Port Discover Science Center Needs Your Enthusiasm

Posted on 14th May 2009 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Ionian Enchantment

Nobody flunks a science museum. – Frank Oppenheimer, founder of Exploratorium


Center Director Jenny Eaton at the Port Discover Booth
for Knobbs Creek Recreation Center's Safety Day

Center Director Jenny Eaton at the Port Discover Booth
for Knobbs Creek Recreation Center’s Safety Day

There’s a feeling I get when I find a picture of a living species on Earth that looks as though it belongs in a science fiction film, come across a new mathematical equation that explains some part of the world around me I previously thought unquantifiable, or read the philosophical speculations of a researcher who has spent a decade immersed in the intricate details of some obscure scientific realm. These are discoveries already made known to the world, but I am discovering them personally for the first time, and I come away from them seeing the entire world around me with a new layer of understanding. I’m addicted to this feeling, constantly seeking it out, so that I am perpetually looking at the world in a different light.

This state of mind, the sense of harmony we receive from comprehending that our reality is orderly and understandable is known as the Ionian Enchantment, a term coined by the physicist and philosopher Gerald Holton, and I’ve always thought the Physicist Richard Feynman best articulated it in this passage:

The World looks so different after learning science.

For example, trees are made of air, primarily. When they are burned, they go back to air, and in the flaming heat is released the flaming heat of the sun which was bound in to convert the air into tree. [A]nd in the ash is the small remnant part which did not come from air, that came from the solid earth, instead.

These are beautiful things, and the content of science is wonderfully full of them. They are very inspiring, and they can be used to inspire others.

A regular visit to the Port Discover science center in downtown Elizabeth City offers a fresh bit of Ionian enchantment each month. Walk into the center one week and you might find a light box filled with rows of sprouting plants, another week might find a new terrarium filled with local plant life, and every month brings new guest speakers to present engaging perspectives on the infinite enlightening subjects science has to offer. This perpetual introduction of new ideas to engage the mind is an attribute of all good science centers.

When volunteers were helping to put the Port Discover together, Director LuAnne Pendergraft kept reminding everyone that we were building a center not a museum. Nearly 50 years ago the Science Center Movement began, a “dramatic shift toward the empowerment of students and individuals to be in control of their own learning,” and creating “new institutions of ideas rather than things.” Yet, despite being a half-century in age, the movement is still in its emergent phase, still catching on; however, as Alan Nursall of Science North argues, centers serve an important need in our communities:

A science center can illustrate to visitors that science is an energizing human activity and that great works of science are as passionate and inspirational as great music, art, and sport… [Science Centers] must provide an opportunity to enjoy science, to do science, to laugh at and about science, to be skeptical of science, and to be awed by science. We need places like that–science arenas–where we can play with our friends and let our minds work up a sweat.


Director LuAnne Pendergraft Setting Up
LED Booklights at the Port Discover booth 
for the Fourth of July

Director LuAnne Pendergraft Setting Up
LED Booklights at the Port Discover booth
for the Fourth of July

Port Discover serves this fantastic function in our community, and it does so with a miniscule amount of space. Recently, the space adjacent to the science center became vacant, providing the perfect opportunity to expand; however, in order to do this, Port Discover needs public funding to purchase the space, and is asking for $50,000 each year for three years, which the center will match with equal funds raised through charitable donations:

May 6, 2009

Friend of Port Discover:

Port Discover is seeking to expand its operations to the former Arts of the Albemarle space adjacent to the current center location. Exhibits, activities and programs would expand along with the physical space. In order to be most successful, Port Discover is requesting public financial support from the City of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County. The request from Port Discover’s Board of Directors is not from the general fund, but rather from funds that are restricted to tourism-related projects, for which Port Discover qualifies.

If you believe that Port Discover is a positive addition to Elizabeth City and that your family and the greater community would benefit from an expanded space, we need your help. Please express support by communicating about a positive experience related to Port Discover; your feelings about the need for informal science education centers; a family trip planned around a center like Port Discover or the positive effect Port Discover creates for visitors and residents. Or simply say “I support Port Discover and hope that you will too by helping them grow”.

  • Contact your Pasquotank County Commissioner. Information at www.co.pasquotank.nc.us/Departments/manager/commissioners.cfm
  • Contact your Elizabeth City Council representative. Information at www.cityofec.com
  • Write a letter of support to Port Discover at 613 E. Main Street, Elizabeth City
  • Email a letter of support to luanne@portdiscover.org
  • Become a Port Discover member. Download a membership brochure at www.portdiscover.org under “Get Involved.”
  • Send a monetary donation to Port Discover.
  • Thanks for your commitment to Port Discover!

    Science centers nurture an environment conducive to free Inquiry, where young minds are encouraged to explore whatever suits their interests, and, by providing the means to explore the world of ideas, the science center tailors learning to the individual, empowering them. In fostering a community curious about the world of ideas around them, science centers can bring us a bit closer to Dennis Schatz’s dream:

    I have a fantasy–that someday science will be as pervasive as sports in our society. Just think what it would mean to have intramural science, after-school science, and even that pickup science activity at the local park…. The ultimate test for knowing when science is as pervasive as sports will be when everyone has to rush home to see Monday Night Science.

    2 Comments

    1. “I have a fantasy–that someday science will be as pervasive as sports in our society”

      A similar feeling overtakes me when I drive around Roanoke and surrounding areas. I see our humble science museum downtown, a modest little place that manages to squeak by with funding from a few generous people. But that’s it. One science museum. I drive away from it, and the surrounding areas are littered with thousands of churches. It just doesn’t seem right that two institutions that attempt to understand the universe and our role in it are so disproportional in their constituents.

      Comment by Dave — May 14, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    2. Well said. My sentiments exactly.

      Comment by ideonexus — May 14, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

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