COLUMBIA — You can ride a bike down a virtual trail, learn about healthy food choices in an interactive diner and make split-second decisions in a life-size emergency room, all at Columbia’s long-awaited YouZeum.
Mid-Missouri’s first interactive health science center will open to the public at 10 a.m. today. The official ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, with other events throughout the weekend.
WHAT: YouZeum grand opening WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday WHERE: 608 E. Cherry St. COST: 14 and older, $8; 4 through 13, $5; 3 and under, free. For more information, go to youzeum.org.
YouZeum has been holding soft openings for the last week and allowed the media to tour Wednesday. During the media showcase, automated voices echoed from exhibits as participants tested the displays to learn about healthy lifestyles.
“The YouZeum will engage the community not only through the exhibits, but also through community programs,” said Ann Cohen, member of the board of directors. “The YouZeum encourages self-discovery. Instead of being told something, you figure it out for yourself.”
YouZeum staff have hosted several student groups and Boone County Hospital employees and families to test-drive the exhibits before this week’s grand opening.
Glenn McClory, vice chair of the board of directors, and Ali Hussam, director of research and educational support at MU’s School of Medicine, said the most popular exhibit so far appears to be the stationary bikes that simulate a ride down a bike trail.
“We had 700 people in here last night, and there was a line behind the bikes the whole time,” McClory said. “Kids of all ages just loved it.”
Another favorite, McClory said, was the “body fair” exhibit, which tests visitors’ heart rate, grip strength and flexibility, among other things, to measure overall body fitness.
Hussam said building the bikes and the other exhibits was a “tremendous challenge” for his staff, which included about 12 MU students over the course of the last three years.
“We tackled emerging technologies for exhibits. You cannot buy these anywhere; they are very unique,” Hussam said. “The problems we’ve had with the exhibits in the last couple of days have been really minor, tweaks that any museum can expect, so I think my team has overwhelmingly succeeded on this project.”
Cohen said YouZeum expects to have an estimated 60,000 visitors annually, and Hussam said the software and exhibits can handle it.
“On the first day, we expect some big crowds, and we hope we’ll continue to see more and more people,” Hussam said. “We’ve identified what we think will be the most popular exhibits and how we can enhance them over the first six months of the museum, which is really very typical for any museum.”
Hussam said he hopes visitors will see YouZeum as a valuable resource to Columbia and as something that could be replicated at other museums in Missouri and throughout the U.S.
“I feel like this is just phase one,” Cohen said. “All of the programming is still to come. I feel like this is a good start, but there is much more to come.”