Science gets a spooky twist at annual Cranbrook event

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 10, 2012

 Live vampire bats will be among the attractions waiting for guests at the annual Halloween event at Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Live vampire bats will be among the attractions waiting for guests at the annual Halloween event at Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Photo provided

BIRMINGHAM — At the Cranbrook Institute of Science, learning is so much fun it’s scary. At least it will be on Oct. 20, when the museum presents its annual Halloween event, with more hands-on activities than you can shake a broomstick at.

According to Nancy Swords, head of education and visitor experience at Cranbrook, the event has been an annual favorite with museum-goers for more than 20 years. Last year, the event was expanded to two two-hour sessions to accommodate the many scientists of all ages looking for a scary good time.

“We say it’s great for 5 and older,” said Swords. “We’ll be speaking about the science, and we do explain it along the way. We really let them experience it first-hand.”

Among the demonstrations that guests will be able to partake in will be creating electronic gadgets, making glow sticks to take home and crafting creepy scabs and scars. Visitors will also be able to pit giant hissing cockroaches against each other in races, dissect a number of spooky specimens, like sheep eyeballs and owl pellets, and observe DNA extraction.

Just outside the museum walls, the institute’s three-ton trebuchet, a modern version of a medieval siege weapon, will hurl pumpkins and cabbages into the air while other gourds are blown up on the lawn.

Perhaps the most popular attraction at the event, though, is the institute’s Bat Zone, where guests can pay a visit to real vampire bats or step into the murky darkness in the “Extreme Deep” ocean exhibit.

Returning to the festivities this year is “Dr. Kelp,” who bears a striking resemblance to the institute’s own John Zawiskie, resident geologist and paleontologist. Dr. Kelp will attempt to debunk common myths about ghosts with his scientific demonstrations that always leave the audience in giggles.

Zawiskie said the event is a hit with kids and parents alike because it has all the fun of a seasonal haunted house, but with a good dose of learning on the side.

“Everything we do is based on real science. They’re having so much fun they don’t realize they’re learning chemistry, biology, geology,” he said.

Stephen Pagnani, head of communications for Cranbrook, said the Halloween celebration has grown to be the most popular community event the institute offers, with more than a 1,000 people visiting in a single day. He said that with more than 20 hands-on demonstrations, make-and-take projects, unique exhibits and even a haunted roller coaster in the Acheson Planetarium, this year’s registration will no doubt fill up fast.

The Halloween Science event will take place 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Oct. 20. Tickets are $13 per child and $2 per adult for institute members, and $16 per child and $5 per adult for the general public. Pre-registration closes at 5 p.m. Oct. 18. For more information or to register for the event, visit or call (248) 645-3210. Costumes are encouraged.

The Cranbrook Institute of Science is located at 39221 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills.