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Interactive exhibits bring science to life at Kiewit Luminarium

April 17, 2023 | Grant Schulte | community, partnerships, renewables, solar
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The Kiewit Luminarium features more than 120 interactive exhibits and a range of programs for all ages. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

Imagine a place where you can bend light, see a sound wave and envision your own city.

It’s all possible at the Kiewit Luminarium in Omaha, with a hand from OPPD. OPPD is powering hundreds of new, interactive science exhibits at the Luminarium with energy from a rooftop solar panel that is pulling double duty as an electrical source and an educational tool.

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The Luminarium is part of a larger effort to make STEM fields more accessible and relevant to people from all walks of life. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

The Luminarium opened to the public April 15 at Lewis and Clark Landing on the Missouri River. It gives visitors a chance to learn firsthand about science, technology, engineering and math and possibly spark a newfound interest. Designed by the Exploratorium, a public learning laboratory in San Francisco, the 82,000-square-foot Luminarium is built to be a regional attraction and a big draw for tourism and education in Omaha.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Kiewit Luminarium on this exciting new project,” said OPPD President and CEO Javier Fernandez. “The solar array will show visitors one of the many ways that we’re embracing the future and meeting our customers’ needs with renewable, sustainable energy. We also hope it will inspire students to look seriously at future careers in energy, utilities and STEM fields.”

Partnership is essential to the Luminarium, said Silva Raker, Kiewit Luminarium CEO.

“It’s the key ingredient to ensure we are welcoming to all communities, especially underrepresented populations. Our partnership with OPPD is meaningful given our shared commitment to innovation and diverse workforce development,” Raker said.

Exploring natural phenomena

Exhibits give visitors the chance to explore natural phenomena, such as sound, motion and temperature.

Consider the Light Island display, where guests can play with refracted and reflected light using convex and concave lenses, curved and flat mirrors, and prisms. Or See a Sound Wave, where you can excite a tube of clear liquid by changing the frequency of an attached speaker.

Visitors can manipulate light using lenses, mirrors and prisms in the exhibit on the left. The exhibit on the right lets visitors see a sound wave. Photos by Danielle Beebe-Iske

And, of course, there’s the 3D city model exhibit, where visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the Omaha/Council Bluffs area that’s within a one-mile radius of the Luminarium. On the first floor, a table of water and sand mimics the flow of a river. Another display features native plants. For kids over age 5, a playground with ropes and complex geometric shapes offers many climbable challenges.

The Luminarium shares human stories as well, with a special focus on the Omaha area.

OPPD’s role

The new museum also allows OPPD to highlight its push for more renewable and sustainable energy sources.

OPPD has partnered with the Luminarium to place 336 solar panels on the building’s roof, a project expected to produce 188,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year, the equivalent of taking 21 passenger vehicles off the road.

Solar energy will save the Luminarium thousands of dollars a year, allowing the museum to steer money back into programs designed to entice more people into STEM careers.

The array also stands as a symbol of OPPD’s shift toward renewable energy. That shift includes Power with Purpose, one of the largest projects of its kind in the Midwest. Power with Purpose will produce up to 600 megawatts of utility-scale solar and 600 megawatts of natural gas generation to support growing customer demands. OPPD is committed to becoming a net-zero producer of carbon by 2050.

Reaching out to all

The Luminarium is part of a larger effort to make STEM fields more accessible and relevant to people from all walks of life. Its membership plan reflects that mission, with options available for individuals, two people, families and grandparents. It will serve as a venue for school field trips, but also offers evening hours reserved for adults 18 and older, featuring programming around thought-provoking topics.

The Luminarium is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Monday; it’s closed on Tuesday.

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The Luminarium has exhibits and programs for all ages. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske
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About Grant Schulte

Grant Schulte joined OPPD as a content generalist in 2022. He is a former reporter for The Associated Press, where he covered the Nebraska Legislature, state politics and other news for a global audience. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and a proud Hawkeye. In his free time he enjoys running, reading, spending time with his wife, and all things aviation.

View all posts by Grant Schulte >

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