“Ewww!” the children groaned as the man behind the long countertop reached into the plastic container and pulled out a large brown and black bug at least 2 inches long.
The bug, known as the Madagascar hissing cockroach, was one of several creatures the children had seen during the presentation at the newly renovated Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. But the giant insect was not met with the same oohs and ahhs of the wood turtle that preceded him. Despite the grossed out response, a few of them ventured to stroke the cockroach’s back gently with the tip of their index finger.
“Does anyone know where they’re found?” the man asked.
“‘Fear Factor!'” a little girl in the audience shouted back.
After a 22-month closure, the newly renovated Liberty Science Center opened its doors again to the public on July 19. The $109 million expansion and renovation has resulted in a whole new face and feel to the museum.
Kids can walk along an I-beam 18 feet above the ground or get blasted with hurricane-strength wind and rain in a special test chamber to learn about the challenges of skyscraper construction.
They can feel the force of a sneeze with a giant blue nose that blasts a puff of air at anyone who stands in front of it at the new “Infection Connection” exhibition.
And in the “Eat or Be Eaten” display, children can watch the alligator snapping turtle blend in with the rocks and stick out his worm-like tongue to catch his prey.
The center added 100,000 square feet of space, enlarged its gift shop and even relocated its entrance. Small signs on the walls direct guests to dial a local number on their cell phones if they would like to hear more about a particular topic.
Gone are the popular Touch Tunnel and virtual sports exhibits that once generated long lines. And unlike the old days, when the center organized its floors by topics such as health and environment, the new version tries to integrate the sciences in a way that lets guests learn how their own behavior impacts the world. Compartmentalizing things like chemistry, physics and biology, museum employees say, is an outdated approach to science learning.
“We’re organized by exhibit,” said Mary Meluso, a spokeswoman for the Liberty Science Center. “We’re trying to step away from putting biology here and chemistry here. We want to present it the way people really see these things in their real lives.”
The new almost 300,000-square-foot facility is expected to draw about 230,000 out-of- state visitors a year and a total of 1.2 million visitors in its first year.
Located along the Jersey City waterfront, the building offers a breathtaking view of New York’s skyline. The view complements the center’s largest new permanent exhibition, titled “Skyscaper! Achievement and Impact,” which is dedicated to the science of skyscraper construction and how skyscrapers impact society.
Photo mosaics of famous skyscrapers from around the world are drawn to scale so children and adults can compare, say, a building from Japan up against one right across the river.
Kids can stand inside a wind tunnel test and learn how engineers use the device to test a building’s durability. They get the chance to try operating a miniature excavator or a crane.
The exhibition would not be complete without a section dedicated to the World Trade Center. A piece of metal from the towers stands tall, surrounded by panels with information about their history.
“I loved the science center before, but I knew it was a little outdated,” said Adrian Levine of East Brunswick as she watched her son pull the levers on the crane. “I’d been there so many times — it was the same old stuff. This is so fresh.”
Another section of the center will regularly feature a traveling exhibition that will change about every six months. On display right now is “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” which presents achievements and discoveries made by Islamic scientists. In January it will be replaced by another exhibition titled “Race: Are We That Different?”
“I like that there’s more cultural involvement,” said Marcy Seymour, who visited the museum on a recent Thursday with her grandson and his friend. “I think it’s important to make people understand more about what goes on outside of our little box and our little hometown.”
And while many of the old exhibits are gone, nostalgic Liberty Science Center visitors can still get a dose of the past in “Wonder Why” — a collection of 40 favorites that includes a rock climbing wall and a giant bubble maker.
But regardless of whether guests can remember the days of feeling their way through a pitch-dark tunnel, both newcomers and loyal patrons alike are in store for one thing in common: A whole new set of adventures.
IF YOU GO:
The Liberty Science Center is located at 222 Jersey City Blvd., Jersey City
Films at the IMAX Theater this summer include “Hurricane on the Bayou,” “Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs,” and “Roving Mars.” The Joseph D. Williams Theatre is also featuring a new film titled 3DSun. For more information or directions call (201) 200-1000 or visit www.lsc.org.
Summer Hours: Through Sept. 2 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Labor Day: Sept. 3 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
From September through February
Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Mondays)
Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Exhibition Only Admission
Juniors (2-12) and Seniors (62 and older) $11.50
Infants (2 and younger) free
Combination Ticket (includes admission to both theaters)
Juniors (2-12) and Seniors (62 and older) $18.50
The IMAX dome is not suitable for children younger than 6 and infants are not permitted in the dome.