COSI Welcomes Visitors Back After a 15-Month Closure

Most favorites at the Columbus science center are open, as is the “¡Cuba!” exhibition, a new planetarium show and an upcoming focus on animation.

Eiliana Wright
COSI reopened to the public on June 3 after being closed since March 2020.

For the past year, COSI has been silent—a ghost town, waiting for its beloved guests to come back. But it is alive once again with its signature blend of interactive, entertaining and educational exhibits.

After originally planning to reopen in July, then November, and canceling both because of the pandemic, the third time turned out to be the charm. The science center reopened on June 3, allowing eager guests to experience the magic once again.

Despite the inability to host visitors in the building and the need to furlough workers, COSI President and CEO Frederic Bertley says the staff who remained kept busy behind closed doors. “We were almost able to reinvent ourselves to be relevant despite the building [being closed],” he says. “Science is everywhere, and science is for everyone. Science doesn’t stop at the front doors or back doors of COSI, so science is all around us.” 

Being closed presented COSI leaders with the opportunity—and challenge—of creating programs that fulfill its mission off-site. “We developed, in a period of 15 months, a suite of programs and things that expose people to science,” Bertley says.

Those programs include the COSI Connects program that brings science into children’s homes. Five kits offer different kinds of experiments (and the materials to do them), on such topics as nature, space, water, dinosaurs and the human body.  Learning Lunchboxes features hands-on kits funded by Franklin County and distributed community organizations. Instead of being canceled, the most recent COSI Science Festival took place online. And COSI partnered with WOSU on a new TV show, QED with Dr. B.

Last month, it was named the No. 1 science museum in the U.S. for the second straight year in the 2021 USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

It’s easy to tell, though, that after too many months of not being able to be around guests doing what he loves most, Bertley was excited to get back to performing experiments for visitors. During a June 4 interview at COSI, he filled a liquid nitrogen can while discussing the best parts about being back.  

“After being closed for 446 days—which comes out to 38,554,400 seconds—the best thing is that we’re able to open and receive the guests that we love, to showcase science and science experiences to. So I just couldn’t be happier,” he says.

Apparently that goes for some of the visitors, too. In the background, a mother whose 8-year-old was anxiously awaiting Bertley’s experiment was talking about how she had cried on her way in because she was so excited to be back.  

Exhibitions and Rules

Visitors will be able to see most, though not all, of their COSI favorites, as well as the postponed limited-time “¡Cuba!” exhibition in the American Museum of Natural History Special Exhibition Gallery. Unlike past AMNH exhibits, it is included with general admission.

A new planetarium show, “Worlds Beyond Earth,” created by the American Museum of Natural History and narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, also is included with general admission.

Even with the decline in COVID-19 cases, COSI has kept some health protocols in place. Guests who are not vaccinated are required to wear a face covering; reservations are mandatory; and certain exhibits, such as the motion simulator, the high-wire unicycle, and the 3D audio interactive element in the Life Exhibition Area, are closed due to social distancing precautions.  

Bertley, who has a Ph.D. in immunology, says there are two things he wants the public to know about safety at COSI. First, a new photohydroionization ventilation system will keep the air clean and free of airborne contaminants. And second, “You’re not going to get COVID-19 from pulling a lever at COSI,” he says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated the risk of catching the coronavirus from surfaces is low. To boot, Bertley had the opportunity to sit in on the board of an 11-month study that proved touch and contact would not put someone at risk for contracting COVID-19. 

Coming soon at COSI: a new, traveling presentation of “Animation Academy,” which explores techniques of hand-drawn cells, stop-motion and CGI. The exhibition runs June 26 through Sept. 6.

Celebration of Science

COSI is encouraging the public to join a special Celebration of Science on June 5 by reserving a ticket to go to COSI or participating virtually by posting photos a post-vaccination reunion with friends and family, writing a haiku as Bertley does on his new Twitter account, sharing photos of trips to COSI, watching QED with Dr. B on WOSU and more. Learn more at cosi.org/zoo/item/cosi-announces-celebration-of-science-day.