Dive into Discovery: Exploring the Museum of Science and Industry’s Hands-On Exhibits


The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago isn’t just a place; it’s an expansive journey through the landscapes of science, technology, and innovation. Recognized as one of the largest science museums in the Western Hemisphere, it offers visitors a chance to deep-dive into the hands-on world of science. This article is your go-to guide, exploring why the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) remains an unparalleled destination for interactive learning. Here, we uncover the vibrant history, iconic exhibits, and the immersive, hands-on experiences that make MSI a cornerstone of science education and curiosity.


The Museum of Science and Industry, nestled in Chicago’s scenic Hyde Park area location within the United States, stands as a beacon of scientific discovery. Originally constructed as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, this grand institution was later transformed into MSI, with a mission to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. Today, the museum spans over 14 acres and delivers a rich variety of exhibits that promise a hands-on, mind-opening experience for all ages.

The importance of integrating hands-on learning experiences in science cannot be overstated. Engaging physically with exhibits allows visitors to make tangible connections with scientific concepts, fostering deeper understanding and retention. This method of experiential learning transforms visitors from passive observers to active participants, making MSI a crucial site for educational exploration in the realm of science.

The Museum’s Rich History

Stepping into the MSI is akin to walking through a portal into history, where each corner holds a story dating back to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Originally designed to be a temporary art gallery for the exposition, the building is a classical structure that has withstood the test of time, making it the only existing building from the 1893 fair. Post-expo, it was repurposed and reimagined into a science museum through the philanthropic efforts led by Julius Rosenwald, then chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co.

This transition marked a significant turn in its mission, transforming from an art exhibit space to a vibrant center aiming to bring scientific knowledge and technological advancement to the public. Now, as the Museum of Science and Industry, it stands as a testament to human curiosity and ingenuity, inspiring millions of minds with its expansive displays covering energy, biology, physics, and much more.

Iconic Exhibits at the MSI

What sets MSI apart are its iconic exhibits that range from a real U-505 German submarine to a captivating mirror maze. Among these, two standout exhibits are the “Science Storms” and the “U-505 Submarine,” both of which not only tell historical tales but also bring complex scientific concepts to life. “Science Storms” allows visitors to explore natural phenomena — like tornadoes, tsunamis, and sunlight — in a setting that encourages interaction and observation. On the other hand, the U-505 exhibit provides an immersive look into World War II history, paired with the science of submariner life and naval engineering.

Each exhibit at MSI goes beyond mere display; they are masterfully crafted to support interactive and immersive learning. By enabling visitors to manipulate variables, conduct experiments, and see real-time results, these exhibits provide firsthand understanding of scientific laws and principles playing out right before their eyes.

The Role of Hands-On Exhibits

Hands-on exhibits are the cornerstone of MSI’s philosophy. They transform theoretical knowledge into tangible experiences, making it easier for visitors to grasp complex concepts. For instance, the “Coal Mine” exhibit takes you on an underground journey, offering insights into the mechanics of mining and its environmental impact, while the “Human-Sized Hamster Wheel” playfully teaches about the conversion of kinetic energy.

These exhibits do more than entertain; they make science accessible and relatable by linking it to real-world experiences. This method proves especially effective for younger visitors, who often benefit from being able to “touch,” “play,” and “do” as they learn. Hands-on engagement facilitates active learning and long-term retention, making each visit to the museum an educational adventure.

Before proceeding to the next section, it’s important to note how MSI’s hands-on approach impacts visitor engagement and learning. By transforming abstract concepts into interactive, enjoyable activities, the museum not only educates but also leaves a lasting impression on its diverse audience.

The “Coal Mine” Exhibit: A Journey Below Earth

One of MSI’s most beloved and educational exhibits is the “Coal Mine.” This exhibit offers a simulated descent into an Illinois coal mine, providing an authentic underground mining experience. Visitors board an actual mining elevator, descend into the mine, and explore the dimly lit tunnels with a guided tour that explains both the history of coal mining and its technological advancements.

The exhibit is not only a journey through a physical space but also through time and technology, showcasing the evolution to modern mining methods. The detailed and immersive nature of the “Coal Mine” helps underscore the tough conditions faced by miners and the importance of safety advancements in the industry. Additionally, this exhibit emphasizes the significance of coal as a natural resource, discussing both its contributions to industrial development and its environmental impacts. By providing this rounded perspective, the exhibit offers insights into the complex relationship between natural resources and technological progress.

Another fascinating hands-on exhibit at MSI is the “Mirror Maze.” This exhibit isn’t just a funhouse attraction; it’s a complex installation that leverage mirrors and design to engage visitors in principles of mathematics and symmetry. As guests navigate through the seemingly endless corridors, they encounter dead ends, surprising corners, and a unique perspective on their surroundings, allowing them to experience firsthand the concepts of reflection and symmetry.

This exhibit not only entertains but educates by demonstrating how mirrors can create perceptions of reality that are both confusing and enlightening. It speaks to broader scientific applications, such as periscope design in submarines or the use of symmetry in architecture and art. The “Mirror Maze” is particularly effective in teaching visitors about angles and perception, offering a tangible way to understand geometric properties and the behavior of light in a controlled environment.

Experiencing the Fury: The “40-Foot Tornado”

Within the dramatic setting of the “Science Storms” area, the “40-Foot Tornado” exhibit stands out as a spectacular demonstration of weather phenomena. Here, visitors can observe a towering vortex of swirling air and mist, controlled yet wild, replicating the powerful forces of nature. This exhibit not only provides a visual spectacle but also engages visitors in understanding the dynamics of tornado formation, including temperature gradients, wind patterns, and atmospheric pressure.

The exhibit features interactive stations where visitors can alter conditions to see how changes affect the tornado’s shape and behavior, effectively teaching about the chaotic nature of weather systems and the difficulty in predicting such events. It’s an excellent example of how MSI uses real-world phenomena in controlled environments to educate its audience about complex environmental science, making abstract concepts accessible and visually engaging.

These sections dive deep into specific experiences at MSI, illustrating how interactive exhibits not only entertain but also educate by bringing complex scientific and environmental concepts to life. Through these hands-on displays, the museum fulfills its mission of inspiring and educating, making science accessible to all.

MSI’s Educational Reach and Community Impact

The Museum of Science and Industry is not merely a destination; it serves as a vibrant educational hub that reaches beyond its walls. By hosting numerous educational programs and workshops, MSI plays a crucial role in fostering a deep-seated interest in science and technology among the youth. These programs are tailored to enhance scientific comprehension and practical understanding by connecting theoretical knowledge to real-world applications.

MSI collaborates extensively with local schools and educational institutions to facilitate field trips and special science-related events. This partnership significantly amplifies its impact, allowing students from diverse backgrounds to access high-quality scientific learning. For instance, MSI’s partnership with the University of Chicago involves a series of community programs that aim to bring science education to underserved communities, thus broadening the scope and reach of its mission.

What to Know Before Your Visit

If you’re planning a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry, here are some essential tips to make the most of your visit:

  • Best Time to Visit: To avoid crowds, consider visiting on weekday afternoons or during the off-peak season (fall and winter).
  • Tickets: Purchasing tickets online in advance is highly recommended to ensure entry and avoid long lines.
  • Exhibit Highlights: Be sure not to miss the “Coal Mine,” “Mirror Maze,” and the “U-505 Submarine” for a fully immersive experience. Each exhibit offers a unique blend of education and entertainment.
  • Duration of Visit: With numerous exhibits spread across its vast floor area, plan to spend at least half a day to explore the museum comprehensively.

TripAdvisor and Authenticity in Reviews

When planning your trip to the Museum of Science and Industry, or any other attractions in Chicago, consulting reviews can be tremendously helpful. Importantly, TripAdvisor performs checks on reviews to ensure their authenticity. This means that you can trust the feedback and experiences shared by other visitors. These vetted reviews provide insight not only into the museum itself but also about surrounding amenities including hotels in Chicago, dining options, and other attractions. They help you build a well-informed itinerary enriched with genuine visitor experiences.

Accommodations and Leisure in Chicago

For those planning a trip to Chicago, there are numerous accommodation options ranging from budget Chicago motels to luxury hotels and resorts in Chicago. If your visit includes staying overnight, consider the hotels in Chicago which often offer packages with discounts on local attractions like MSI. For leisure, the city is rich with activities ranging from jetskiing in Lake Michigan to cultural outings like statues in Chicago tours or a relaxing day windsurfing. Post-museum visit, unwind at one of the piano bars in Chicago or enjoy a hearty laugh at the local comedy clubs.

Planning Your Visit: Tickets and Best Times

To optimize your visit, it’s advisable to purchase tickets in advance, particularly to manage around large crowds of children and teens, especially during peak times like school field trips. MSI offers general admission tickets and prices vary depending on exhibits and features included. Given that the museum is vast, spanning a full day is recommended to thoroughly enjoy and learn from its numerous interactive displays like the Pompeii exhibit and the Coal Mine tour, both lauded as meticulously detailed and educational.

Exploring the Wonders of MSI and Beyond

Once inside, you’ll find that MSI is not just a building but a home science center with a variety of exhibits spread throughout the museum. It’s a place where you walk around quietly and observe but also engage deeply with the exhibits. If you ever visit Chicago, missing out on MSI would be a significant omission, as it stands as one of the great museumsthe largest science museum in the country. Its history as the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition enhances its grandeur. Nearby, the University of Chicago often partners with MSI, reflecting the museum’s strong educational foundations.

Extended Attractions and Activities

For those extending their stay, Chicago offers an assortment of activities. Chicago’s biking and hiking trails offer a way to see the city from a different perspective. For a taste of adventure, consider a Chicago boat rental to explore Lake Michigan or visit the Henry Crown Space Center for another dose of science exploration. Moreover, Chicago’s downtown offers a series of downtown hotels, with some like the Embassy Suites by Hilton providing upscale accommodation options.

By planning accordingly, taking into consideration detailed reviews, and leveraging the broad spectrum of activities and exhibits available, your visit to the Museum of Science and Industry is bound to be unforgettable, educational, and filled with fun. Whether it’s a solo excursion, a family holiday, or an educational trip, MSI offers an enriching experience that marvelously blends science with interactive fun.

Best Hotels in Chicago: Where to Stay During Your Visit

Chicago boasts a diverse range of accommodations, suitable for every type of traveler, whether you’re visiting for a quick trip to the Museum of Science and Industry or planning an extended stay to explore the city. Below, we’ll explore some of the top-rated hotels, from luxury options to family-friendly resorts, ensuring your comfort and convenience while staying in the Windy City.

Luxury Accommodations: Indulge in Elegance

For those seeking a touch of luxury, the Chicago Embassy Suites by Hilton offers a prime location with exquisite service and comfort. Similarly, the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago stands out with its stunning views of Lake Michigan and unmatched hospitality. These establishments not only provide top-tier accommodations but also feature amenities such as spas, gourmet restaurants, and state-of-the-art fitness centers, making your stay nothing short of luxurious.

Family-Friendly Resorts: Enjoy with Everyone

If you’re traveling with family, you might want to consider staying at hotels that cater specifically to families. The Chicago Family Hotels group features properties like the Hampton by Hilton, which offers spacious rooms and complimentary breakfast, ensuring a comfortable stay for both adults and kids. These hotels often have pools and activity rooms, keeping young ones entertained after a long day of exploring the city’s museums and parks.

Budget-Friendly Options: Comfort without the Cost

For travelers keeping an eye on their expenses, Chicago Motels and budget hotels offer a more economical choice without compromising on essential comforts. Locations like the Holiday Inn Chicago provide affordable rates with convenient access to major attractions, including the Museum of Science and Industry. These hotels offer clean, comfortable accommodations with amenities like free Wi-Fi and on-site dining.

Business Hotels: For the Traveling Professional

For those in town for business, Chicago’s Business Hotels offer facilities tailored to meet the needs of professionals. Properties like the Chicago Downtown Marriott boast business centers, meeting rooms, and high-speed internet access, ensuring that you can work as effectively as you would in your own office. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, these hotels also provide easy access to both business engagements and leisure activities.

Boutique Hotels: Unique and Intimate Stays

For a more personalized lodging experience, the boutique hotels in Chicago are perfect. The Hotel Lincoln, located just steps away from the park and Lake Michigan, offers a chic and intimate atmosphere with uniquely designed rooms that reflect Chicago’s rich cultural heritage. Boutique hotels often feature local art, distinctive architecture, and gourmet dining options that highlight the flavors of the city.


Choosing the right hotel in Chicago can significantly enhance your experience, whether you’re here for a museum visit or a longer exploration of the city. From luxurious spas to family-friendly suites and economic stays, the city’s hospitality caters to all preferences and budgets. Remember to consider location, amenities, and the type of trip you are planning when selecting your accommodation to ensure it meets all your needs during your stay in Chicago.


The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is more than just an educational facility; it’s a portal to the vast world of science where theory meets hands-on experience. From walking through a mirror maze that teaches geometry to experiencing the dynamic forces of a 40-foot tornado, MSI offers an unparalleled adventure into the realms of science and technology. Here’s what you should remember from your visit:

  • The museum’s hands-on exhibits make learning both fun and impactful.
  • MSI has a strong educational outreach that benefits communities and schools across Chicago.
  • Preparing for your visit can greatly enhance your experience.

Whether you’re a science enthusiast, a curious explorer, or a family looking for a day of fun-filled learning, the Museum of Science and Industry offers an enriching experience that captivates and educates. Dive into discovery and let each exhibit challenge your understanding of the world around you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Museum of Science and Industry

What is the best way to get to the Museum of Science and Industry?

The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Visitors can reach the museum by various modes of transportation:

  • Public Transit: CTA buses and Metra trains have stops near the museum. The Metra Electric line and #2, #6, #10, and #28 buses are common options.
  • Car: There’s an underground parking lot available for those who prefer to drive. Parking fees apply.
  • Bike: For those living nearby or who like to bike, there are bike racks available outside the museum.

Can I buy tickets at the door, or do I need to purchase them in advance?

While tickets are available at the door, it is highly advisable to purchase them online in advance, especially during peak times like weekends and holidays. Buying tickets ahead of time ensures entry and helps avoid long waiting lines at the ticket counters.

Are there any discounts available for museum admission?

Yes, MSI offers various discounts:

  • Group Discounts: Available for groups of 15 or more.
  • City Pass and Go Chicago Card: Holders of these passes can visit MSI as part of their Chicago exploration.
  • Free Days: MSI offers several free days throughout the year for Illinois residents. Check the museum’s website for specific dates.

Is the museum accessible for visitors with disabilities?

Yes, the Museum of Science and Industry is fully accessible for visitors with disabilities. Facilities include:

  • Wheelchair Accessibility: All exhibits are wheelchair accessible.
  • Wheelchair Rental: Wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis at no extra cost.
  • Assistive Listening Devices: Available for films and presentations in the Giant Dome Theater.
  • Service Animals: Welcome throughout the museum.

What are the food options available at the museum?

MSI has several dining options within its premises:

  • Brain Food Court: Offers a variety of meals, snacks, and beverages suitable for families.
  • Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor: A perfect spot for a sweet treat.
  • Visitors are also welcome to bring their own food and enjoy it in designated areas.

Can I host an event at the Museum of Science and Industry?

Yes, the museum offers unique spaces for private events, including corporate meetings, weddings, and special celebrations. The museum’s spectacular setting provides a memorable backdrop for any event. For more details, visit the museum’s website or contact the events department directly.

What should I definitely not miss when visiting MSI?

When visiting the museum, make sure to experience:

  • The U-505 Submarine: An actual German submarine captured during World War II.
  • Science Storms: This exhibit allows you to experience natural phenomena like tornadoes and avalanches up close.
  • Coal Mine: An underground mine tour that gives a glimpse into the mining industry.

Are photography and video recording allowed in the museum?

Yes, photography and video recording for personal use are allowed in most areas of the museum. However, flash photography, tripods, and lights may be restricted in specific exhibits to prevent damage and disruption. Always check signage and if unsure, ask a staff member.

How can educators make the most out of a visit to MSI?

Educators planning to visit with their class can take advantage of various educational programs and resources:

  • Field Trips: Tailored educational experiences that align with classroom curriculum.
  • Educator Resources: Access to lesson plans and activities that can be integrated into classroom learning.
  • Professional Development Workshops: Opportunities for teachers to enhance their science teaching skills.

These FAQs aim to address common questions and concerns, ensuring that your visit to the Museum of Science and Industry is as informative and enjoyable as possible. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning enthusiast, MSI offers a dynamic and educational adventure into the world of science that is sure to inspire.

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I have a strong passion for adventure sports and constantly seeking out new experiences. Some of my favorite activities include trail running, mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, skiing, ice skating, road tripping, and immersing myself in different cultures and environments. Whether it's exploring an indigenous tribe in the Venezuelan jungle, trekking through Chilean Patagonia, taking a dip in ice-cold lakes in the Canadian Rockies, or attempting mountaineering in the Peruvian Andes, I am always up for a new challenge.

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