Imagine locking beady eyes with potential prey, smelling the breath of larger predators, guarding a nest full of eggs, ducking mosquitoes the size of your snout, and hearing the cracking of your babies birthing themselves through their eggshells.
Whitaker Center’s new summer exhibit, “Dinosaur Discovery: Where Science Comes Alive!” carries those misty, longing elements that snap me right back into my overalls and braces. Seeing those dinosaurs tower over me menacingly sent me back to elementary school field trips, reading about them in picture books, and being young enough to believe I could build my own time machine to visit real ones.
The exhibit’s curators took great care to choose a representation of dinosaurs with contrasting features: babies and adults, flight and ground, herbivores and carnivores, predator and prey. Most of the exhibits show them battling each other. There was no such thing as a safe space back then.
“Guests may remember that we had a dinosaur exhibit in 2013 that was very popular with families,” said Steve Bishop, vice president of Science and Cinema Operations at Whitaker Center. “We wanted to offer what we feel is a next-generation version of that exhibit.”
“Dinosaur Discovery” is decidedly upgraded from “Dino Adventure,” which already offered a fair number of robotic dinosaurs, preserved reptilian eggs and fossilized dino dung.
Today’s kids enjoy video game graphics that are far superior to yesteryear’s Pong, so they expect realistic graphics and advanced robotics. The virtual reality simulator pod delivers a realistic, minutes-long slice of life from a dinosaur’s point of view within the Cretaceous ecosystem.
You can also look forward to dinosaurs that are more lifelike.
“Guests can get up close and personal with over a dozen active dinosaur animatronics,” Bishop said. “There are a lot of components to the exhibit that are educational, but feel like pure fun.”
They can even operate one of the dinosaurs with a remote control.
Many of the easily recognizable species, like T-Rex, will be robotically roaring, eating, caring for their young and fighting with each other. And there will be others, more obscure, whose names I quickly forgot after passing my fourth-grade earth science test.
Because archeologists and paleontologists add more artifacts about dinosaurs as they discover them, “Dinosaur Discovery” isn’t a crusty exhibit stuck in a time machine. It offers up-to-date models and the latest information for all us science geeks. The field itself isn’t frozen in place, either, with a new genus and species of horned-face dinosaur recently discovered in New Mexico. It’s so new, it hasn’t even been named yet.
Little ones who enjoy a tactile learning experience have the chance to touch dinosaur skin, teeth and even a nest. There’s also a big sand table for kids to sift through with archeologists’ tools to dig for “fossils.” They even can find fossils by rubbing crayons on paper-covered templates, which holds more of a guarantee if your little one is easily frustrated and not as deep a digger as the older kids in the sandbox.
“I’m excited for Whitaker Center to offer an exhibit with such a popular and captivating subject like dinosaurs,” said Ted Black, the center’s new president and CEO. “The exhibit elements are going to be really engaging and a great complement to the other three floors of the Harsco Science Center. Coupled with the other attractions and museums in this region, Harrisburg has a lot to offer in terms of family entertainment this summer.”
Like the giant reptiles themselves, the exhibit will only be available for a limited engagement. It starts this month in the Gloria M. Olewine Gallery in the basement of Harsco Science Center and goes extinct from Whitaker Center three months later.
As a perfect pairing to the prehistoric theme, be sure to check out “Walking with Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D” at Whitaker Center’s Digital Cinema.
This time, I’ll be wearing my mom jeans instead of my overalls.
“Dinosaur Discovery: Where Science Comes Alive” runs June 3 to Sept. 3 in the Gloria M. Olewine Gallery at Whitaker Center, 222 Market St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.whitakercenter.org.
Author: Gina Napoli