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Carnegie Science Center – The FamilyFunPittsburgh Know Before You Go Guide

by Janet Jonus

Have a Day of FamilyFun at the Carnegie Science Center!

Explore, learn, discover, and play! The Carnegie Science Center is a hands-on “museum” with five floors and two buildings filled with an incredible array of things to do with kids. FamilyFunPittsburgh recommends making a day of it so you won’t miss anything!

Kids can be astronauts, catch a movie at the Rangos Giant Theater, see what’s inside of their bodies, journey through the universe, climb a rock wall, watch a science show, learn about water and our three rivers, explore a Cold War era submarine, and conquer a ropes course. There is even an entire area for the littlest children. It is easy to spend an entire day at the Science Center and still not see everything, and with the opening of their new Science Pavilion, the Science Center is a special-day-out destination for Pittsburgh families.

Fun at the Carnegie Science Center starts outside of the front door where there is a brain-maze that the FamilyFunKids love! Kids can wind their way through an oversize printed maze to find the center and then make their way back out. We always stop and do this activity when we are at the Science Center.

The admissions desk and information is straight through the Main Doors. Admission includes all of the Carnegie Science Center, the Highmark Sports Works building next door, the USS Requin, and the Planetarium. You can also get tickets to the Rangos Giant Theater and Laser Shows (Laser Shows are on weekends only) and the Art of the Brick exhibition in the new PPG Science Pavilion space. Admission to the Theater, the Laser shows, AND the Art of the Brick is in addition to admission to the Science Center. See the end of this article for more details.

Make sure you take a look at the map and calendar of the day’s event so you can plan your day. There are shows at two stages and the Planetarium you may want to see.

(FamilyFun note here: If you have parked in the Science Center parking lot, you can use the payment station machines near the Main Desk to get your ticket to exit and you can do this at any time. We recommend doing this when you get your entrance tickets as the machines can get crowded at the end of a busy day.)

To the right of the Main Desk is the Space Place, a two-story exhibition with a space lab mock-up and an interactive display where children can shoot air rockets up through the atrium and watch them parachute back down. There is an interactive area where you can learn how things move in space. There are also a series of montages with space facts including the key question, “How do you pee in space?”

The Science Stage is on this level. This stage is generally reserved for large groups and school trips.

There are bathrooms on this floor, including a Family Bathroom, and lockers for storage. All three bathrooms have baby changing facilities.

Just off of the Main Entrance is the Xplore Store– the Science Center’s gift shop filled with science-related gifts.

The ramps up to the higher floors are to the left and then around the back of the Desk. Just up the ramp there is a fun area called H2Oh! Giant windows look out over the Ohio River and there are numerous interactive exhibits about everything to do with water including a very wet, water-filled exploration station where kids can learn about the flow and movement of water. Along the windows are displays with facts about our three rivers. (Did you know in the summer the river water can reach 80⁰?) One of our favorites in this area is the Water Drop. Watch as water drops get “frozen” with the use of strobe lights. There are exhibits about the water cycle, the path of water, waves, water tables, sand and the movement of water, and a giant blue wave.

The H2Oh area transitions into a mini-zoo with small creatures from Western PA. There are snakes and fish and insects all from our neighborhood. There is also a small play area here that younger kids love. There is a really cool microscope table that most people walk past but make sure you stop and take a look. Acrylic-encased specimens can be slid under giant microscopes for further exploration.

Has your child ever wanted to be a weatherman? Look for the large green-screen in this area. The green screen synchs with a camera system that “projects” a weather forecast behind your child. A script scrolls on the teleprompter, and through the magic of technology, your child is transported into the WTAE weather studio to give their weather forecast on the nearby television. Most people walk right past this area or they do not understand what to do but it really shouldn’t be missed. (Many people also walk right in front of your child as they are doing their forecast which can be frustrating.)

There are steps right next to the weather forecast station that lead down to the River Café and the USS Requin.

Once you have thoroughly explored the water, weather, and critters, continue up the ramp to the second floor. At the top of the ramp is an elevator that serves floors 2- 4 but the ramps will lead you all the way to the top as well. You can take the elevator up and work your way down or work your way up and take the elevator down. If you have little ones, take the elevator to the fourth floor to the Exploration Station created just for them!

The Second Floor of the Science Center has the top half of the Space Station and space related activities, the Miniature Railroad and Village, and roboworld. The Rangos Theater also lets out on this floor so there can be a sudden influx of people when a movie lets out.

The Space Place module lets children explore the workings of a space station. You can also compare the weights of the planets and touch a meteorite.

The Miniature Railroad and Village featuring Western Pennsylvania landmarks includes inclines, an old-fashioned amusement park, and Fallingwater. Younger kids love to watch the trains as they travel around, over, and through the mountainous terrain.

roboworld is home to the basketball-throwing robot, the Robot Hall of Fame, and the world’s largest permanent installation of robots. Interactive displays explore the world of robotics and how they work, act, and think. Take a picture with C3PO. Challenge a robot to a game of air hockey. See if you can hit more baskets than the robot next to you.

The Buhl Planetarium is also on this floor. Journey to the Stars, explore the Universe, and see the night sky over Pittsburgh at the Buhl Planetarium. The Planetarium is magical for children who have never been to a show. The universe comes alive. Shows run throughout the day. Seating is limited. Check the daily schedule and plan around the show you want to see. The Planetarium is a quiet respite from the noise and activities of the Science Center. We highly recommend a Planetarium show as a time to relax, learn something new, and regroup. Doors open about 10 minutes before the start time of the show. Chairs are semi-reclining. Strollers must be left outside of the Planetarium as the inside of the theater is narrow and space is limited.

There are Men’s and Women’s bathrooms on this floor. Both bathrooms have baby changing stations and are wheelchair accessible. There are water fountains outside of the bathrooms. The water fountains and the bathrooms have fun, water-related science facts so you can learn as you go!

The Third Floor of the Science is home to the Body Works and the Body Stage. Body Works is a hands-on area full of fun, funky, and gross body functions. Explore preserved human and animal organs, pump a heart, rebuild an x-ray skeleton, confuse your senses, and guess who made the poop! Yes, there is a display of poop where you can guess what it came from. Challenge your senses with a series of illusions. Guess the sound, confuse your sense of touch with hot and cold coils, merge your face with another but if you want to do the taste challenge, you will need coins to buy some candy. The machine takes any coin, even a penny, and dispenses hard lemon candies (but don’t tell anyone the flavor). You eat the candy while holding your nose and try to guess the flavor. By far the favorite display is the, um, “windbreaking-bouncers”. Kids can bounce up and down on a pair of bouncy seats and try to make enough wind to keep balls in the air while the seats make the appropriate gas-passing sounds. Parents are uncomfortable and amused but kids love them!

Catch a 30-minute show at the Body Stage and learn about the weird, whacky, and wonderful human body. Shows are listed on the daily calendar and change regularly. The theater opens up about 10 minutes before show time. The interactive shows are very popular and fill up quickly on busier days. The Body Stage is a good way to take a break during a busy day. Look here for current shows: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/liveshows/bodystage/

There are Women’s and Men’s rooms on this floor. Both have baby changing stations and are wheelchair accessible. There is a water fountain near the bathrooms.

The Fourth Floor is the haven of the younger kid, preschooler, and baby & toddler crowds but it also has areas for older kids.

The Little Learner Clubhouse is designed for preschoolers and younger kids 3-6 years old but families with kids 6 and under will find plenty to do in this area. There are interactive exhibits that allow for plenty of hands-on exploration. There is a water table (kids may get wet), a climbing structure, an area where kids can discover how to make balls move through pipes and lifts, a quiet area, and a large-light wall which is a FamilyFunFavorite. Every single light creates a different reaction including sounds, thunderstorms, and more. There is even a plush “farm” for pre-walkers. The area is specifically for children six and under.

There is plenty to do outside of the Little Learner’s area for bigger kids. The fourth floor exploration station features energy and weather exhibits. Take a ride in the Earthquake Café and experience the shakes and quakes of an earthquake. Create energy and learn about electricity. Control a tornado and more!

The Works Theater is up and the Fourth Floor too. Explore chemical reactions and electricity in the industrial-themed theater. Check the daily calendar for the shows and times. The theater opens 10 minutes before the show. Shows last about 30 minutes. They are fun for everyone but may be too intense for younger children. Shows may include fog, strobe lights, and loud sounds. Look here for a list of current shows: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/liveshows/works-theater/

There are Women’s and Men’s bathrooms on the Fourth Floor and there are baby changing stations in both bathrooms and both are wheelchair accessible. Both bathrooms also have a raised platform toilet so the floor isn’t too far away for the littler children. There is a quiet room/nursing station in the Little Learner Clubhouse for moms who are looking for a quiet place to nurse. (The Science Center welcomes all mothers to breastfeed anywhere on the premises but if you are looking for some peace and quiet, head up to the fourth floor.)

The Ground Floor of the Science Center is home to the Rangos Giant Cinema, the River View Café, and the USS Requin. It is accessible by stairs off the Main Lobby as well as a staircase in the H2Oh! Exhibit and by elevators behind the Xplore Store.

The Rangos Giant Cinema features movies created for the Giant Theater format. The Theater is three stories tall with a giant screen, state of the art projection and surround-sound. The Cinema shows educational movies and Hollywood blockbusters. The Cinema is not part of the general admission so you have to pay to go see a movie. You can also just see a movie at the Giant Cinema without admission to the Science Center. Current movies can be found here: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/rangos-giant-cinema/

The River View Café serves up snacks and light meals. The Café has sandwiches, salads, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips, and fries. The Grab and Go section has prepared snacks including chips, fruit, yogurt, and drinks. The hot foods include hamburgers (big but bland), fries (very good), chicken strips (VERY spicy), and pizza (excellent). The chocolate chip cookies were dry but tasty. Lunch for three ran us around $30.00 without drinks. A FamilyFunFavorite is the frozen yogurt machine. This robotic machine serves up a personalized frozen yogurt treat. At $6.50 per cup of yogurt, it is kind of a shared dessert.

There are two sets of bathrooms on the ground floor. All of them have baby changing stations and are wheelchair accessible.

The USS Requin is anchored in the Ohio River just outside of the Café. This Cold War era submarine has been fully restored. During its long, active-duty life the USS Requin served in a military, training, and scientific capacity. The USS Requin was built during World War II but entered service after the War ended. Guests can tour the submarine and marvel at life for the 80 men (no women back then) who lived and worked on-board. The USS Requin is open daily during the summer and has a reduced schedule during the off-season. The Requin is the only part of the Science Center that is not fully accessible to those with mobility issues. (It is a submarine with steep ladders, water-proof bulkheads, and tight spaces. It can be physically challenging to get through for some people.) The deck of the Requin is accessible and there is a video tour for those who cannot enter the Requin itself. The tour of the Requin is self-guided and there are interactive exhibits throughout the submarine. The USS Requin closes at 430PM and it may close during bad weather.

Highmark SportsWorks

By far the most popular area of the Science Center is the Highmark SportsWorks. Children can explore the Science of Sports while having a ton of fun. Plan on spending at least an hour in this area, more if your kids want to try everything or on busy days.

SportsWorks underwent a transformation last year adding the hugely popular Ropes Challenge Course. Children get to harness up and click into a safety system and then take on a Course chock full of balance obstacles including rope bridges, balance beams, and a zip line. Children must be 48 inches tall to take on the Ropes Challenge but there is a smaller Sky Tykes course for the smaller crowd under the big course. This strictly close-to-the-ground course lets the younger crowd join in the fun safely. There can be long waits for the Ropes Course. Kids put on climber’s harnesses and attached to the safety system. The course is a full story off the ground so if you are afraid of heights, this may not be the activity for you. All participants must undergo a safety training demonstration. There are Science Center employees scattered around the course to help out when necessary. They are also monitoring for dangerous behaviors and they take this very seriously (rightfully so). They will ask anyone acting in an unsafe manner to leave.

The Rock Wall is also very popular. Kids 48 inches and up can harness up and top-rope one of three 25 foot rock walls. The Human Yo-Yo lets kids harness up and bounce up and down, gaining height with each bounce.

If you are looking for activities closer to the ground, there are plenty of options. The Olympic Runner challenge can be found on the far wall. Children and their parents can race against the time of an Olympic sprinter. There is a jump station (how high can you jump), a balance station (a skateboard), an impact station (a two-fisted punch), and a dead hang station (how long can you hang on).

There are numerous sports-related challenges too. There is a hockey goal station, a batting cage, and an often-overlooked but very challenging wheelchair race. The less adventurous can try out the giant Operation game near the ramp and the giant Air Hockey game next to it.

There a few health-related stations along the ramp wall. These include a CPR station, a heart rate monitor, a foot comparison station (this one is a bit odd, you place your feet on a sensor and it shows you how different your feet really are), and a station to test your exhalations. Each of these stations has a comprehensive explanation of the scientific theories and medical background as well as an explanation of how to use the station properly. Many people ignore the information to their detriment.

Most families head directly to SportsWorks so it is usually very crowded in the morning and early afternoon. When field trips are in full swing, SportsWorks can be jam-packed with long waits for everything. Waiting times for the ropes course can stretch upwards of 45 minutes on busy days. FamilyFunPittsburgh suggests taking in the rest of the Science Center first and then heading over to SportsWorks to finish off the day.

There are Men’s and Women’s rooms at Sportsworks with baby changing stations available in both. The restrooms are wheelchair accessible. There are also vending machines in the bathroom area. Bathrooms are wheelchair accessible.

The PPG Science Pavilion

The newest space at the Carnegie Science Center debuts with the amazing show, The Art of the Brick. The Art of the Brick features over 100 works of art composed entirely of LEGO bricks by artist Nathan Sawaya. Mr. Sawaya created a unique work of art just for Pittsburgh. His piece, “Perspective on Three Sisters Bridges”, was inspired by the Andy Warhol, Roberto Clemente, and Rachel Carson Bridges that cross the Allegheny River to the North Shore. Each work captures the essence of beauty and action, but most children will marvel at how their basic toy has been made into amazing works of art.

The Art of the Brick is the first exhibit in the new PPG Science Pavilion. The Pavilion was designed with an exhibition space that could accommodate large, national touring science shows. The Art of the Brick opened at the Science Center on June 16th and runs through January 7, 2019. The Art of the Brick and the related Science of the Brick are add-ons to the regular Science Center Admission and must be bought separately or as part of a package. (If you buy a ticket to the Science Center, it will not include admission to the Art of the Brick and vice versa.) Art of the Brick tickets have admission times to spread out the number of guests in the area. You can enter the exhibit at your listed time and stay as long as you would like.

The Science of the Brick, found in the Scaife Gallery on the second floor of the PPG Pavilion has seventeen stations dedicated to LEGO. Activities include a build-a-lego car drag race, a LEGO maze, and freeplay areas.

The Basics

The Science Center is open daily from 1000AM – 500PM with some special summer hours. The Science Center is usually closed during Steelers home games and at some special events at Heinz Field. (The Science Center is across the street from Heinz Field.)

General Admission tickets to the Science Center are $19.95 for adults 13+, $11.95 for children 3-12, and $14.95 for seniors 65+, children under two are free. This grants you admission to all four levels of the Science Center, Highmark SportsWorks, Buhl Planetarium, and the USS Requin. The Art of the Brick Admission is $19.95 for adults 13+, $15.95 for children 3-12, and $17.95 for seniors 65+. Admission for Art of the Brick does not include admission to the Science Center. Admission to the Rangos Giant Cinema for any one educational movie (Hollywood movies are priced separately) is $9.95 for guests 3 and up. These tickets are available for sale online and at the Science Center.

The Science Center offers combination discounts at the ticket counter (not available online). General admission to the Science Center and admission to the Art of the Brick is $32.90 for adults 13+, $22.90 for children 3-12, and $26.90 for seniors 65+. General admission to the Science Center and a Rangos Educational Movie is $27.90 for adults 13+. $19.90 for children 3-12, and $22.90 for seniors 65+. Admission to the Art of the Brick and a Rangos Educational Movie (but no admission to the Science Center) is $27.90 for adults 13+, $23.90 for children 3-12, and $25.90 for seniors 65+. Finally the multi-pack which includes general admission to the Science Center, the Art of the Brick, and a Rangos Educational Movie is $40.85 for adults 13+, $30.85 for children 3-12, and $34.85 for seniors 65+. Children two and under are free.

You can also buy tickets to Laser shows at the Science Center. The cost is $8.00 for guests 3 and up and $7.00 for admission to the USS Requin for all guests 3 and up.

Check out prices here: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/visit/pricing/

There are several discounts to the Science Center. Discounts are available here: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/visit/special-offers-and-discounts/

Parking is available in the Science Center lot for $5.00. Parking exit tickets can be purchased inside the Science Center at pay kiosks. They can be purchased at any time during your visit and used when you leave. The Allegheny Center T station is right next to the Science Center and the Port Authority 14 and 18 buses stop nearby.

The Science Center is wheelchair accessible (except for the USS Requin). Arrangements can be made in advance for those with special needs. A limited number of motorized wheelchairs are available. The Science Center also has sunglasses and noise cancelling headphones for those on the autism spectrum and those with sensory disorders. Check here for more information: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/visit/accessibility/

The Carnegie Science Center is at One Allegheny Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15212 / 412-237-3400 / http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/