Known as New Jersey's first major state science museum and having the largest IMAX Dome Theater in the United States, the Liberty Science Center is quietly tucked away in Liberty State Park, albeit a stones throw from downtown Manhattan and accessible within New Jersey via Light Rail.
It has been serving the community for over two decades providing interactive, educational fun for generations of families and children. This four floor, nearly 300,000 square foot facility appeals and caters to children and adults of all ages, be they a science aficionado, a budding botanist, a tech enthusiast, an animal-lover, or just a person looking to spend the day in one of the most entertaining, enthralling, thought-provoking museums in the NYC area.
Permanent Exhibits the Liberty Science Center
Nikola Tesla Lightning Show
My family and I headed out to the Liberty Science Center on a rainy Saturday, which in retrospect wasn't the brightest idea as it was a little more crowded than we would have liked, however, the ticket line moved swiftly and we were in and ready to explore within 20 minutes of arriving.
The Nikola Tesla Lightning Show is located on the ground floor just next to the IMAX theater and food court, and under the dangling sea creature-esque Infinity Climber. Inspired by the Serbian-American inventor and "father of electricity" Nikola Tesla, and illusionist David Blane's own modern theatrical interpretation of his work, this 30-minute live show is full of robotic drums, singing twin Tesla coils that produce bursts of musical lightning and perform classic and modern techno tunes using one-million-volts of electricity. Be advised that the show contains very loud noises (headphones are provided and required during the show) and strobe lights, and isn't suitable for children 2 and younger or guests with pacemakers. Additionally, while the Tesla show is free with general admission or membership, you must pick up "tickets" for the show at the box office as seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served ticketed basis.
Next we checked out the Energy Quest exhibit, where we got to explore and harness energy from various sources, including using our very own legs by peddling on stationary bikes to try and generate enough energy to power a fan, a radio, a blender, and cool plasma globe. One of the most impressive booths was the very largely-scaled Tidal Power station, where we got to open and close valves to release streams of water collected in a reservoir through a turbine to generate renewable energy. My son was so tickled when he learned that we can harness energy through water, air, and pressure. By the time he completed the station he was already asking that we install a wind/water mill in our backyard "to hydro-power our world!" Another cool feature were the Power-Hungry Machines, where plugging in everyday items like a phone charger, a 40-inch LED TV, and cable box, would reveal just how much energy and money we could save if we were only more judicious when using power-hungry gadgets at home. The results were displayed on this tall and colorful LED screen, visually relaying this information in a way that children can grasp and understand.
Next we visited the Infection Connection exhibit, which gives visitors an inside look at how our bodies battle infectious diseases, how they can spread and be prevented by making simple, everyday conscious choices, such as washing your hands before eating or handling food. A life-size subway car awaits you to "transport" you to the highly interactive lab area where the kiddos can throw on a lab coat and conduct free microbiology and epidemiology experiments in a very impressive hands-on facility. There are plenty of instructors there to help guide your little microbiologist as you look on and take snap shots through the open air partition. Further into the exhibit, if you can make it through the giant plastic "blood vessels" and manage to dodge some cooties from the unpredictable and sneezy giant blue nose, you'll have a chance to assemble your very own virtual microbe.
At the Eat and Be Eaten exhibit we got to visit snakes, rats, bugs, and turtles and learn about how each species has evolved through disguises, behaviors, chemicals, and even weapons that better their chances to find food and avoid becoming a larger creature's bountiful meal. We got to visit some adorable Cotton Top Tamarin monkeys and watch them eat their lunch of fruits and seeds, as well as touch a 13+ foot long python's skin and other animal skin. It was quite an unusual, but awesome, feast for the senses. One of the most popular exhibits was The Touch Tunnel, yet another challenge for the senses, as visitors have to crawl through a pitch-black, 80-foot tunnel using only their senses and instincts to navigate their way through each twist and turn as cameras look on and capture your every move. Guests who are claustrophobic or have existing back injuries or pain, or pregnant women are not advised to try this attraction. However spectators waiting outside of the tunnel can see those crawling around inside on a big projection screen, which made for lots of smiles and giggles in seeing all the confused and bewildered faces.
Another interesting exhibition is Communication, where the Language Karaoke station allows guests to choose a language and then try to speak it using a video prompt and green-screen technology. Be it in Mandarin, Italian, or Arabic, your voice and efforts are played back to you in fun and unexpected ways. My son enjoyed the light-up brain sculpture that guests can control via touch screen to highlight the regions of the brain where communication signals are sent, received, and interpreted. The How You Hear station was a particular favorite, as it explains how your ears and brain turn air vibrations into electrical signals and sounds by speaking into a beige cone resembling a cochlear ear piece and having your voice transmitted onto a screen.
Other Activities at the Liberty Science Center
The Infinity Climber
Between the exhibits there were plenty of other activities to engage in, such a making our own giant soap bubbles, getting physical in the Action Zone, which includes a rock climbing wall that moves vertically as your little one moves up and down using hand and foot holds, kicking soccer balls using onto a virtual reality screen. Kids can also crawl through the Infinity Climber, a multi-story play space that looked more like a sea creature, suspended 35 feet above the floor and securely contained by mesh made out of 19 miles of wire. It was definitely a sight to see! So whether you were inside of an exhibit or making your way between floors and corridors in the center, there was always something to stop, look at, touch, and possibly climb through along the way!
For those of you visiting with toddlers or younger children, cruise by the I Explore room where your tiny tot can play in a special area designed for kids ages 5 and younger. There they can draw funny faces and practice their letters with paint brushes at the water wall, check out the mice and snakes in the animal tanks, and assemble their own cars and race them down the Test Track. They also have daily science-themed story time at 9:30am, 10:45am, 1:15pm, 2:25pm 7 days a week, and also at 4:10pm on weekends.
Here are a few things to note before heading out:
- The Liberty Science Center is located at 222 Jersey City Boulevard in Liberty State Park, New Jersey. It is accessible by all modes of transportation, including via the Liberty Landing Ferry from Manhattan. It is open daily from 9:00am-5:30pm through Labor Day, and beginning September 19th their Fall hours will be Tuesday-Friday, 9:00am-4:00 pm. They will be closed on Mondays. Please note: LCS will also be closed Sept. 6 - 9 and Sept. 12- 16 for exhibit maintenance.
- Free parking is available only on the weekends within a short walking distance of the LSC just outside of the Light Rail Station, and definitely worth it if you're on a budget and do not wish to pay the $7 parking fee at the center itself.
- General Science Center Admission is $21.75 for Adults (ages 13+) and $17.75 for Children (ages 2-12) however they do have bundle tickets which include IMAX, 3D film and/or Premium Exhibition starting at $22.75. Each additional Premium Exhibit is extra, like The Bodies Exhibit which is at LSC until January 16, 2017, which ranges from $5-$10 a ticket. I highly recommend becoming a LSC member as the family membership is $155 for two adults and up to four children under 18, and pays for itself after just two visits. The LSC is a large space, so you may not be able to see all it has to offer in just one day. We were there for 5 hours and could have definitely continued exploring had we split our visit into two trips…Next time, Gadget, next time!
- Located on the 2nd floor, Café Skylines is open weekdays 9:30am–2:30pm and weekends 10:00am–4:00pm, serving guests yummy and nutritious snacks and meals which include brick oven pizzas, handcrafted sandwiches made to order, soups, burgers, as well as a gourmet salad bar which was very reasonably priced. Not in the mood to eat out? Feel free to bring your lunch from home and enjoy it in Governors Hall.
- Bring hand sanitizer! Being that 98% of the exhibits are hands-on, it is better to err on the side of caution and keep yourself and the kiddos as germ-free as can be. I personally didn't see any hand sanitizer dispensers at the LSC, and so I can't stress this enough!
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Main photo courtesy of Liberty Science Center