Postcards from Space - A rare collection of meteorites, comprising relics from the Solar System’s formation, including a piece of the planet Mars.
  • Ice Age Giants - An exhibit showing that although glaciers never reached North Carolina, climate changes may have spelled doom for the mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant wolves and other Ice Age animals that roamed the state.
  • Early Life Explosion - Displays of Ediacaran fossils represent some of the earliest complex life on Earth (542-635 million years ago). Here, visitors find out more about these unusually shaped, soft-bodied, ocean-dwelling animals.

Investigate labs[edit]

The Nature Research Center's three investigate labs are open-to-the-public hands-on educational spaces.

Second floor[edit]

  • Natural World Investigate Lab - In this hands-on lab, visitors can use a variety of tools to observe and study the natural world – from plants and animals to the world – and even themselves.

Third floor[edit]

  • Micro World Investigate Lab - Museum visitors enter the world of the future in this biotechnology and microbiology-focused education lab. From genetic engineering to protozoa, visitors perform and learn the techniques that create tomorrow’s breakthrough discoveries.
  • Visual World Investigate Lab - Visitors learn about and try out some of the latest modeling and simulation technologies scientists are using to help them visualize nature in new ways. Learn how a robot works or sign up for classes in electronics or programming.

Research labs[edit]

The Nature Research Center's four research labs are part of the museum's Research and Collections department. These spaces (normally reserved for behind-the-scenes work) have transparent glass walls through which the public can observe firsthand as research scientists do their work. This area is home to 90 foot by 10 foot LCD sculpture Patterned by Nature.

Second floor[edit]

Third floor[edit]

Prairie Ridge Ecostation[edit]

Prairie Ridge Ecostation (45 acres (180,000 m2)) is a satellite facility and outdoor classroom located 6 miles (9.7 km) from the museum's downtown Raleigh locations. It includes Piedmont prairie, forest, ponds, a stream and sustainable building features integrated with a wildlife-friendly landscape.[17]

Prairie Ridge furthers the museum's mission of enhancing public understanding and appreciation of the natural environment by providing an outdoor learning space while acting as a model for renewable and sustainable energy.

The facility opened a Nature PlaySpace Saturday, September 28, 2013.[18]

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville[edit]

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, formerly known as the North Carolina Museum of Forestry, is a satellite facility of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences located in Whiteville, North Carolina. Its mission is to celebrate the natural history and cultural heritage of North Carolina's forests through interpretive exhibits, educational programming and the preservation of natural and man-made materials that demonstrate the ongoing relationship of forests and people.

Displays and interactive exhibits include an outdoor Tree Trail and Fossil Dig Pit, and the museum offers educational program experiences and special events.


  1. ^ "NC Museum of Natural Sciences is state's top draw". Associated Press. Associated Press. 2013-03-04. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  2. ^ William S. Powell; Jay Mazzocchi (associate), eds. (2006). Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807830712. 
  3. ^ "NC Museum of Natural Sciences is state's top draw". WRAL. 
  4. ^ "Our Nature Programs". N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. State of North Carolina. Retrieved 18 February 2016. 
  5. ^ "Rainforest Adventure". Minotaur Mazes. Retrieved 2014-03-24. 
  6. ^ Nature Research Center Fact Sheet. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
  7. ^ "Tar Heel of the Year: Betsy Bennett transforms state science museum". News & Observer. The News & Observer Publishing Co. 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2013-08-22. 
  8. ^ Opening of Nature Research Center draws 70,000 visitors - News -
  9. ^ Raleigh’s new ‘rock star’ head scientists - Nature Research Center -
  10. ^ Teachers throughout N.C. can plug into museum’s work - Nature Research Center -
  11. ^ Stradling, Richard (2011-08-29). "Science museum's latest marvel taking form in Raleigh". News & Observer. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  12. ^ Schreiber, Laurie (February 2012). "Right Whale Mother and Fetus Skeletons Reconstructed". Fishermen's Voice. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  13. ^ "Vessel collisions and cetaceans: What happens when they don't miss the boat" (PDF). Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society website. p. 4. 
  14. ^ Gast, Phil (2010-09-01). "North Carolina emerald: Big, green and very rare". Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  15. ^ Stancill, Jane (2012-03-16). "N.C. gems to shine at museum". News & Observer. The News & Observer Publishing Co. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  16. ^ Stone, Cheryn (2013-03-17). "NC Museum of Natural Sciences exhibit gives students a glimpse into veterinary medicine". News 14 Carolina. TWEAN Newschannel of Raleigh, L.L.C. dba. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  17. ^ "Park Review: Prairie Ridge Ecostation". WRAL. Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc. 2010-09-23. Retrieved 2013-07-12. 
  18. ^ "NC natural sciences museum builds 'backyard' in West Raleigh". News & Observer. The News & Observer Publishing Co. 2013-09-26. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°46′56″N 78°38′22″W / 35.7821858°N 78.6394221°W / 35.7821858; -78.6394221