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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is at 1945 SE Water Avenue in the city of Portland. It is located on the eastern side of the Willamette River, opposite the downtown area. It is a large and easily recognizable brown building of two stories right on the riverbank. Inside is a large number of hands-on exhibits on the natural sciences and technology as well as human development and lifestyle issues.

The museum got its start in the mid 1940s as the Oregon Museum of History, Science, and Industry. Its first home was the old Portland Hotel where some natural history objects were put on display. In 1949, the museum moved to a house donated to it in Northeast Portland. When visitor numbers grew to 25,000 in 1955, a larger home was found at Washington Park. By the mid 1980s attendance had increased to 600,000 a year and the museum moved to its present site thanks to a donation of land from Portland General Electric and a fundraising campaign to construct a building. The old site was taken over by the Portland Children’s Museum.

Today the museum has five exhibit halls and eight science laboratories, a planetarium, a submarine, and an IMAX theater. The largest exhibit hall is the Turbine Hall and extends over both floors. You will find numerous interactive exhibits dealing with physics, chemistry, engineering, and space travel. The Physics Laboratory has a static electricity generator where your hair will stand up on end like a punk rocker. You can send Morse code and see how motion detectors, circuits, and magnets work. The Laser & Holography Laboratory has a laser light show. You will see a hologram constructed and the refraction of light waves in water. The museum has the nation’s first hands-on Chemistry Laboratory where you can experiment with different chemical reactions. Next, the Vernier Technology Laboratory has a number of interactive stations where you can learn about the workings of robots, computers, and household technologies.

On the second floor is the Life Sciences Hall. It has live spiders and insects, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, as well as amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. A collection of fetuses shows each stage of an animal’s development from just after conception to just before birth. An exhibit on aging includes an Age Machine which you can use to take a picture of yourself and then age it to see what you might look like in years to come! Once recovered from this experience, you might like to visit the Earth Science Hall where you can construct an erosion cycle in a river at the Watershed Laboratory. Fossil excavation can be seen at the Paleontology Laboratory.

At the Featured Exhibit Hall are traveling and other temporary exhibits. From 23 May to 13 September 2009, the featured exhibit is CSI: The Experience. You can join in as a forensic scientist and be part of the scientific inquiry and investigation process to solve crime. Techniques you will use include DNA, firearms analysis, and forensic anthropology and toxicology. Amateur forensic scientists will be presented with a realistic crime scene to investigate and resolve, such as in a living room, a back street, or a desert. The exhibit is suitable for adults and children 12 and older.

For younger children up to six years, there is the Science Playground. At Sandland, the kids will think they’re at the beach. Buckets and shovels are provided and they can dig for dinosaur fossils in the fossil dig pit. They can see the world from an animal’s perspective at the Animal Secrets exhibit by crawling through tree roots, exploring a cave, and playing in the woodland stream. After that, there’s a reading tent and a puppet theatre.

At the museum’s Planetarium, you can sit back and watch thousands of stars travel across the night sky. It has a full dome and is regarded as the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most advanced planetarium. Various shows are held at different times of the day and year. Some of the great shows include Constellations of Summer, U2: The Full-Dome Experience, Laser Beatles, and Secret of the Cardboard Rocket. Cost per show is $7.50.

The OMNIMAX theater has a giant screen where you can see movies that enhance the big screen effect, such as Grand Canyon Adventure, Sea Monsters, The Alps, and Mystic India. Entry is $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for children and seniors. Another large auditorium at the museum hosts science fairs and other events or can be hired for private functions. The museum also offers a range of educational programs, including school field trips, camps, and visits to schools.

In the museum’s backyard is the USS Blueback (SS581), a submarine partly submerged in the Willamette River. The US Navy used it in the Pacific Ocean for 31 years. It was the last of the non-nuclear, fast-attack submarines. You can take a 45 minute tour for $6.75 and see how the crew of 85 worked and lived side by side for months.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has an amazing number of things to see and do for everyone, not only the science and technology buffs. Extended hours in the summer months are from 9.30am to 7pm. General admission is $13.50 for adults and $9.75 for children and seniors. There’s a cafe on the first floor.