The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science opened to the public on May 8, and it's a sprawling, open-air, Death Star-shaped shrine to nature, with exhibitions dedicated to the cosmos, Florida's fragile ecosystem, and the phenomena of the human body.
It was a long time coming: the massive architectural project was stalled two years ago due to funding issues, until Miami-Dade County helped provide the remaining funds. For years, the museum looked like a spherical, concrete exoskeleton. Now, that orb is a 250-seat planetarium, the screen tilted at 23.5 degrees, just enough to make you feel like you're flying. On opening day, the planetarium screened the dizzying Asteroid: Mission Extreme, a 3D special narrated by Sigourney Weaver.
Future planetarium programming includes laser light shows every first Friday of the month, film screenings curated by Science/Art Cinema, sky-gazing with telescopes, and galactic adventures. Expect upcoming shows to be interactive. As Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego, Curator of Astronomy and Exhibition Developer, explains, "Because of the software we have in our system, we can actually go anywhere in the galaxy in real time, and take these journeys in 3D. I can ask the audience, 'Which planet do you want to visit? Which moon?' People will feel they own the experience, and each show will be a little different."
The planetarium is indicative of the museum's future plans to bridge science, technology, and the arts, an effort to both acknowledge the community's support of the museum and to cultivate genuine curiosity. "We want to open the planetarium to the creative community," says Perez-Gallego, who is a designer as well as an astrophysicist. "I understand the way that artists can actually help push technology. A science museum is like science itself; it's something that is never done. We have been literally supported by our community, so we owe it to them to listen."
One of the most beautiful parts of the museum is its 500,000-gallon aquarium, divided into three stories—Vista, The Dive, and The Deep. The Vista, located on the museum's rooftop, offers sprawling views of Biscayne Bay, an aviary, and the opportunity to see creatures like stingrays, owls, and alligators (they'll be released into the wild next year). References to the precious Everglades and its current state are everywhere, including River of Grass, an interactive exhibit designed for small children.
Visitors peer into the tops of pools of fish that stretch into the interactive Dive floor below, which is replete with corals, fossils, and a VR adventure from the P.O.V. of a shark. The Deep is filled with jellyfish and, steps away, a majestic, 31-foot-wide oculus lens, providing a view into a Vista-level tank—the oculus is looming, and mahi-mahi, rays, and hammerhead and tiger sharks swim overhead.
Special exhibitions, like SEEING—which debuted at Ireland's Science Gallery Dublin—examine the concept of vision through robots that draw your portrait, a digital canvas painted by your eye movements, and a journey through the eyes of a synesthete. In a dark room illuminated with red and green lasers, LASERsHOW teaches visitors about the creation and purpose of lasers. A permanent exhibit, Feathers to the Stars, explores the history of flight, from feathered dinosaurs to space travel. Here, you'll find a 30-foot Yutyrannus, a feathery, cone-toothed dinosaur whose name literally means "feathered tyrant."
Across the room, past the paper airplane-making station and the big-screen visuals of satellites in space, there's a unique gem: a display case entitled Dreams of a Future. An homage to human's ongoing fascination with the cosmos, it's crammed with nostalgic ephemera like mugs, books, records, and action figures. Curator Kevin Arrow, the museum's Art and Collection Manager, crystallizes the display and the mission of the museum itself. "From the earliest days of the space program, scientists have drawn and shared inspiration with writers, artists, and creative thinkers," he says. "What was considered science fiction in the past is today our scientific reality. Imagination triggers innovation and innovation triggers imagination."
The Frost Museum of Science is open every day of the year. For ticket and schedule info, click here. Summer 2017 Laser Light Shows at the Planetarium begin Friday, June 2 at 7PM.