New Modesto science museum is must-see

columns@modbee.comMay 5, 2013 

EC Science05

ED CRISOSTOMO/ Brian Sanders, left, Modesto Junior College Division Dean Science, Mathematics, and Engineering leads a tour of the Science Community Center at MJC West Campus on Friday afternoon (04-19-13) in Modesto, CA.

ED CRISOSTOMO — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

— One of the purposes of the statue of Zeus at Olympia was to leave the visitor in awe of the Greek god. Entering the lobby of the new Great Valley Museum on Modesto Junior College's West Campus, one can't help but feel a little in awe as you look at the ceiling and see scale models of our solar system, including Earth and the mammoth planets Saturn and Jupiter — the Romans' name for Zeus — emerging overhead.

The four-story building holds a planetarium, an observatory and science classrooms. By the end of this month, most of the building will be open for students; the rest will be ready by the fall, when the public can visit the Great Valley Museum.

Funding for the new museum and science classrooms came via Measure E, which voters in the Yosemite Community College District approved in November 2004. Since then, MJC has been implementing major overhauls of the east and west campuses. On the older east campus, there have been renovations or complete rebuilding of places including the student center, the auditorium and Founders Hall. With the funding from Measure E, the school has finally been able to turn the west campus, on Blue Gum Avenue, into a fully functioning part of MJC.

The past year has seen the museum and science building go from a hollow shell to a nearly complete structure. Touring the building in April 2012, the walls were up and the roof was in place, but little else was finished. The building was so incomplete then that visitors had to wear hard hats.

Today, almost everything is ready other than the displays at the museum, which will dwarf the current ones. Once the state architect approves the building, construction of the displays will begin. Even the museum lobby is much larger than the current building.

Besides the much larger regional habitat displays, there will be a very exciting new addition, Science on a Sphere. There are only about 80 of these in the world. Once the museum opens, people in the area can come and view this amazing presentation. With several projectors displaying overlays onto a large sphere, visitors can see the original continent of Pangea, the origins of hurricanes, the surfaces of other planets, the moon's surface or even turn it into the Death Star.

Just outside the museum is a Foucault pendulum that shows the rotation of Earth.

The large staircase that allows students and staff to access all four stories eventually will have a large DNA model sitting in the middle of the stairs. New classrooms will have updated technology allowing experiments and the instructors to show everything from chemical reactions to every imaginable scientific theory.

Topping off the building is the fourth floor, which gives one an excellent view of the surrounding region and is home to the new telescope. When open, the observatory will allow students and residents a chance to see the cosmos right from Modesto.

Come this fall, Modestans and people from the surrounding area will have to come and see the new Great Valley Museum. All of which will have been brought to you thanks to voters who approved Measure E and are responsible for all the exciting new ways to teach and learn science in valley.

The ribbon-cutting for the new building will take place at 10 a.m. May 21. The museum will hold Wild Planet Day on Oct. 12.

James McAndrews Jr. is a docent and board member of the Great Valley Museum. Send comments or questions to

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