Museum focuses on niche as science center
The Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum attracts kids and parents — not only for the traveling exhibits, but also for the permanent exhibits.
"Although the museum was initially conceived as a children’s museum, everything we’ve done over the past three years has been designed to change the museum experience into a science center — think OMSI or Exploratorium," said Patrick Turner, the museum's marketing and communications director. "By being a science center, we can serve a much broader demographic regionally."
The permanent exhibits at the science center are spot-on, however, when it comes to science and engagement, drawing many families to purchase annual memberships (now available at $99 for a family of two adults and up to six children) so they can visit frequently. These permanent exhibits are unique in their own ways: offering children the ability to climb upward through clouds or to get their hands in the water with a working representation of the Truckee River watershed.
The permanent, but ever-changing, exhibits on display at the Terry Lee Wells museum include the Cloud Climber, Nevada Stories, Inside Out, Build It!, The Shop, Da Vinci’s Corner, Spark!Lab Smithsonian, Little Discoveries, Under the Stars and Truckee Connects. Of these, one exhibit has significant draw.
"The most popular permanent exhibit is, by far, the Cloud Climber," Turner said. "There’s just something incredibly fun about climbing three stories into the air in a structure that looks like a towering mountain of clouds."
- The Cloud Climber offers children the opportunity to climb up high through the center of the museum on a jungle-gym type infrastructure that has clouds as a theme. While the climb goes up high, the infrastructure is entirely netted and wired in to ensure safety. Always eye-catching and fun for children, the exhibit is an illustration of just one phase of the water cycle.
- Truckee Connects, which travels around the base of the Cloud Climber, on the lower level, gives kids the opportunity to put their hands in to flowing water and see the mimicked effects of hydroelectric power, irrigation and recreation upon a river. This exhibit provides ample space for children to spread out and explore, but also gives them the chance to float balls, boats and other items down the meandering river model.
- Da Vinci's Corner, at the back of the main level, gives children the opportunity to complete brain teasers, including challenges with shapes, numbers and figures. Kids also can shoot a soft ball from a catapult and make use of slopes and shoots on a magnetic wall to roll a soft ball down. The mental challenges are both difficult and fun, and sometimes a museum volunteer can be found to help provide clues.
- Nevada Stories, at the front of the main level, tells the story of Nevada's mining history and its natural minerals – for example, 75 percent of gold mined in the U.S. is done so in Nevada. Kids can climb through a 'mine,' even ringing a miner's bell, and climb inside a huge tire, the likes of which are used on large trucks at mining excavations. They also have a chance to experiment with different types of basket weaving, as Native Americans once did and still do in the state.
- Under the Stars, located on the bottom floor of the museum, gives children the opportunity to explore more of Nevada's outdoor adventures and traditions They can fish for Cui-Ui and Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, climb through a vast cave – always lots of fun – or even check out a tent for exploration. They also can practice recognizing different nocturnal noises, including those of the coyote, field cricket and Great Horned Owl.