Review: Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

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Is it a children’s museum, a science museum, a local history museum, or a music museum? The answer is yes and much more. Unlike most museums that I visit, the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (FCMoD) does not conveniently fall into any one category. It seems to cover everything that is unique about the Fort Collins area, as well as the world around it.

Prior to my visit, most of what I read about the FCMoD lead me to believe that it is an interactive museum for children. It is, but my visit proved that there is something to keep anyone of any age and anyone of nearly any interests entertained and engaged. Admitting that you went to a children’s museum by yourself may make you feel like the man who drives a minivan; you may do it, but you don’t tell anyone. Don’t worry, as the FCMoD won’t give you that feeling, and, in fact, you’ll want to tell others about the experience.

The first exhibit that you encounter explains how Fort Collins is “broadcast central” for the atomic clock. The clock is in Boulder, but transmitters in the Fort Collins area beam the signal all over North America. I have seen atomic clocks and I have owned atomic wristwatches that receive these signals, but are the timepieces radioactive? Nope. The atomic clock does not rely on radioactivity, but, instead, it relys on measuring the vibrations of electrons in cesium atoms. Accurate to within one second per 100 million years (wrap your mind around that one), the signal is used, not only to calibrate personal time pieces, but to facilitate GPS navigation, synchronize the internet, and run air traffic control systems.
Located at the base of the steps to the museum’s main hall is an exhibit that gives you an idea of how easy it can be to lift a piano. How? Through the power and efficiency of levers. Years ago, while in college, I was introduced to the concept of levers and their capabilities in an introductory engineering course. It’s one thing to learn the concept on paper, but another to actually feel it’s power yourself. The display says, “[g]ive me a long enough lever and I can lift the world.” The saying by the oft-quoted ancient Greek scientist Archimedes is as poetic as it is practical. And you’ll see what he means. As you adjust the rope farther down the track, lifting the piano becomes nearly effortless.

Next is the part of the museum that younger visitors may find themselves most drawn to. Interactive exhibits that focus on the science of music and sound tend to do that. Children and adults can learn how to make music as well as why music is even possible. Drums, guitars, keyboards, and even a glass harmonica are available for everyone to test their musical abilities.

The museum, in its six different exhibit areas, seems to cover nearly the science of everything. At one display is an explanation of what horsepower is and how it is calculated. At another are how sound waves work, and what moiré patterns are.

Hanging from the ceiling in the Wildlands & Wildlife section, a 44-foot-long skeleton of a plesiosaur attracts you to the museum area centered on the natural history of Fort Collins and the eastern Colorado plains. The science of animal evolution (explained with fossils), the geologic timescale, and the arrival of man in the local area teach us about processes in the larger world, but through a local viewpoint.

Located on the opposite side of the display is a wall filled with samples of local plants and animals that inhabit the local area to this day. Between them, however, you’ll see two animals on display. One is the familiar bison, and the other is a skeleton of an extinct bison called bison antiquus. The extinct bison was considerably larger than the modern bison and, in its day, the most common plant eating mammal in North America.

I warned you that this is an eclectic collection (and that is a good thing), so you have to walk through the museum’s local culture and history displays. Bicycles are everywhere in this college town, and the story of how bike paths in Fort Collins came to be is coupled with a display of vintage bikes once owned by locals. But we’re not done yet. Equally impressive exhibits that cover agriculture in the area and the history of Fort Collins are equally worthy of your time.

Plan at least two hours for your visit, you may–I should say will–need even more time than that. I spent nearly three hours here, and I missed out on some of the museum’s other features such as the observation deck (closed due to high wind) and the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater that is currently showing five science-themed films. The far-reaching scope of this museum will leave every member of your family pleased with his or her experience. It may also sound as if you and your family can make a day of it here. That’s because you can. Based on what I saw, if I were you, I’d plan on it.

About Bloice Davison

Bloice C. Davison, III blogs, travels occasionally, and takes pictures. He has experience in the telecommunications, banking, retailing and outside sales businesses. He is a former fly-fishing guide and fly-fishing instructor for the Orvis Company. He served as an Aircraft Maintenance Specialist in the United States Air Force. A 1988 graduate of Virginia Tech, he also has a BS in statistics from the Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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