North Carolina Science Scene

A Duke community guide to science attractions across NC

#2 | North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

October 26, 2022
Science Magazine

North Carolina is known for many things: having the highest waterfall in the eastern US, being the home of Krispy Kreme, and, of course, touting its status as first in flight. But did you know that it also has the largest natural history museum in the southeastern United States? With an extensive collection dating back to 1879 that fills 300,000 square feet, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) in downtown Raleigh is a must-see for any science enthusiast.

NCMNS boasts a truly enormous selection of exhibits. As you might expect, North Carolina is featured prominently. Displays include dioramas of habitats across the state: mountains, coast, and everything in between. The museum also offers an aquarium replicating NC’s offshore habitats and an exhibit showcasing fossils of the state’s prehistoric fauna. Don’t miss the rocks and minerals exhibit featuring NC’s rich geological resources — emeralds, diamonds, and rubies, oh my!

Other special attractions highlight a diverse range of topics in the natural sciences. Several exhibits focus on animals, such as snake, bug, and live butterfly displays, as well as an extensive whale skeleton collection that includes a blue whale. Exhibits feature a broad spectrum of topics including — but certainly not limited to — everything from tropical ecology and dinosaur fossils to weather and microbiology. 

But wait, there's more! The museum is debuting a new temporary exhibit called “James Cameron: Challenging the Deep,” in which viewers examine famous shipwrecks and learn about diving exploration technology through a multimedia experience (note: unlike the museum itself, this exhibition does have a fee — $14 for students). Looking to the future, a new permanent exhibit set to be revealed in 2023, “Dueling Dinosaurs,” will showcase a unique fossil containing the complete skeleton of both a Triceratops and T. rex.

In keeping with its mission “to illuminate the natural world and inspire its conservation,” NCMNS is structured at every level to facilitate the spread of science knowledge. In addition to its main facility in Raleigh, the museum also has four satellite campuses across the state. These campuses, in conjunction with its 100 Counties Project that aims to provide science-related services to every North Carolina county, allow the museum to make its collection accessible beyond its home city. NCMNS also participates in the Triangle SciTech Expo, a science and technology festival that brings together colleges, companies, and museums from across the Research Triangle region to promote and educate about scientific discovery.

There are boundless opportunities to participate in fun, educational museum experiences at NCMNS. The museum has myriad events throughout the year with highlights like BugFest each fall — for all the aspiring entomologists out there — and celebrations of natural science-y holidays such as Reptile and Amphibian Day and Darwin Day. NCMNS hosts recurring events as well. Thursday night Science Cafés include dinner, trivia contests, and the chance to chat with scientists. The last Friday of each month is Final Friday, a science and cinema bonanza. 

If museums are your cup of tea, get involved with NCMNS! The museum hosts researchers for practically any natural science topic imaginable (even malacology, the study of mollusks, has a dedicated team). Learn more by checking out NCMNS’s enormous online collections database, joining one of the museum-sponsored citizen science projects, or signing up for a volunteering or internship opportunity.

Feel like reading even more display signs? When you visit NCMNS make sure to stroll over to the North Carolina Museum of History located right across the street. To expand your horizons further and learn about the workings of the NC government, visit the North Carolina Capitol building, North Carolina Supreme Court, and North Carolina Executive Mansion — all within two blocks of the museum.

Before You Go: 


Hours:  Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm

Admission cost:  free

Recommended Excursion:  day trip

Located in the Capital District of downtown Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is approximately a 45-minute drive from Duke University.

All photos belong to

Lydia Cox

Lydia (Trinity ’25) is from Charleston, SC and is majoring in Biology. She enjoys nature photography, arts and crafts, and game/movie nights with friends!

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