The Museum of Life and Science

"Our mission is to create a place of lifelong learning where young children to senior citizens embrace science as a way of knowing about themselves, their community and their world."

History and Background of the Museum

Museum of Life and Sciences, Durham, NC The Museum of Life and Science in Durham’s mission is to create a center of lifelong learning where people from young child to senior citizen embrace science as a way of knowing about themselves, their community and their world. Begun in 1946 as a small children’s nature trail center, the Museum has developed into a leading destination for families, groups, schools and leisure visitors from across the state and country. Offering one of the largest Museums Butterfly Houses east of the Mississippi, the Museum is located on 70 beautiful acres with 90,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space and several acres of spectacular outdoor features including a farmyard, playground and wild animal exhibits. The Museum earns approximately 70% of its $4 million operating budget from program fees, admission, membership and corporate and foundation support.  At the helm is Chief Executive Officer Barry Van Deman with more than 20 years experience as an innovative museum leader and science educator.


Museum of Life and Sciences, Durham Packed with highly interactive state-of the-art exhibits, the Museum of Life and Science features hands-on experimentation and nature exploration. Sit inside a real Mercury Capsule, watch a baby alligator eat lunch, touch a 13 foot tornado, explore a full-scale Lunar Lander, or investigate global communication in Data Earth.  Visit more than 75 animal species in Carolina Wildlife, or forecast your hometown's weather in our state-of-the-art weather exhibit.           

Magic Wings Butterfly House combines a dramatic three-story Conservatory with the Bayer CropScience Insectariums and Lepidoptera Learning lab. Inside you will see hundreds of tropical butterflies in flight, coursing the tropical trees, hovering over nectar-producing flowers in a butterfly meadow, or stopping for a drink by a flowing stream. The tropical year-round 80 degree climate feels good in winter months and refreshingly cool when outside temperatures climb.

At Bayer CropScience Insectarium, live insects predators, interactive exhibits and special equipment take you on a journey through the insect world. Exhibits illuminate locomotion, thermal regulation of insect life, the strength of a spider filament, the architecture of webs and the role of insects in decomposition and predation.

 Take a ride on the Ellerbee Creek Railway through the Museum Nature Park and visit with red wolves and black bears along the way. Enjoy the Museum gift shops or relax at the Caterpillar Café for lunch or refreshments.  

Museum Educational Services

A professional staff of six Museum of Life and Science Educators reach over 80,000 students each year. A powerful school and science teacher resource, the Museum fills schools’ educational void by providing extensive year-round professional workshops and training, science kits for teachers and hundreds of accredited science classroom programs both at the Museum and in the classroom.

Museum Youth Partner Program

The Museum of Life and Science integrates youth age 12-18 as presenters, animal technicians and other specialists to build real-world work skills and self esteem in a hands-on environment to empower intellectual and career potential.  

Youth Partners Program serves 80 youth annually and an additional 40 throughout the summer months who work to support the Museum’s Summer Science Camp program as educator assistants.

Programs at the Museum

25 unique hands-on science programs are available each year to supplement classroom science courses for PreK-8th grade.  Museum educators reach almost 12,000 students annually.

Summer Science Camp

Twelve week intensive summer science camp serves over 3,000 children with week-long programs that stimulate science learning through multi-disciplinary and investigational activities for children age 4 – grade 8.  By focusing on the process skills of observing, comparing, sorting, model design and problem solving, science camp classes encourage learning in a caring, relaxed environment.

Classes for Young Children at the Museum

Eight unique monthly programs designed for children age 2 ½ - 3 ½ with adult accompaniment and a class series for children age 4-6 offer new and fun ways to investigate science together. Topics include aerospace, dinosaurs, weather, farming and wildlife.

Small Science

One of the Museum’s most popular exhibits, Small Science is dedicated to children seven and younger and their caregivers. Exhibit encourages exploration of chain reactions, bubbles and color through a variety of playful interactive exhibits that inspire early interest in science.

Scientifica Discovery Room

A science discovery room where visitors can take apart computers, VCRs and other modern contraptions to see how they work.  They generate electricity with light, wind or even their own hands.  Experiments with magnets, tops, balls and flying machines lead to the discovery of physical laws controlling them.

Educator Resources

Museum of Life and Sciences, Durham, NC Programs in the Schools

15 unique science programs travel to schools inspiring young scientists with hands-on activities facilitated by Museum educators for Pre K-grade 8.  With exciting animals and science materials to share, Museum educators engage more than 13,900 students state-wide with integrative hands-on learning each year.

Science Education Resource Center

The Science Education Resource Center is a central commitment to support teachers, parents and caregivers in science education.  The 1,600 square foot center offers in-classroom programming as well as opportunities to browse and borrow from the Museum’s library of science books and curricula consistent with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in Science.


Science in a Suitcase is a Museum-based program that loans science activities and consumable materials for hands-on classroom investigation. 200 complete, ready-to-use science kits are available for educators to rent for a small fee. This innovative program addresses the widening gap of resources available to area science educators. Over 35,000 area students and 1,800 teachers benefit annually from this program. Subjects include Fossils, Solar Power, Weather Watchers, Electricity, Eco Explorers and Sights and Sounds.  

Outdoor Exhibit Expansion Plans 2006-07

BioQuest is an extraordinary investment in science education and tourism development, a one-of-a-kind outdoor natural science experience. Proclaimed a “national model” by the National Science Foundation, BioQuest is the first comprehensive plan in the world that links people, animals and plants with interactive exhibits in its natural outdoor setting.  

This exciting expansion will take full advantage of the Museum’s natural setting – its fields, swamps, quarry and woodlands. Three new and exciting exhibit areas Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind and the highly anticipated return of the Dinosaur Trail will bring the world of plants and animals up close like never before as visitors use their sight, scent and hearing to explore the wonder and delicateness of our natural world.

Explore the Wild Spring 2006

Grand Opening April 29, 2006

Want to zoom in on a bear with a state-of-the art field camera and view this magnificent creature up close? Or become an aquatic biologist while you collect water samples at a video microscope to discover swamp life?

Explore the Wild is a six-acre woodland and wetland habitat that offers visitors the chance to “walk in step with a wildlife biologist.”  Explore the Wild is designed to help visitors comprehend the tools a field biologist uses to explore the perceptual world.  Located in a quarry basin, it includes natural animal habitats for black bears, red wolves and lemurs and features interactive observation areas with field cameras, remote sensing devices, microscopes and computers.

Catch the Wind  September 2006 TBA

Catch the Wind is designed to expand visitors’ understanding of how plants and animals use and accommodate wind.  

What is now an open, grassy hill will ultimately be a series of large-scale interactive, environmental exhibits. A Seed Tower lets visitors build and send large-scale seeds up a thirty-foot tower to experiment with aerodynamics and examine their twirling flight to ground; a Wind Yard puts visitors at the control of gale force winds to learn how plants survive the aerial environment; a large-scale Sailboat Pond and water table invite visitors to experiment with sail engineering and the effect of air currents.

Dinosaur Trail and Dig Summer 2007

The return of a Museum favorite will capture the imagination with an improved walking trail featuring life-size model replicas, footprints and paleo-dig site where visitors can uncover fossil remains.

BioQuest: Completing the Dream enables Museum of Life and Science visitors to explore more of its natural outdoor setting with cutting-edge interactive exhibits that offer exceptional, one-of-a-kind educational enrichment for area residents and tourist alike.

General Admission: Includes the Magic Wings Butterfly House and all indoor and outdoor   activities except the train ($2.00 per ride):
$9.50 adults
$8.50 seniors 65+ and active/retired military 
$7.50 children age 3-12; Free to children two and younger
$7.00 groups of 10 or more adults; $6.00 for student groups of 10 or more
Free admission for Durham County residents every Wednesday from 1:00-5:00pm.

Hours:   Monday-Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm and Sunday, Noon-5:00pm
Open 362 days, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day

Museum of Life and Sciences
433 W Murray Ave, Durham, 27704
(919) 220-5429 

Related Sites: NC Transportation Museum, NC Museum of Art, Battleship NORTH CAROLINA , Ackland Art MuseumNC National Parks, Durham, History of Durham  

Back to Durham Index

Return to North Carolina Index