A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Jan 29, 2016 / 0 comments

The Carnegie Science Center, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of the most wonderful places for anyone, especially children, to learn about science through all five senses and interactive experiences. I remember as a young child taking field trips there in primary school. I visited about five years ago when my brothers were still little and a family friend treated all of us there because her daughter worked there. We decided, during our winter break, to spend an exceptionally warm December day at the Carnegie Science Center [with my two brothers and my husband!]. 

A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Photo: Carnegie Science Center, adapted by Wandering Educators

I have such exciting memories of this place. I distinctly remember an earthquake simulation that gave anyone who sat inside it, an opportunity to feel what an earthquake feels like; I also remember a large, square table that had water squirting out of little holes throughout the table with different colored balls flying all over the place in the water section. My personal favorite is The Rangos Omnimax Theater, a four-story, state-of-the-art IMAX dome theater, one of only 50 of its kind in North America. I always enjoyed feeling like I was in the helicopter flying right there in the middle of the action with whatever we may be watching. At our most recent visit, we had tickets for an afternoon viewing of the Rocky Mountain Express that told the interesting story of the Canadian Pacific railway and how one of the greatest engineering feats in history-the construction of Canada’s first transcontinental railway made its way through the Rocky Mountains. Our 45-minute film took us through deep river canyons, high mountain passes and exploring stunning landscapes through the Canadian Rockies. We learned how dangerous making these railways was with the threat of avalanches, extreme weather conditions, and making tunnels. We had a chance to board a roaring steam locomotive with spectacular aerial cinematography. It was captivating and anyone watching this easily felt like they were in the middle of the adventure watching this on the biggest screen in Pittsburgh. 

A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

After the show, we ventured outside to see the USS Requin Submarine, the Navy’s first Radar Picket submarine, used in the Cold War. Commissioned on April 28, 1945 as a Standard Fleet Submarine making its first journey to Hawaii to join the Pacific Fleet at Balboa; however, in January of 1946, the USS Requin was assigned to Submarine Squadron 4 for anti-submarine training, undergoing three conversions. After a series of deployments all over the world and completing its 5,000th dive in 1963, the USS Requin Submarine serves a very different purpose today, educating thousands of visitors about life and science aboard the submarine. Preserved within her 312-foot-long hull is the technology of a bygone era, quite different from our current-day nuclear-powered behemoths that now patrol our seas. My husband and brothers love history and are always in awe of things like this, so it was a great way to learn about this submarine and its interesting history. 

USS Requin submarine. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

We ventured back indoors where we passed on the ground floor, the River View Café, where visitors can select a variety of foods and beverages including sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and other hot items. With four floors to interact with science, we decided to start at the very top, the fourth floor. This floor has an exploration station that’s in partnership with the National Energy Technology Laboratory [NETL]. This floor features an interactive kiosk game show where individuals or teams can challenge each other for the tile of Energy Champion; a Laz-R Graph where you can make your very own laser design; Power House—where flipping switches on a miniature house can show you how energy is used; a Circuit Station that connects wires to power circuits; a Power Station—where turning cranks can generate electricity; Solar Racers—a push of a few buttons powers cars; Rebound—where you can ricochet balls on a tabletop; and an Energy Quiz that tests your knowledge of energy consumption.  Additionally, this floor also features experiences with forces of nature! Watch a tornado in a tube as winds swirl; experience an earthquake; control Aeolian Winds by turning knobs and watch how the winds alter land formation. Test building structures with blocks and even watch the oscilloscope as you play on a keyboard! 

Waves! A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

The fourth floor also has an immersive, hands-on exhibit featuring molded foam blocks of all shapes and sizes - and it's all blue [which also carries it's name, BLUE]. This exhibit allows children to be an engineer working with the blocks and improves gross-motor and fine-motor manipulation skills and fosters multi-generational group-play experiences. It allows children to build up resilience and trying again and again through building and design. This exhibit is all hands-on exploration and helps visitors to understand gravity, mass, and distribution of load as well as encourages visitors to note how a building’s stability changes as it increases in height.  According to the website, “When children express their natural curiosity through play, they strengthen their scientific thinking and problem-solving skills. By encouraging this desire to learn, you are preparing your child to be a leader in tomorrow’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields and industries.” 

Speaking of STEM, the Carnegie Science Center launched its Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development to meet the needs of citizens around the world to educate them about STEM skills, workforce needs and solving complex problems. Eight founding partners have committed their support of STEM education and they include: Bayer, Chevron, Duquesne Light, Eaton, Kennametal Foundation, NOVA Chemicals, and PPG Industries Foundation. Here’s a video:


Additionally, STEMisphere is an online central hub for STEM education resources for young people pre-K through 12th grade in the southwestern Pennsylvania region. Carnegie Science Center launched STEMisphere as a community service to serve as a portal for students, parents, education and others interested in STEM education. The Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway initiative was also designed to help the widest possible range of school districts and schools adopt best practices in STEM education. The dedication to STEM doesn’t stop there either! Students in fifth through 12th grade can also participate in special field trips with SciTech Days. These trips feature the growth areas of Pittsburgh: biotech & health, nanotechnology & advanced materials/processes, information technology & robotics, and ecotech [environment + energy]. The connections made between students with scientists and technologists are wonderful opportunities to learn through a hands-on event. Visit the website to learn more about programs available, the Passport System, Career Discovery Trek, exhibitor information, year-round resources, and other themed field trips like Chem and StormFest and Engineer the Future. The amount of dedication and effort put into all the resources, competitions, field trips, and STEM as a whole, is breathtaking. The Carnegie Science Center is truly committed to the future of educating others and these extraordinary initiatives are wonderful experiences for our children and teens. 

Back on the fourth floor, demonstrations on a variety of topics on energy, fire, water, electricity and illumination are hosted at Works Theater.  It’s another place to that people of all ages can use their five senses to experience science. Special showtimes are provided throughout the day. On the third floor, another live demonstration called BodyStage, allows the learner to journey through the human body through a science lab atmosphere. Live demonstrations on nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, fitness, anatomy, and medical technology encourages learners of all ages to view MRI images, taste edible science experiments, and other hands-on activities. The third floor especially intrigued my brother George, who’s hoping to become a doctor someday. This floor allows the learner to try surgical techniques and imaging. See how sound waves carry energy and how lasers treat eye surgeries; try a hand at working with tools that are on a long handle see the challenges of endoscopic surgery and how different gamma rays, visible light rays, x-rays, and others are used to shrink brain tumors. 

A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

eye surgery simulation. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Eye surgery simulation

Gamma knife. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Moving on to the second floor exhibits that featured the Buhl Planetarium, SpacePlace, a Minature Railroad & Village, and roboworld. This floor was our group favorite. Roboworld, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition, was very entertaining! My other brother John, who happens to love basketball, immediately gravitated toward the robot that was shooting hoops in part of a basketball court. Next to it was a chance for learners to try their chance at shooting hoops. All of us took turns and repeatedly competed with one another to see who could get more points. Looking around, we saw a chance to play a game of air hockey against a robot. Immediately, my brothers got in line. It was hard to beat the robot who seemed amazingly skilled at air hockey but it was enjoyable to watch all these people try their hand at it. Along the wall was the Robot Hall of Fame that featured replicas of some of Hollywood’s most famous robots such as Gort, HAL 9000, and C-3P0.

roboworld! A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Want to play basketball with a robot? A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

playing basketball against a robot at roboworld. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Shooting hoops against a robot

The Star Wars robots at roboworld. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Hello, old friends

Ever want to know what it’s like to be an astronaut? The Carnegie Science Center has a 21-foot ‘zero’ gravity climbing wall that’ll allow the learners [astronauts in training!] to ascend the module to complete a task without gravity to provide leverage. The Micro-G Simulator also has tasks that apply to real-life astronauts as well as a two-story, walk-in replica of the International Space Station! Students conduct simulated hands-on experiments and learn about life in space. The Living and Working in Space Wall allows students to discover artifacts and space images, mission patches and even a flight suit while learning about space exploration and potential careers. The ‘Ask the Astronaut’ interactive allows learners to choose questions and get answers from NASA astronauts, too! The Rocket Launch and Parachute Drop allows learners to design a rocket and let it launch and also drop payload parachutes safely to the ground. At the Buhl Planetarium, visitors can see the Zeiss Model II Star Projector, used from 1939-1991. My husband is really fascinated with space travel and this section was fun for him. 

astronaut simulation. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

zero gravity climbing wall! A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Do you like this zero gravity climbing wall? 

We had tickets to the planetarium for a 5pm show but since we had some time before the show, we wanted to check out the Miniature Railroad & Village. This beloved exhibit’s story began in 1920 where it was housed on the second floor of Charles Bowdish’s house in Brookville, PA. It later moved to the Buhl Planetarium in 1954 and ultimately found its final home at the Carnegie Science Center in 1992. This lovely display features hundreds of realistic animated scenes that illustrate an era spanning the 1880s through the late 1930s. Favorites include Fallingwater, Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Manchester Farms, and a historic Pittsburgh Incline, to name a few. We were all captivated by the beautiful scenery of western PA that even showed the gorgeous seasons, like lovely fall leaves on the trees, while multiple trains were zig-zagging through the villages. There were hot-air balloons that rose up and down, water to show the rivers, and as we walked around looking at all the intricate details, we noticed the lighting changed to show nighttime. It was really awesome to see this display. I felt as a local, a sense of pride of the beauty of where I’m natively from and for those that are not from here [that would include my husband], it’s a lovely showcase of what’s here in the Pittsburgh area. It was hard to peel our eyes away from this masterpiece but then it was time to see a show at the Buhl Planetarium.  

Fallingwater at the Miniature Railroad and Village. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center


Forbes Field at the Miniature Village & Railway. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Forbes Field

Miniature Railroad and Village. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

The high-definition, full-dome experience will take you to the far reaches of the galaxy! Henry Buhl Jr. was a Pittsburgh philanthropist and established The Buhl Foundation, which supports education, human services, youth programs, and economic development as well as established Buhl Planetarium in 1939 at the Carnegie Science Center. Planetarium and laser shows feature 3D atmospheric effects, dazzling lights and music, and space discovery. Stargazers can take a look up close view of celestial objects like nebulas and planets with SkyWatch, an observatory that has a 16-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The Planetarium show we watched was called Cosmic Collisions, which featured how catastrophic and constructive events have shaped our world and our universe. From ending the age of the dinosaurs to the oceans’ rolling waves and changing seasons, this show was definitely fun to watch. 

After our ‘out of this world’ show, we decided to see the first floor which showcased H2Oh!: Why Our Rivers Matter, the SpacePlace Atrium, Science Stage, and Highmark SportsWorks. With Pittsburgh being surrounded by rivers, this exhibit will explore the impact a community has on a river, what lives and nests on the waters and along the shores, as well as where our rivers came from and where they are going. Guests will have the opportunity to learn about water science and why our rivers matter as they explore The Environment and Conservation, Fluid Dynamics, and Field Station exhibits. The Real-Time Data Monitor even showed us the temperatures, Ph, and water level from local rivers. In the Field Station, I became a television meteorologist reporting on thunderstorms for a few minutes. It was really neat! When I visited as a child, the earthquake simulation was in the spot where the WTAE Weather spotlight is now. 

H2O Exhibit. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

Did you know that a passion for sports can be used as a gateway to talk about topics on physics, anatomy, biology and even chemistry? The Carnegie Science Center’s Highmark SportsWorks a wonderful place to inspire learning and curiosity by uniting the experience of sports for every age level with the laws of science that control sports. Nearly 30 interactive experiences in three thematic areas [LifeWorks, Physics of Sports, and Sports Challenge] convey fundamentals of a healthy, active lifestyle. 

One thing I really like about the Carnegie Science Center is that the constant encouragement to youth and teens about the opportunities and careers available in science. Interested in water science? Explore a career as a water scientist! Interested in weather? Become a Meteorologist! Whether it is an engineer, a mathematician, or an astronaut, the Carnegie Science Center encourages not only experiential learning through play and the five senses but also through career exploration with a variety of careers in the STEM fields. Even I, who was never wild about science, can get excited and engaged through all the Science Center has to offer. I left there feeling like anyone would be lucky to work there and it made me think of my students at the University of Pittsburgh who seek internships and work. In fact, the Carnegie Science Center seeks highly motivated college students with a passion for learning to complete a minimum 120 hour internship. All internships are unpaid but worth the amazing experiences gained there! Internships are available in several different departments within the Science Center and are also available by semester on the website. A letter of intent, resume, and letter of reference from either an academic advisor or professor should be sent to: 

Internship Programs
Carnegie Science Center
One Allegheny Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15212

Not looking for an internship but would like to volunteer? No problem! There are adult and teen volunteer programs at the Science Center too in a variety of departments as well. Additionally, if you love science and technology and want to share that with the world, you can also join the Special Event Volunteer Team. Individuals 21 years of age and older will be notified when an event requires volunteer support. Examples of events include: MessFest (January), Pittsburgh Regional Science Fair (March), SpaceOut Weekend (October), Breakfast Express (Every Saturday in December before Christmas), SciTech Days (March and November), Science Sleepovers (March-May) and even 21+ Nights (One Friday evening a month). After volunteering for five events, each member of the Special Events Volunteer Team will earn four complimentary passes for admission to the Carnegie Science Center as a thank you for your contribution. Volunteers who volunteer with 10 or more events during a 12-month period, volunteers will also receive full volunteer benefits for a year! 
Additionally, working full or part-time at the Carnegie Science Center offers a rewarding experience plus great benefits, too! 

Additionally, the Carnegie Science Center offers a variety of unique, educational programs through camps, classes, and workshops for all age groups. Whether it be a badge program for the Scouts, summer and holidays camps, and even Science Sleepovers, there is something for everyone! Want a birthday party at the Science Center? Done! Invite up to 25 people for two hours of fun and guests can explore all four floors of hands-on exhibits, get some exercise in Highmark SportsWorks, and enjoy a science demonstration. Want to have a special event at the Carnegie Science Center? Sure! Corporate receptions, meetings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, birthdays, fundraisers, holiday parties, wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, social events, and company picnics all can be accommodated at the Carnegie Science Center. The sky’s the limit! 

Special programs. A Guide to Exploring the Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center has something for everyone - and it’s a great place to be a true explorer! 

Museum hours are: Sunday-Friday 10am-5pm and Saturday 10am-7pm. The Carnegie Science Center is typically closed when there are Steelers home games and other major events at Heinz Field. 

Tickets & Pricing: General admission includes Highmark SportsWorks, four floors of hands-on exhibits, live demonstration shows, planetarium shows, and the USS Re    quin. Omnimax movies and laser shows are not included but are available at special add-on rates when purchased with general admission. Groups of 15 or more people over the age of three are also available. 

Become a Member: Buying a membership for you and your whole family has some wonderful benefits that include: Unlimited general admission for one year at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Natural History, The Andy Warhol Museum, and the Carnegie Science Center; Free admission privileges to more than 300 science and technology centers worldwide; Special “members-only” invitations to exhibition previews and other events and programming plus complimentary CARNEGIE magazine subscription; Discounts on classes, camps, standard Omnimax films, lectures, laser shows, special events and 10% on purchases in all museum stores [20% off during Member Shopping Days]; and access to email newsletters and special online store promotions. 

For more information call 412-237-3400 or visit


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Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.


All photos courtesy and copyright Stasia Lopez, except where noted