Saint Louis Science Center, Life Science Lab

In 2001, Michael McNeil was introduced to the Life Science department at the Saint Louis Science Center (SLSC). The scientists in the Life Science Team had a dream to create a lab and gallery that would expose people to real science. They wanted children to experience being scientists and adults to get a glimpse of what is going on now in the scientific community. What they needed was a partner to help them make this a reality.

As an expert in technology design and project management, Michael hoped to find a way to make such an advanced project a reality. From 2001 to early 2006 Michael met with the Life Science department for brain storming sessions. They needed a tangible proposal if they were ever going to get approval and funding.

On September 26, 2006 the project achieved both of those things. Now the real work began.

Upon entering the Saint Louis Science Center, turn left and walk around the corner passing the glass elevator. Moving forward, you spot a low wall and beyond it some tower exhibits. Each currently contains an animal, and an example of its “covering” is in easy reach of the small children running around. If you are of less minuscule height you notice the information plaques and the viewer which allows you to peruse your own “covering” up close.

You’re in the entry area.

The exhibits are low enough for small children without causing adults to strain for a look. Stools and seats are provided throughout the area.

Finished with the exhibits you notice the art display, celebrating the beauty of our biological environment.

To the right there is a window through which you see real biologists working with animals and other organisms. Pausing for a few minutes, you begin to see what they are up to.

Scientists are doing research in this area utilizing real tools found in labs around the world. This allows for research to be seen and understood. This lab is equipped with high tech microscopes, hoods for chemical experiments and filtered air.

Axolotls (a creature caught in the larval stage of becoming a salamander), birds, and fish of all sorts are studied there. Some of the axolotls are born white, with red gills, and they’ve been injected with a green fluorescing protein from jellyfish DNA, causing them to glow under black light.

In the lab classroom there is a 65” flat screen which can show video feeds from the computer, the lab microscope, or external sources to students seated at desks. The high tech equipment includes computers and High Definition cameras. The room is set up for education programs with the HD cameras mounted in the ceiling also in the cabinetry. That way, if an experiment takes longer than one visit (watching a plant grow) then it can be broadcast over the Internet for students to follow the progress.

She walks into the room, her eyes really big. She’s handed a lab coat and goggles. Her dad comes up behind her, with his hand on her back he directs her to the nearest of the 8 benches. This one happens to be extracting DNA from wheat. (Each desk can be programed for any of the experiments created by the lab staff.) Blend a special mixture, stir, and draw out a little clot of white: DNA, the building blocks of life.

With silent wonder she moves to another bench. She touches the screen and follows the instructions: swab to her inner cheek, then onto the slide.  Slip it into the microscope and on the screen are her very own cells. As her dad tells her about how cool it is, and how that’s what she is made of, she realizes she loves it.
Quickly she moves to the next lab, and the next. Then back to the first, she repeats them. She’s amazed at how easy it is for the mystifying to become comprehensible.

The lab was designed so that the Life Science department can create its own content and display any of the developed programs throughout the lab. Most institutions have to hire an outside party to make these types of changes to their exhibits. The team has a legitimate and professional research facility, a classroom that is capable of advanced distance learning, and an entrance area that can hold whatever best fits their vision.

This refined finished product was achieved through much research and collaboration. The Life Science team, along with Michael McNeil, toured Minnesota, San Jose, San Fransisco, and elsewhere to see the most impressive Science Centers in the nation. They noted the best features, and their imaginations were sparked by others, so that the Saint Louis Life Science Lab came to exceed even their original vision.