Paleo Hall

Miocene Exhibit Hall

Step back in time 5 million years and unearth the past while exploring the science of fossils and paleontology in the Miocene Exhibit Hall.  Get a glimpse into the processes, tools, and technology used to unearth fossils right in our own backyard at the Gray Fossil Site.  View articulated replicas of specimens found on site, explore deeper with computer-animated games and challenges, and even dig in a faux dig pit.


Take a closer look at specimens with our large-lens microscope made for easy viewing.   Slides include a termite, ant, dirt, bacteria, and an earthworm.

Discovery Lab

Grab a pair of safety goggles and dive into a hands-on experiment! Engage with our staff as you ask questions, make observations, and explore chemistry, biology, physics, earth sciences, and more!  With an ever-changing array of themes, programming, and activities, the excitement never ends.  Explore the dynamic world of science and its wonders through engaging, inquiry-based experiments and demonstrations sure to inspire the scientist within.  (*Self-guided activities available all day with facilitated programs announced periodically.) Facilitated programs are temporarily suspended to help with social distancing. 

Saltville Paleontology Hall

View a variety of specimens excavated in Saltville, VA ranging from a Mastodon tooth to a Giant Short-Faced Bear skull.

Scheu Family Exhibit Hall & Art Studio in the General Shale Learning Center

Catenary Arch

Use a curved and numbered set of blocks to put together one of the most important shapes in architecture. This self-supporting arch demonstrates catenary curves, similar to what form naturally when you suspend a chain or rope by its ends.

Draw Alive

This dynamic and interactive exhibit brings art and technology together making your 2D drawings come to life.  Select a creature and color it any way you want. Then, scan your masterpiece and watch as it appears in the wall-size environment moving around and interacting with other creatures. Three themes, marine life, dinosaurs, and planes are changed out daily so each visit can be a new experience! This exhibit was sponsored by Tri-Cities Airport Authority.

Echo Tubes

These squiggly metal tubes are definitely fun to look at, but they can help sound travel too.  Whisper into one of the ends of the echo tube and have someone else listen for it on the other end.  It will sound as clear as if they are standing right next to you!


Explore principles of science, technology, engineering, math, and design!  See what you can build with these giant, interlocking, plastic blocks.

Gravity Dish

Roll one or more balls around in this funnel-shaped exhibit to see the forces of gravity and momentum interact.  Send balls spinning around the center before disappearing into a hole to get an idea of how gravity and momentum keep planets orbiting around our Sun.

Keva Planks

Construct incredible and even stunning structures by simply stacking uniform shape and size maple planks. Create a building, tower, vehicle, animal, or even letters.  The simplicity is compelling and you are only limited by your imagination.  What will you create?

Kinetic Wall

This dynamic experience gives guests an opportunity to elevate their learning and develop a foundation in physical science.  Build a path with a large assortment of magnetic tracks, chutes, tubes, spinners, and other features then evaluate your design using a variety of balls to test out different physics principals including friction, inertia, and gravity.


Build with a variety of large-scale construction pieces that encourage the exploration of simple machines.  The collection includes gears, planks, pulleys, wheels, nuts, bolts, and rope.  Rigamajig inspires three-dimensional thinking and creativity.   What can you think up?

Imagination Playground

These great big blue blocks are made out of dense foam and are easy to stack, line up, and move even for the novice builder.  Bricks, cylinders, angles, curves, chutes, hinges, gears, and channels encourage motion and connectivity.  Enjoy an endless variety of play including construction, pretend play, and even role-playing.

Art Studio

Let your imagination and creativity soar in this exhibit where you can find your inner artist.  Kids and adults of all ages can participate in self-guided art activities that stretch the imagination and offer freedom of expression using a variety of unique materials, tools, and processes.  The materials, themes, and activities of the space continually change to continue engaging visitors with new methods and experiences.  Most importantly, no matter the theme or week, visitors have the opportunity to explore, create, play, and learn in this creative space.    

Photo by Marla Milling


Tesla Theater

Witness an electrifying, Guinness record-holding experience that honors the great inventor, Nikola Tesla.  Watch in amazement as the world’s most powerful, musical, bi-polar Tesla coil turns 240 volts into 200,000. Tesla Experience Shows are offered at 10:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4:30 pm. Stop by the front desk for more details or to purchase tickets, $2 each with general admission. Click here to learn more.

(*Face masks are required during a Tesla Experience Show.) This exhibit is sponsored by Brightridge.

Paleo Tower

Experience a one-of-a-kind paleontology-themed climber!  This three-story interactive tower allows children and adults to discover the fossils of species endemic to the Gray Fossil Site.  As you ascend each level and pass each corner you will see and touch actual 3D replicated models of the fossils being uncovered here at the site.  This unique structure is the only of its kind in the United States.


Create an endless display of various forms of topography with this mesmerizing augmented reality sandbox.  Simply move the sand around to create different geographic formations.  From mountains to valleys to river deltas to flood plains, watch the water flow and collect over various watersheds. Explore geography, geology, weather, and more! This exhibit is sponsored by Cardinal Financial – Tuan Nguyen.


Preparatory Lab and Collections Viewing Windows

Get an up-close view of the work that goes on behind the scenes after digging in the field at the Gray Fossil Site.  Check out recent finds and projects, and watch real paleontologists and other scientists at work.

Archaeology Hall

Step back in time by taking a stroll down the Archaeology Hall.  View the Objects from Everyday Life and A Vibrant Crossroad collections in the Early Native American People in East Tennessee cases.  In addition, explore the gallery wall of regional artifact excavations in which staff and volunteers have participated.


Discovery Garden

The Discovery Garden features a wide variety of native trees, shrubs, grasses, vines, and flowering perennials.  Many of these were also found here 5 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch when the fossil site was a watering hole that attracted the animals that are being uncovered today.

The plants present in the garden were selected to attract pollinating insects and animals that play an important role in the food chain and the ecosystem.

Coming late summer 2021, the Discovery Garden will also feature interactive exhibits that showcase regional agricultural products that ultimately rely on these pollinators.

Paleo-Walk Viewing Deck

Get a bird’s eye view from a viewing deck at the amazing work that happens every day on an active paleontology dig site.  Get a rare glimpse into the fascinating process in which fossils are searched for, discovered, identified, and excavated, all in real-time on location.  Watch in amazement as new discoveries are being made every day!

Main Exhibit Hall

Air Cars

Experience Newton’s Third Law of Motion while racing a friend to the finish line! Test out a pre-made vehicle, or combine different frames, gears, wheels, and mechanisms to make a unique creation. Explore the effects of varying the air pressure to achieve a different result with each race.

Air Rockets

Choose a rocket or build your own, then place it on the launchpad to experience Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion first hand!  Explore the effects of varying air pressure and visit the rocket maker station for even more opportunity to experiment with different rocket designs. This exhibit is sponsored by Tevet.

Bernoulli Table

Suspend balls in mid-air while exploring the science of how objects are able to fly as if they are lighter than air!  Try to toss a ball and “catch” it in a stream of air, or suspend a ball in each air stream simultaneously before the timed air flow runs out.

Circuit Bench

Connect a maze of circuits to complete a connection with the gadget you wish to spin, sound-off, or light up. It’s an oversized take on a snap circuit. Explore the different amounts of energy needed to power different gadgets. Explore how activating multiple components at once changes the effort required at the hand-crank.

Colorful Shadows

Step in front of the wall to make shadows of three different colors—yellow, magenta, and cyan. All three of your shadows will wiggle, jump, and dance along with you in unison.  Explore how the overlapping colors combine in an unexpected patchwork of black, white, red, green, and blue.  How can three colored lights make so many different hues?


Everbright is a large-scale interactive light wall, inspired by the classic Lite-Brite toy.  It’s a grid of hundreds of adjustable LED dials that turn endlessly in either direction through the color spectrum.  Explore colors, experiment with hues, and design abstract patterns and geometric shapes.  Everbright gives you an outlet for unique creative expression.

Infinity Mirror

Take a look through the eye holes into the space between the mirrors.  Images seem to repeat forever using mirrors in a strategic arrangement.  If you’ve ever been between two mirrors that face each other, such as in a barbershop or a salon, you’re familiar with the seemingly endless line of images.  How many of yourself do you see?


An interactive sculpture consisting of a spinning cylinder and guitar strings, that when plucked, demonstrate how strings behave when they vibrate to produce sound.  While spinning, your eye briefly retains an image, which your brain combines into a series of images creating a wave pattern.

Pin Wall

Make an impression with our life-size Pin Art Wall.  Similar to pixels on a monitor, our Pin Wall uses thousands of injection-molded pins to create a detailed representation of almost any object.  Create a three-dimensional image of yourself or other objects simply by touching the pins.

PVC Pipe Organ

Whack the open ends of large PVC tubes with foam paddles to create musical tones.  Make up your own songs or use the included songbook.  Your symphony awaits!

Quantum Space

Immerse yourself into a stunning augmented reality experience that turns you into an art show. Abstract artistic visuals are generated on a screen and are affected in real-time by your movements.

Ring Launcher

Crank a generator to charge the capacitors to send an aluminum ring flying high from the launch pad.  Experiment with different ring sizes, weights, and air pressure to achieve different results.  Get ready for launch!

Sail Cars

Select a sail car base and sail from a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes to create a custom sail car.  Place the sail car on the platform and presses the button to turn on the fans.  Your vessel must zig-zag, or “tack”, from starboard to port to reach a destination.  Experiment with different sail sizes, shapes, and angles to discover which combinations sail the fastest.  Sail away!

Shake Table

Shake things up while exploring the effects of vibration on physical structures. By changing the frequency of vibration, find harmonic frequencies within your structure and explore options to increase your structure’s ability to withstand vibration.  Your mission is to engineer a miniature earth-quake proof structure, then turn the dial to start an earthquake simulation.

Tot Spots

Designed for younger children ages infant to age 3, our Tot Spots offer the opportunity for discovery on the smallest of scales.  With a variety of costumes for role-playing, and manipulatives for fine motor skill development, there is something to keep every tot engaged.  A total of three Tot Spots include STEM careers, farming, nature exploration, and paleontology are located throughout both buildings.

Vertical Flyer

Fly over to select a paper cone to make your own propeller by cutting a custom design. Once you are ready to test your creation, press the button to turn on the fan and place your cone into the air column. Test out different flyer designs to discover which designs fly highest, accelerate fastest, and stay in the air column the longest.  Up, up, and away we go!