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Monday, April 15, 2024

Museum of Science and Curiosity partners with UC Davis to introduce kids to science, showcase innovation

The SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity, the new name and location for the former Powerhouse Science Center, hosted its public grand opening on Nov. 13

By SONORA SLATER — science@theaggie.org


Emerging from the chaos of the I-5 freeway, you turn a bend to see the top of a domed building rise into your line of sight. Pulling into the parking lot, you watch a family get back into the car to leave, all excitedly chattering about their new shared experience. As you enter, a front-desk worker encourages you to ask them any questions you might have, and a sign on the wall asks, “What are you curious about?”

You have just walked into the SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity, or MOSAC, the newest name and location of the former Powerhouse Science Center that opened to the public on Nov. 13. The museum focuses on serving young students in the Sacramento region. According to a recent press release, the museum showcases exhibits and attractions surrounding nature, water, power and engineering, in addition to the UC Davis Health-sponsored Health Headlines and Innovation gallery and the digital dome UC Davis Multiverse Theater. 

Shahnaz Van Deventer, the director of marketing and development for MOSAC, described how the move came about. 

“The director saw that we needed a bigger statement on the importance of science and the role it will play in future generations,” Van Deventer said. “A group got together and said, here’s this abandoned building [on the Sacramento River], and it just looked like a great destination point.”

According to Van Deventer, MOSAC has had a long-standing relationship with UC Davis, leaning on the university for some of their content development and education materials. In recent years, they have entered into more of a financial partnership.  

“I think it made sense to them as it made sense to us,” Van Deventer said. “It really is a dream to a science center to have this kind of relationship with a tertiary research university, and UC Davis is such a leader in not just science, but science education.”

She then elaborated on, apart from financial support, what this partnership might entail. 

“There’s a couple of groups at Davis that are student-run, and we would love for them to have some of their meetings [at the museum],” Van Deventer said. “We would also love to bring in subject-matter experts, pull in our audience but link them to Davis. We’re also launching a program for Ph.D. students teaching them to communicate their research to the general public, which can be really important when they’re applying for grants.”

Ph.D. Director Emerita of the UC Davis Biotechnology Program Judy Kjelstrom, who is a member of the MOSAC board of directors, listed more ways that the partnership could be mutually beneficial.

“Having experts in numerous scientific disciplines as resources will keep our informal science programming at MOSAC fresh and relevant to the changing world of science and technology,” Kjelstrom said via email. “MOSAC will [also] be an excellent venue for volunteer opportunities for students […] We plan to work with the Internship and Career Center, [and] part time jobs will be available for those who really want a deeper experience, especially for our summer camps.”

According to Van Deventer, another opportunity for UC Davis students interacting with MOSAC’s audience is the chance to talk directly to kids — and the chance for kids, in turn, to ask questions directly to scientists. 

“Then [kids] can ask what it actually means to be a scientist,” Van Deventer said. “What does it mean to be a brain surgeon? To be a chemist? Is it boring? Or is it really interesting? How much math do you have to do?”

Kjelstrom explained via email MOSAC’s goal of making science accessible to everyone, saying that they are focused on reaching Title 1 schools in order to allow underserved communities to develop the skills they need to attend college. 

Van Deventer described a similar target of teaching the next generation of scientists.

“We want it to be a place where we encourage curiosity and open-ended questions, where we break things down into manageable pieces,” Van Deventer said. “No matter your educational background, you can participate and engage. Five days a week, we will be hosting school field trips, and we want them to identify themselves as future scientists — future astronauts, future physicists.”

Van Deventer noted that while the museum’s focus is primarily on kids, they also plan to offer programs for different age demographics — including seniors. According to Van Deventer, MOSAC recognizes that senior citizens are an important part of their demographic, especially as they make up part of the population that will vote on environmental and energy policy.

Kjelstrom explained via email that whether it be for children, college students, adults or seniors, and whether organized by MOSAC or UC Davis, their goal is the same. 

“Our mutual goal is to explore the wonders, possibilities and responsibilities of science, whether through interactions with exhibits, public programs or a school group activity,” Kjelstrom said via email. “Science is for Everyone and Science is FUN!” 

Brad Simmons, the chief administrator of UC Davis Medical Center and chief operating officer of UC Davis Health Hospital Division, talked about what the partnership has meant to their organization. 

“We are honored to partner with MOSAC to bring its Health Headlines and Innovations exhibit to the Sacramento region,” Simmons said via email. “Groundbreaking research and fostering innovative education are fundamental to UC Davis Health’s mission. As the region’s academic health center, we are proud to engage with the community and share advancements in tools, treatments, and therapies that will improve lives and transform health care.”

Van Deventer offered some final thoughts on the mission of MOSAC and how she believes it will support elementary school kids dreaming of science careers to fulfill their dreams in university.

“No matter what you want to be when you grow up, you’ve gotta have a support system,” Van Deventer said. “We want to encourage these families to support their kids going into STEM fields. Look at what your kids are interested in and help them along the way. [This is] an incredible partnership on both sides to be able to inspire kids who are dreaming.” 

The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tickets are required for entry and start at $12 for youth (2- to 17-year-olds), $13 for college students and $15 for adults. Educators are eligible for $13 tickets.


Written by: Sonora Slater — science@theaggie.org


Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was published in print to show the museum hours and ticket pricing. 


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