By Gloria Shanahan
Photos: Edgar Cadena
This modern building in the heart of the sizzling metropolis of Miami gives you a close-up look at fish and coral without being a diver, lets you feel the humid warmth of the mangrove swamps without being attacked by mosquitoes, and allows you to fly planes without being a pilot.
The Frost Museum of Science in Miami recently opened the doors of its new home, nestled between the final row of downtown skyscrapers and the huge cruise ships anchored in placid Biscayne Bay. For more than fifty years the Museum stood a bit farther south, near the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Needing a new site that would meet its growing need for space and more technology, the Museum found a new home in the heart of the city.
The opening of this new cultural center emphasizes the transformation of downtown Miami; the Museum was built next door to the Pérez Art Museum and a short walk from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Knight Concert Hall. Just across the boardwalk is the American Airlines Arena, with the Children’s Museum a couple of blocks away along the MacArthur Causeway on the road to Miami Beach.
Most visitors are stunned by the new edifice and especially the aquarium. They contemplate the ventral markings of the white shark swimming overhead on the Deep level, look into its eyes as it glides through its habitat on the Dive level, or spot its dorsal fin from the surface on the upper Vista level.
These and other sharks reside in the giant Gulf Stream aquarium, which has three levels and holds 500,000 gallons of water. This miniature version of southern Florida’s marine habitat constitutes the core of the Museum. The Aquarium’s lowest “Deep” level contains a 31-foot Oculus lens through which visitors can view the fish in comfort. Deep-sea species circle nonchalantly above the lens and the fascinated observers.
This same level includes a darkened room with three separate aquariums filled with phosphorescent jellyfish. It also features an immense interactive screen that projects moving turtles, shoals of fish, and other species that change direction at a touch.
One level higher, the Dive gives you a close-up look at a coral reef and myriad groupers, snappers, and sea bass, not to mention many other species ensconced among the plant stems. This level also boasts more than a dozen small and colorful aquariums filled with corals and fish. To one side, entertaining interactive tables use games to teach visitors about industrial fishing. Visitors learn about endangered species and the cost of fishing them, so they can decide for themselves if they think the practice is responsible and sustainable.
The terrace level (Vista) is the surface level, where the Museum’s experts feed various species. Another tank exhibits small, friendly manta rays that don’t mind being touched. A living, miniature version of the Everglades ecosystem allows you to peer through a clear partition at the interactions of local corals, fish, birds, plants, and alligators. Keep your camera handy, since the terrace provides you with magnificent views of downtown Miami, the port, and the bay.
Back on the ground floor, inside the Planetarium, you’ll feel like you’re flying toward the images, almost absorbed by them as you’re enveloped in the surround sound. The presentations are immediately captivating, whether you choose “Asteroid: Mission Extreme in 3D” or “Dynamic Earth,” which explores the workings of the Earth’s climate system as narrated by actor Liam Neeson. The secret behind the magic is the gigantic dome-shaped screen that, unlike in other planetariums, is tilted forward at 23.5 degrees, creating a nearly 360-degree view. Added to this is cutting-edge technology and the 16-million-color 8K system that uses six 3D-capable projectors.
Set aside at least half a day to visit the Museum, since every corner offers something to hear, touch, or play with.
The Museum is divided into four interconnecting buildings, with the Aquarium and the Planetarium serving as the two main structures. The north wing features the exhibit “From Feathers to the Stars,” with narration and interactive tools that explain the evolution of flight from the anatomy of birds and winged dinosaurs to space travel. The objects and games include a gadget with instructions for making paper airplanes and helicopters; a launcher and a wind tunnel let you experiment further.
Children will enjoy themselves in Me Lab, which sports a pulsating, interactive LED dance floor that reacts to their steps, and fun interactive zones (eat, move, relax, connect, and learn) where they can learn about their bodies and minds.
Featured during the Museum’s opening, the temporary exhibit “Light, Color, and Geometry” employed an enormous machine to teach visitors about the wonders of lasers and light. In the west wing you will find three robots that use independent algorithms to draw the face of anyone seated in front of them. A solar farm, a living rooftop, and a weather station will open soon on the sixth (top) floor of the Museum.
The Frost Museum will continue to develop along with Miami. This new attraction is the pride of the city’s residents, who are eager to show visitors that there is more to the city than fun-in-the-sun and extravagant night life.
The new Museum, funded by both private and public monies, received a 35-million-dollar donation from Phillip Frost and his wife, Patricia, who are art and culture philanthropists in southern Florida. This is why it is known as the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. The total cost of building the Museum and Planetarium came to 305 million dollars. The Museum opened on May 8, 2017.
Copa Airlines offers five flights daily to Miami from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City.