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South Florida Science Museum is turning 50

Stephen Brown

 South Florida Science Museum   For 50 years, Palm Beach County students and parents have relied on the South Florida Science Museum to enlighten the public on the ever-increasingly complicated world of science. This is no easy task for a nonprofit that has largely relied on funding from private donors and the county to keep the doors open. And it was no secret that the SFSM was hemorrhaging money as the economy took a severe dip; as dividends began to shrink, so did the donations, but the public still looked to the museum as a source of education where the public school system left off.

   “It was no secret that the museum had problems in the past,” says SFSM's interim president/CEO Lew Crampton. “It was bleeding red ink.”

SFSM president/CEO Lew Crampton   Crampton (left) was hired in August 2010, and in one short year, the museum is running a $75,000 surplus [through Q3], admission is up 20 percent, and, for the first time since 1971, the SFSM is looking to expand. That could make the facility, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, the jewel of South Florida’s science centers.

   “We are looking to change. Not sway from our mission of educating the public, but change physically,” says Crampton from his office, where the sound of children exploring the exhibits seeps through the walls as summer campers and visitors make their way through the museum. “We want to offer the community more.”

   The South Florida Science Museum was founded, mainly, in response to fear. Sputnik had just been launched, a beach ball-sized satellite orbiting Earth, inciting a paranoia that persisted throughout the Cold War. The U.S. was caught off guard and in fear of losing the space race; an urgency to promote the sciences was undertaken nationwide. Out of this World exhibit - South Florida Science Musuem - SFSMThe Junior League heeded the call by organizing science centers throughout the country in rural and low population density areas, using government buildings as home base. Through the efforts of the Junior League of the Palm Beaches, the South Florida Science Museum opened its doors in 1961 with the mission “to excite curiosity and the further understanding and appreciation of science and technology.”

   The mission of the museum has made the institution a go-to stop for parents and schools throughout Palm Beach County. Located in Dreher Park, a stone's throw from the Palm Beach Zoo, the South Florida Science Museum delves into the principals of science, from Earth science to physics with hands-on activities, traveling and permanent exhibits, the only public observatory in Palm Beach County, the largest aquarium in the county, a planetarium and outdoor activities.

Ancient Egypt exhibit - SFSM   The SFSM not only relies on its own staff and volunteers to keep the mission of education flowing, but also has reached out to other organizations that complement the museum’s mission. The Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches oversees the observatory, which is back online after damages from hurricane Wilma in 2005, mapping out the night sky for explorers to peer into the solar system with the 14-inch F-11 Schmidt-Cassegrain optical Celestron telescope.

   The HAM Radio Center has visitors communicating with amateur radio operators around the world on call station WS4FSM. The radio shack is operated by the West Palm Beach Amateur Radio Club, whose members help kids connect with other ‘hams’ as far away as Argentina, as well as teach them Morse Code.


 

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South Florida Science Museum

4801 Dreher Trail N.

West Palm Beach, FL 33405

561-832-1988

 

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