- Associated Press - Saturday, February 15, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - When the reborn Memorial Hall opened as the Center for Science and Industry in 1964, a Columbus advertising executive’s dream had come to pass at last.

Sandy Hallock’s idea, inspired by a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, took six years to pull off. It required the help of area business leaders and the Franklin County Historical Society, as well as $502,000 in county funding to renovate the hall in downtown Columbus.

Five decades and one significant move later, the nonprofit center is viewed as a standout among its peers.

“COSI is one of our leading institutions, and not just in the United States,” said Anthony Rock, president and CEO of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, a nonprofit organization encompassing nearly 600 centers and museums in more than 40 countries.

“COSI is at the top in serving its community and using science very effectively in delivering its message.”

The center moved in late 1999 to the former site of Central High School, less than a mile from its original home, which is now county offices. And it’s getting a head start on celebrating its March 29 milestone, with the opening this past week of an exhibit called “50 Years of COSI.”

Much of COSI’s success thus far is rooted in its ability to make science and industry accessible, engaging and entertaining.

“COSI is in the top tier of science centers nationwide in terms of creativity, content, education, inspiration and the spirit and talent that the team brings to every guest every day,” said Kathryn Sullivan, a former astronaut who brought “star power” to COSI as its leader from 1996 to 2006.

“The core of its DNA is solid science - based on solid educational research and design - in a wrapper that seems to just be fun.”

Using a range of exhibits, the center has worked throughout its history to make science education cool.

For example, visitors to the old site might recall the original Foucault Pendulum, modeled after an 1851 experiment by the French scientist Jean Foucault proving that Earth rotates.

Or maybe the simulated Coal Mine, with its inky black walls and real mining equipment, rings a bell.

At the current location, the traveling exhibit “Titanic” drew a record 226,000 visitors during its six-month run in 2005. Five years later, it returned.

“Science centers like COSI are special places for opening the imagination of kids and adults to the scientific laws that make our universe work,” said John Beacom, an Ohio State University professor of physics and astronomy, whose teenage daughter has visited the center since she was 3.

Younger people are drawn to the hands-on atmosphere, with 300-plus interactive options spread throughout themed areas such as Gadgets, Life, Progress and Space.

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