New York Hall of Science

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 135 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Hall of Science boats a small outdoor rocket garden, with a Gemini Titan 2, a Mercury-Atlas D, and a reproduction Saturn V engine.  

Mercury Atlas D Rocket, New York Hall of Science
Fly me to the moon…or at least orbit

Very big science, and a reminder that we sent the first astronauts to space strapped to the top of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

New York Hall of ScienceFlushing Meadows Corona Park is strewn with relics from New York’s two great World’s Fairs, in 1939 and 1964.  While the Queens Museum is the last building still around from 1939, the nearby New York Hall of Science is a notable survivor from 1964. Today, the Hall of Science is sort of a patchwork of old-school science museum and hip, modern, interactive experience.  To wit, it kinda wants to be called “Ny-Sci,” though I don’t want to call it that.  Its home is a similar patchwork–at times I couldn’t figure out what parts of it are midcentury versus later additions.  

World's Fair at New York Hall of Science, Queens
1964 World’s Fair Display

The Great Hall

I do know that its…atrium? is original.  I hesitate because “atrium” is definitely not the right word to describe the Great Hall. A shell of rippling concrete lined with thousands of panels of dark blue stained glass, it creates a dark, massive interior that reminds me of a cathedral crossed with a fallout shelter, or maybe a missile silo.  It’s impressive, amazing, and my photo doesn’t do the gloomy interior justice at all.  Other people find it impressive, too: the New Yorker has called it “one of the grandest, eeriest, and least-seen spaces in all New York.”

But it must be really hard to figure out what to put in there.  Animatronic dinosaurs or replica spacecraft might work.  The Natural History Museum’s iconic blue whale might feel at home, too.

New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science, Queens
Interactive grassland

The Great Hall currently hosts “Connected Worlds,” an interactive demonstration of ecosystems and their interdependence on one another and on water.  Humongous screens are alive with a wetland, a jungle, a desert, an undersea area, and a grassland, with a massive waterfall cascading down in the background.  

Visitors can move water around from environment to environment, with resultant effects. They can invoke virtual seeds and watch them grow into plants.  They can interact, in limited ways, with various amusing virtual wildlife, and observe how that wildlife interacts with its environment.  

As a piece of art it’s beautiful.  As an interactive toy, it’s pretty fun.  Kids definitely dig it. As a teaching tool, I’m not entirely sure it works. I feel like the folks playing with it see the virtual trees, but miss the point of the forest.  With a guide or interpreter, though, it might well spark some budding ecologists, botanists, or zoologists.

Other Attractions at the New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science
The Mall of Science

The rest of the New York Hall of Science presents an eclectic mix of exhibits of different vintages and pedagogical philosophies.  These days, by and large, it seems to have gone all in on “maker” notions of building, designing, and programming.  

The central area, and the first thing visitors come to when they enter, is a large open space with a host of different areas for different guided constructive activities.  It had the feel of a mall food court, with stations that on a weekend day would be staffed with volunteers to help visitors with projects.

Maker Studio at New York Hall of Science
Maker Space

Other features include:

  • A section of hands-on exhibits on light and optics borrowed from San Francisco’s terrific Exploratorium.
  • A way texty section on the wonders of math that I loved, but I’m not sure whether a kid would get a lot out of it.
  • A bilingual section introducing core concepts of evolution.
  • A series of interactive displays on how animals think and perceive the world.
  • A weirdly out-of-place display on female robots or andoids in science fiction, from the robot in “Metropolis” to Dolores from HBO’s “Westworld.”
  • An alcove on life sciences with parameciums under microscopes and a really bored looking horned lizard.
  • A display on the search for life on other worlds, and what we learn from extremophiles on Earth, including an interactive mars rover.
  • An outdoor space exploration mini golf course.
  • Rockets!
New York Hall of Science, Queens
Programmable Mars Rover

You get the idea — it’s kind of all over the place in vintage and quality.  Mostly it worked well, though several displays needed maintenance or repair; the eternal problem of highly interactive installations.

New York Hall of Science, Queens
The Giant Timelline of Mathematics!

To Infinity And Beyond!

As I was first building my database for this project, New York’s paucity of science museums struck me.  Which certainly explains the weekend crowds at the American Museum of Natural History.  And yet, on an autumn Friday afternoon, the New York Hall of Science stood practically empty, despite being free.  I can understand that, but I hope that people from beyond Queens manage to make the trek here on weekends. 

Although kids are squarely the intended audience for the New York Hall of Science,  I was surprised how much I enjoyed visiting.  I’m not sure I learned a lot that I didn’t know already know, but as someone with a scientific mindset, it’s always good to get a refresher, and I like seeing how places like this tell the stories. 

Fair warning, there aren’t any huge dinosaur fossils at the Hall of Science.  Nor dioramas of stuffed charismatic megafauna, like you’d find at that big museum on Central Park West. But otherwise, I think kids would love a visit here.  With the “Connected Worlds” installation, so would any grown-ups interested in interactive and immersive art.  It’s a trek to Queens (they do have a parking lot, if you are lucky enough to have a car) but one that’s totally worth it for a distinctive, interesting view of the universe.

Extremophiles at New York Hall of Science
Flushing:  It’s closer than Europa and easier to get to than the bottom of a glacier

For Reference:

Address 47-01 111th Street, Corona, Flushing
Cost  General Admission:  $16, free on Friday afternoons and Sunday mornings
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