Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Established 1944
Location Portland, Oregon, United States
Type private: science, industry
Visitor figures 778,457 (2002)[1]
Director Nancy Stueber
Website omsi.edu

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI, play /ˈɒmz/ om-zee) is a museum located in Portland, Oregon, United States. It contains two auditoriums, including an IMAX Dome theatre, and a variety of hands-on permanent exhibits focused on natural sciences, industry, and technology. Transient exhibits span a wider range of disciplines.



Beginning in 1903, odd artifacts were displayed in hallways and alcoves in Portland City Hall arranged by Colonel L.L. Hawkins. When the collection was evicted in 1936, about 12,000 artifacts were stored throughout the city. [2]

On November 5, 1944, the Oregon Museum Foundation was founded with the mission of establishing an Oregon Museum of History, Science, and Industry. It displayed its first collection of natural history objects at the Portland Hotel. Subsequent small exhibits occurred around town to generate interest and donations. In 1949, a house at 908 NE Hassalo was donated to establish the museum. Within a year, the Pacific Northwest's first public planetarium opened in a dome on the front lawn.[2]

By 1955, OMSI's annual attendance had grown to 25,000. The need for expansion led to volunteers building a new site at Washington Park, completing the original goal of a hands-on museum. (That building is now occupied by the Portland Children's Museum.) This opened to the public on August 3, 1958,[2][3] following a formal dedication by the governor on June 7.[4] A planetarium was again included.[3] The new building at the southwest corner of what was then Hoyt Park[4] (now part of Washington Park) was located adjacent to the then-new site of the Portland Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo), which began a one-year phased move to this location in the same month as the new OMSI opened.[5] The two attractions remained neighbors, sharing a parking lot, until 1992.

1992 move

By the mid-1980s, 600,000 people per year were visiting the building, which was designed for only 100,000. Expansion at the Washington Park site was deemed infeasible, and in 1986 it was announced that the museum would move to a new location on the east bank of the Willamette River, where a much larger building would be constructed.[2] Property was donated by Portland General Electric and building construction funded by a fundraising campaign. In 1992, OMSI opened at the new site[2], which continues to be the current location. The construction integrated the existing PGE turbine building and included the creation of a 330-seat OMNIMAX theater. The facility also includes a 200-seat planetarium with Digistar 3 technology.

21st century

In 2004 the Turbine Hall was closed from September through November for renovations in which the Discovery Space and Technology Lab changed places and a new Inventors Ballroom was added. Also added were a small stage area for public exhibit demonstrations and a bridge connecting a new metal staircase with the mezzanine exhibits.

The museum started planning for an expansion of the facility in 2006.[6] In 2008, OMSI began finalizing the plans for the expansion, which was estimated to cost about $500 million and would double the size of the museum.[7] They began working to secure the funds for the expansion the next year, but decided to hold off on the plans in 2010 after the poor economy had made it difficult to try and raise funds for the project.[6][7]

Exhibits and attractions

OMSI has five different specialized exhibit halls, a planetarium, and a submarine exhibit.

USS Blueback

The USS Blueback submarine at rest on the Willamette River in front of OMSI. The Marquam Bridge can be seen directly behind it, and the Hawthorne Bridge is further in the background.

The USS Blueback (SS-581) was purchased by OMSI in February 1994. This submarine appeared in the 1990 film The Hunt for Red October before being towed to its present location, a pier right outside the museum.[8] It was opened to the public on May 15, 1994, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2008.[9][10] The propeller has been removed and is now a National Submarine Memorial, located outside of the main museum area, beside the Eastbank Esplanade. The submarine is available for daily guided tours and summer camps.

Featured Exhibit Hall

The Featured Exhibit Hall is used for temporary exhibits either manufactured by OMSI or brought in from museums around the world. Past exhibits have included "Grossology" (Winter–Spring 2001), "Giants of the Gobi" (1997), "A T-rex named Sue" (September 2001 – Jan. 2002), and "CSI, The Experience"( May–September, 2009). Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds 3, opened on June 7, 2007, and closed on October 7, 2007. By late September 2007, 300,000 people had seen Body Worlds 3, setting the record as OMSI's most visited traveling exhibit.[11]

Turbine Hall

The Turbine Hall is named for the large steam turbine (which dated back to its days as a PGE power plant) which dominates the floor. It features exhibits about engineering, physics, chemistry, and space travel. The Turbine Hall has two floors. On the main floor are the large exhibits and enrichment areas. On the mezzanine there are smaller exhibits that emphasize properties of physics.

The Innovation Station includes hands-on exhibits related to technology and invention. The Physics, Chemistry, Technology, and Laser Holography laboratories are connected to the Turbine Hall.

Turbine Hall

The Chemistry Laboratory is the first hands-on wet chemistry laboratory in the nation. There are six stations that allow visitors to learn about chemical interactions by participating in experiments that share a common theme. Themes rotate weekly and include the chemistry of toys, the nature of matter, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, industrial chemistry, chemical reactions, everyday chemistry, and crime scene chemistry. Chemical reaction demonstrations are given daily and are often related to the weekly theme.

Physics Laboratory exhibits include a Van de Graff generator (a static electricity generator), motion detectors, circuits, morse code, magnets, computers that simulate basic properties of physics, and musical instruments. The Physics Laboratory also includes the Laser/Holography Laboratory, which is open for approximately one hour every day, during which staff and volunteers present 30-minute demonstrations in which a hologram is constructed. The Laser/Holography Laboratory also offers education about lasers and properties of light.

The Vernier Technology Laboratory investigates the impact of technology on society. Rotating interactive exhibits allow visitors to investigate technologies such as robots & computers, security technology, biomedical technology, communications technology, and household technology. Visitors can also use a wide variety of educational software on internet-connected computers.

Life Sciences Hall

The Life Sciences Hall, on the second floor of the museum, offers exhibits about biology. These include a collection of preserved fetuses at nearly every stage of development, from a few weeks after conception to full-term, and the exhibit Amazing Feats of Aging, which is concerned with the biology of aging. One of the features of this exhibit is the Age Machine, a computer program that allows visitors to capture, and then "age", a picture of themselves.[12] The Life Sciences Hall also contains the Life Science Laboratory and the Earth Science Hall.

The Life Sciences Laboratory houses a wide variety of live animals, such as [1] rats, walking sticks, chameleons, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, and other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Volunteers and staff members perform and lead a variety of a group activities, such as owl pellet dissections and a demonstration of the differences between male and female skulls and pelvises.

The Earth Science Hall, located on the second floor, features geology-oriented exhibits and two specialized laboratories. The Watershed Laboratory gives visitors an experience in constructing an erosion cycle out of a "river on a table." Visitors can learn about the life cycle of salmon and investigate microscopic organisms from local waterways through a videomicroscope. Visitors to the Paleontology Laboratory watch staff members and volunteers excavating fossils, such as dinosaur bones.

Science Playground

The Science Playground on the second level

The Science Playground, the early childhood education area on the second floor of the museum, is designed for families with newborn to six-year-old children. The area is fully enclosed and designed to keep children visible and secure, while giving them freedom to explore at will. Its purpose is to give children the opportunity to develop interactive scientific learning through play. It contains a variety of experimental stations intended to encourage natural curiosity, including a stimulating infant area, a giant sandbox, a water area, a reading area, and physical science exhibits. The area is staffed by trained specialists in Early Childhood Education. There is also a Parent Resource Corner with reference materials on topics ranging from the developing brain to behavior intervention techniques.

The Animal Secrets exhibit encourages children and parents to explore the hidden habitats and lives of forest animals. Visitors can crawl through the roots of a Discovery Tree, look for animals in a cave and a chipmunk den, play in a woodland stream, and be a naturalist for a day. Animal Secrets features bilingual (English and Spanish) text panels.

The Discovery Laboratory offers rotating experiments and activities such as exploring Flubber or ice cube painting. Themed Discovery Drawers encourage parents to teach their own children about the contents.


Computer-aided astronomy and laser light shows are performed daily in the Harry C. Kendall Planetarium (previously the Murdock Planetarium).


Exterior of the OMNIMAX theater

OMSI contains both an OMNIMAX theater and a large auditorium, with a stage, where annual events such as science fairs occur. Science fairs that take place in the main auditorium include OHSU's Brain Awareness, Safety Safari, and the Reptile and Amphibian Show. The auditorium is also used for private events.

Educational outreach

OMSI operates the largest science museum outreach program in the country.[citation needed] The museum offers presentations in schools, summer science camp programs for individuals, and outdoor school programs for school groups on the Oregon Coast, in the Cascades and in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. OMSI is a frequent site for field trips, primarily for grades K-12, from all over the region.

Funding and volunteer support

OMSI is a non-profit organization and receives no financial support from the State of Oregon. The museum is funded in part by member contributions, public and private donations, community agencies, federal grants and fundraising events. The largest OMSI fundraising event each year is the OMSI Gala - a black tie party in January where visitors gather to show support for science education.[13]

Although it is staffed with full and part time employees, much of the museum is dependent on volunteers, who perform many of the same duties as staff members such as greeting visitors, customer service, and performing exhibit demonstrations. The volunteers include high school and college students as well as other community members. Volunteers serve in a wide range of areas within the museum, both on-stage and off. After 50 hours of service, all volunteers receive a free, one-year museum membership.

Rising Stars, OMSI's youth volunteer program, takes place both during the summer and during the school year. As a part of the program, participants attend weekly classes focusing on developing communication and customer service skills, and practice these skills by performing demonstrations on the museum floor. Participants also develop their own original science demonstration for presentation to the public at the end of each session.[14]


  1. ^ "Oregon Travel News". Oregon Tourism Commission. March 2003. p. 7. Archived from the original on March 14, 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20060314065241/http://otc.traveloregon.com/factsfigs/0303_TravelNews.pdf. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e David Pelinka. "Oregon Museum of Science and Industry". Oregon Encyclopedia. http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/oregon_museum_of_science_industry_omsi_/. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Opening of Science and Industry Museum Draws 4,000". The Sunday Oregonian, August 4, 1958, p. 10.
  4. ^ a b "Years’ Dream Comes True: Holmes Dedicates Science Museum". The Sunday Oregonian, June 8, 1958, p. 16.
  5. ^ "Many See Zoo, Train". The Oregonian, June 9, 1958, p. 15.
  6. ^ a b Beaven, Steve (March 22, 2010). "Expansion, development plans for Portland's OMSI, nearby land put on hold". The Oregonian. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/03/expansion_plans_for_portlands.html. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Ereline, Ann (November 15, 2008). "OMSI invites ideas for big expansion". The Oregonian. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2008/11/omsi_invites_ideas_for_big_exp.html. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ USS Blueback Submarine
  9. ^ Green, Susan (October 14, 2008). "OMSI submarine listed on National Register". The Oregonian. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2008/10/omsi_submarine_listed_on_natio.html. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 9/29/08 through 10/03/08". National Park Service. October 10, 2008. http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/listings/20081010.HTM. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  11. ^ Body Worlds 3 sets OMSI attendance record
  12. ^ Amazing Feats of Aging
  13. ^ OMSI Gala
  14. ^ Youth Volunteer Program

External links

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