Science Museum of Virginia Brings Boozy Fun with Science on Tap


Many of our readers have probably heard of or seen the Science Museum of Virginia — it’s that giant regal-looking building down on West Broad past the DMV — but how many of you have actually been inside? Notable for its wonderful architecture, having been a train station before its current inhabitants took over, the Science Museum of Virginia serves as a staple of the Richmond community, especially in schooling young minds on topics that pique their interest. However, in recent days, the Science Museum of Virginia has been sending out a message; learning isn’t just for kids.

Through a series of events called Science On Tap, the Science Museum of Virginia has been opening its doors after hours for some adults-only fun centered around various specialty exhibits. Next Thursday, March 21st, museum-goers can find a one-of-a-kind curated experience of science fun, all while sipping specialty cocktails and engaging in hands-on science demonstrations. Make no mistake, this event is 21+ only, because sometimes you’ve got to just leave the kids at home. I sat down with Timshel Purdum and Jennifer Guild from the Science Museum of Virginia to fill me in on some of the details for this steampunk themed iteration entitled STEMpunk.

Original illustration of Jules Verne's Nautilus engine room
Original illustration of Jules Verne’s Nautilus engine room

Purdum holds the title of Virginia C. Ellett Deputy Director for Education at the Science Museum of Virginia, but she has had quite the journey to get there. She studied biology at William & Mary, and afterward jumped around to a variety of positions for many years. As Timshel herself put it, “I took kids out in the woods and taught them about the oceans. I’ve even taught blacksmithing, woodworking, kayaking… [but] what could be better than teaching science?” An eccentric who is fond of dressing up in costumes, Purdum never quite found the right fit until ending up at the Science Museum of Virginia, where she has made a living teaching children and curating unique activities for the museum — while dressing up in all the fun costumes she wants.

So what is Science on Tap, and what exactly is steampunk? In Purdum’s own words, “Science on Tap is a 21+ event at the science museum for adults to have tons of fun with science, but just for adults. Adults like to enjoy themselves, sometimes, without children around! And we’re here to serve.”

Print (c. 1902) by Albert Robida showing a futuristic view of air travel over Paris in the year 2000 as people leave the opera
Print (c. 1902) by Albert Robida showing a futuristic view of air travel over Paris in the year 2000 as people leave the opera

Currently at the museum right now is the traveling exhibit called Discover Steampunk, and Purdum and her team thought it would be fun to tie that into an experience for adults to come and be a part of. For those who aren’t familiar with the style and aesthetic, Purdum likes to describe it as “retro Victorian.” But how does it relate to scientific disciplines? Well, the answer to Purdum is incredibly simple. “Steampunk as a concept is very sci-fi, it’s tied into a lot of early science fiction writers, and also a lot of inventions, but it also comes with its own costume world,” said Purdum. Meaning that there are real-world concepts to explore, as well as fantasy aspects, and not to mention a hyper-specific style that is fun to emulate in real life.

But what exactly is going to be there? Well, starting with drinks, there will be wine, beer, and signature cocktails. After you’ve gotten yourself a boozy beverage, you can make your way over to any number of hands-on activities the museum has from the traveling exhibit Discover Steampunk. Create goggles in the forge, a creative workspace where you can design your very own steampunk-inspired glasses. Attendees can also decode messages in Morse code to discover secrets, and if you’re into games there will be a giant game of Operation that I’ve been told will tie back around to steampunk (despite just being plain old fun).

"Maison tournante aérienne" (aerial rotating house) by Albert Robida for his book Le Vingtième Siècle, a 19th-century conception of life in the 20th century
“Maison tournante aérienne” (aerial rotating house) by Albert Robida for his book Le Vingtième Siècle, a 19th-century conception of life in the 20th century

Other on-theme activities will include a room entirely dedicated to electricity where Purdum promises that attendees will have “some hair-raising experiences.” Purdum also described a steam demo, “[it’s] really about how steam powers things, because we are in a historic train station.” And then perhaps the most enticing activity is the lure of the museum’s famous planetarium. “We’re gonna get down and dirty in our planetarium as well and do some ridiculous shows about the science of space, but again, with adult humor,” said Purdum.

After you’ve put your hands on all of the themed exhibits, the museum has one last thing up their sleeve. There will be two style contests: one for costumes, one for facial hair. I asked if they thought it was possible for a contestant to win both. Guild chimed in to say, “they really need to step it up if they want to win both. We expect to see animals in that facial hair if they expect to win both.”

What Purdum and Guild ultimately want to get across with exhibits like these is that it’s never a bad time to learn. As Guild put it, “science is something that you can learn and you discover new things at any point in your life, and the cool thing about science is that it’s always changing, and evolving and we’re always learning new things.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Head on down to The Science Museum of Virginia next week if you’re craving some boozy fun with interesting and creative hands-on activities. And who knows, you might accidentally learn something too.

Science on Tap STEMPunk Science Museum of Virginia RVA Mag 2024

You can fund mire information HERE

Top image courtesy of Science Museum of Virginia.


Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

But you may call me Bones. I'm the Associate Editor of RVA Mag, and a writer and musician living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing I have gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, an album of original music, and perform lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.

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