A city that once prospered on the cotton and railroad industries has flawlessly transitioned into a city that thrives on science. Scientific fields like biotechnology, genomics and aerospace engineering are part of the past and future of Huntsville, and the city is filled with opportunities for kids to explore and learn about them. NASA’s presence is felt through its constant outreach to the community as well as its impressive local museum, and it’s no wonder that 57 of Fortune’s 500 companies have a location in the city. Any visit is sure to be filled with the latest technology, ground-breaking science and adventures not soon forgotten.
Museums & Zoos
When visiting a place with the nickname “The Rocket City,” a trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a must. It currently houses the first space shuttle, Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a Saturn V rocket and a number of significant military rockets from throughout history. These massive displays serve to bring the Space Race to life before your student’s eyes and supplement the many hands-on exhibits and simulators within the museum proper. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center also offers an “Ultimate Field Trip,” granting groups full access to all the museum’s simulators and exhibits. The Center even has a scuba program available that was originally created to train astronauts in microgravity and an “Area 51 Challenge Course,” a rope course with multiple difficulties for any age.
Take a short break from the museums and universities and consider a trip to the Harmony Park Safari. This two-mile trek in a working educational ranch has animals like bison, kangaroos and emus wandering freely as you drive through. These animals can and will walk right up to the vehicles and buckets of feed for them can be purchased along with rental vehicles to prevent your own from the horns and anger of the animals. At the end of the trek is the Safari’s reptile house for smaller, cold-blooded animals. A great chance to provide an up-close look at animals not native to America, the Safari is perfect for future biologists and zoologists.
Universities & Academia
Cutting-edge research requires state-of-the-art laboratories and faculty, something the University of Alabama Huntsville can boast both of. The school has strong relationships with organizations like the Missile Defence Agency, DIA Missile & Space Intelligence Center and NASA and is responsible for $99 million in annual research expenditures. Aside from the normal campus tour, the university holds several summer camps ready to train the next generation of engineers and cybersecurity warriors. Its engineering camp has students apply math, chemistry and physics to solve problems and in its unique cybersecurity camp, they learn about cybersecurity in plugged and unplugged environments. The school also holds the prestige of being the annual host to the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair, where students from across the state compete.
Industry & Technology
When it’s not busy conducting genomics-based research to impact human health and well-being and implementing genomic medicine, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is engaged in direct STEM outreach at its facility in Cummings Research Park. A trip there is an entrance into a real working lab and a chance for students to use real equipment to be in genome and biotech-related activities and experiments. The lab can serve as a full-day or half-day trip, where activities like “Investigating the Genetics of Cancer” and “Cytogeneticist for a Day” delve into topics and techniques that are rarely available to those outside of a college-setting. Also available is the institute’s summer camps and APPLE (Advanced Placement Program for Learning Enhancement). One would be remiss to not mention the plethora of online educator resources available to teachers to help prepare their students for a visit or simply help teach a scheduled lesson with prepackaged lesson kits to a yearly guidebook with all the latest news in the world of genetics.
Lockheed Martin is no stranger to STEM. This global security and aerospace company has existed in some form since 1926, and through its many programs and scholarships participates in a large amount of STEM outreach. From its Huntsville location, students can take part in its yearly Code Quest, a programming competition where teams of 2-3 high school students work together solving problems in multiple coding languages created by Lockheed Martin’s engineers and computer programmers.
What could be more enticing than a park whose name directly translates to “Mountain of Health?” The Huntsville Monte Sano Park is 2,140-acre area atop a mountain that allows for an unforgettable view of the area. It has 20 miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of biking trails and even a disc golf course. All of this beautiful landscape is supplemented by some great educational locales, like the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum and Wernher Von Braun Planetarium. Right after a stroll through the park’s Northern Alabama Japanese Garden, watch a program about black holes on the planetarium’s dome. The Wernher Von Braun facilities include two observatories, a solar telescope and an astronomical library. The Civilian Conservation Corps Museums is where you can learn about the parks interesting past and give a perspective on the engineering projects and importance of the CCC to our nation’s past.
Nature preserves are usually places for observation and contemplation, but at Hays Nature Preserve, education is thrown into the pile as well. Jam-packed with activities almost every day of the week, the preserve can accommodate for almost any type of activity you might have in mind with its great natural resources and partnerships with local science groups and businesses. In the past, they’ve had students collect samples from their lake to be observed under a microscope, followed by discussions on the importance of the microbes they found. They’ve had activities like “Build A Nest,” where students use engineering and design to build a nest better than a bird, using material found around the preserve and then have them tested against wind and rain. Able to provide for groups of nearly any size and with a large amount of flexibility, Hays Nature Preserve is ready to be your next outdoor classroom.