EcoTarium’s City Science Exhibit Breaks New Ground | EcoTarium

EcoTarium’s City Science Exhibit Breaks New Ground

Can science museums shape and influence sustainable community design?
Release Date: 
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Resources for Media are available (including links to City Science logo, City Science exhibit components, installation photos, and time lapse videos).

WORCESTER, MASS. – A new exhibit at the EcoTarium is doing more than providing fun informal learning experiences – it is attempting to answer a new question: can science museums impact the future of our cities?

The museum’s latest permanent exhibition, City Science: The Science You Live, opened earlier this year on January 17.  It transforms the museum’s middle level into a unique hands-on investigation lab focused on urban science and ecology. This immersive exploration of the modern city allows visitors to investigate the science we encounter every day but rarely stop to consider. City Science also directly investigates the environmental and health impacts of how we live in and build our cities, encouraging visitors to consider choices that result in healthier, more sustainable cities.

While urban ecology and urban systems are at the forefront of scientific study, it’s a topic rarely explored in science museums. In developing City Science, the EcoTarium collaborated with scientists and community members to directly explore how science museums can shape and influence the future of their communities – and the personal actions of their visitors.

“More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and yet we often overlook the science questions that are hiding all around us in urban environments,” says Betsy Loring, EcoTarium Director of Exhibits. “City Science not only provides unique and fun experiences for our visitors to enjoy together, it also allows them to learn the kinds of skills that can help them make our urban neighborhoods great places to live.”

The 2,500-square-foot exhibit incorporates live animals, interactive components, and natural history specimens, to give children and families the opportunity to experiment, engineer, and discover the science that is happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods. As visitors explore the exhibit, they experience firsthand that the way we design and build our cities has powerful impacts on people, animals, civic life, and the larger environment.

The exhibit was developed in parallel with the National Science Foundation (NSF) project, From the Lab to the Neighborhood, a collaboration involving experts from the EcoTarium, UMASS Amherst, Clark University in Worcester, and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, along with community and visitor input. As part of that project, the EcoTarium worked alongside researchers to develop interactive components that present current ecology research on subjects such as green spaces, biodiversity and heat islands, and examine if that learning influences how visitors design their ideal neighborhood. Several exhibit components explore the design of sustainable neighborhoods, for example:

Turtles highlight land use concerns

In “Turtle’s Eye View” visitors place houses and roads to build a neighborhood and then project pathways showing how a turtle would travel between four habitats necessary for its survival. Visitors then redesign their neighborhood to make it safe for turtles, encouraging thinking about how communities can balance the needs of people and animals.

Using birds to teach urban biodiversity

In “Best Nest,” young children learn about habitat conservation and the importance of biodiversity. By attempting to place species of plush birds into city and forest nests using clues about the bird’s preferred habitats, they learn that while many birds can find homes in different habitats, there are some that cannot.

Exploring city “hot spots”

In “City Hot Zones,” visitors learn about urban heat island effects and build a city with buildings, parks and roads. Using a heat lamp for the sun and an infrared camera, visitors can see how
their city would heat up where hot spots might occur and redesign for a cooler, healthier city.

Putting it all together in one neighborhood

After exploring the various components of City Science, the “Magnetic Neighborhood” interactive invites visitors to try their hand at urban planning and design a neighborhood using magnetic pieces. It explores the concepts and compromise of city planning and encourages visitors to share and compare their designs, and contribute them to ongoing “citizen science” research.

The creation of City Science also involved local community panels and research on areas such as soundscape, city landscapes, and ideal neighborhoods.

The EcoTarium’s City Science exhibit is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. City Hot Zones interactive is presented by Saint-Gobain. Engineering Lab is presented by National Grid.

About EcoTarium

EcoTarium is New England's leading museum of science and nature, an indoor-outdoor experience dedicated to inspiring a passion for science and nature in visitors of all ages. Founded in 1825, it has been a leader in informal science and nature education for nearly 200 years, and today welcomes more than 150,000 visitors per year. Highlights of the 55-acre campus include a museum building with three floors of interactive exhibits, the Alden Digital Planetarium: A National Geographic Theater, daily Science Discovery programs, live animal habitats, nature trails through forest and meadow, seasonal narrow-gauge railroad Explorer Express Train, and its expansive interactive outdoor exhibit, Nature Explore®.

The EcoTarium, located at 222 Harrington Way in Worcester, Mass., is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Sundays 12 noon to 5:00 p.m. General admission is $18 for adults, $14 for children 2-18, $14 for seniors 65+ and students with ID, and children under 2 are free. Planetarium shows and Explorer Express Train require additional ticket. Parking is free. For more information, visit

Photo Caption: EcoTarium President Joseph Cox (left), and EcoTarium Director of Exhibits Betsy Loring, (right), present Worcester Mayor Joe Petty with a “Valentine to the City of Worcester,” as a “thank you” to all of the City departments that collaborated with the EcoTarium during the development of the City Science exhibit.


Charlene L. Leith-Bushey
Manager of Marketing and Communications
| 508.929.2738