Full STEAM ahead: Saber-toothed tiger kicks off new exhibit at Hawaii Science & Technology Museum

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Scientists and students are invited to see a life-size saber-toothed tiger in downtown Hilo starting today at a new exhibit hall coming to the Hawaii Science & Technology Museum. Located on the second floor of the Kaikodo Building at 64 Keawe St., the exhibit will feature several natural history artifacts […]

Scientists and students are invited to see a life-size saber-toothed tiger in downtown Hilo starting today at a new exhibit hall coming to the Hawaii Science & Technology Museum.

Located on the second floor of the Kaikodo Building at 64 Keawe St., the exhibit will feature several natural history artifacts including marine and dinosaur fossils and the saber-toothed tiger, acquired from the La Brea Tar Pits in California.

“This is the grand opening of our new exhibit where we’ll have fossils, an interactive digital exhibit, and a lot of different things available for the kids,” said Christian Wong, executive director of HSTM. “But the most noteworthy one is the saber-toothed tiger. It’s a full-size, research-grade specimen.”

Founded in 2015, the HSTM nonprofit has prioritized hands-on experiences for visitors and students to engage in the education process.

“The space is really meant to be a fun, comfortable place for families to come and spend quality time together,” said Wong. “Our exhibits always focus on that hands-on aspect of learning. They’re learning science, and they don’t even realize it, because they’re having so much fun.”

This approach will continue with the museum’s upcoming exhibition.

“We’re going to have microscopes that kids can use to look at marine life and marine fossils,” Wong said. “We have a bunch of other fossils from that era as well, including cave lions, a short-faced bear and a couple of dinosaur fossils, including a Mosasaurus and baby (Tyrannosaurus rex).”

The exhibit also will feature an interactive pirate ship, pending installation.

“We’re hoping to have it by this weekend, and if not, it will definitely be done by the next time we’re open,” he said. “It’s a tricked-out pirate ship that has all kinds of electronics on it, and it’s an interactive space where kids can explore.”

The exhibitions promote STEAM subjects, or science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“Our organization has been doing STEAM education for the community for the past seven years, running things like science camps, after-school programs and tutoring,” Wong said. “For us, this is a really big moment. It’s taken a lot of work and determination to get to this point.”

Future events planned for the year include a teen science night and an annual rocketry competition.

“We always have a lot going on,” said Wong, who suggested people follow the HSTM social media accounts and mailing list to stay informed.

“In addition to opening up our brand new exhibit hall, this is also the reopening of our Kenyan K. Beals Community Robotics Center,” he said.

Located on the third floor of the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, this collaboration offers students the chance to learn engineering.

“Every Saturday for the entire summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., we will have robotics education there,” Wong said. “We want to encourage parents, students and teachers that want to get involved in robotics, and give them the tools, knowledge and experience to form their own teams and really get into it.”

Robotics will be the focus of HSTM’s upcoming fall exhibit as well.

“We’re going to create a racetrack in our museum and have a space where kids can build their own remote-control cars using electronics,” he said.

Today’s opening will coincide with the World Ocean Day events taking place at Kalakaua Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We’re going to have a whole bunch of different activities and educational information about protecting our oceans there,” said Wong.

The Ocean Day event is the inaugural collaboration between HSTM, the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, East Hawaii Cultural Center and the Pacific Tsunami Museum — collectively known as Museum Square.

“It’s a collaboration between our museums, as well as local businesses in the area,” said Wong. “We’ll be putting out traditional Hawaiian canoe carving information along with a full-sized canoe.”

The event is the first of many planned for the coming year.

“We’re thinking of doing an awesome haunted house involving all four museums for the fall,” he said. “We’re going to do something like this every quarter.”

The new natural history exhibit for HSTM will continue into the fall.

“I think those natural history fossils are going to be a big draw for this exhibit. We’re also going to have arts and crafts activities,” said Wong. “But obviously, our saber-toothed tiger is the star of the show. That’s what people have been really eager to come and see.”

Email Grant Phillips at gphillips@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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