Niagara Gazette

September 4, 2013

Niagara Science Museum goes to school

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Since he opened the Niagara Science Museum several years ago, Nick Dalacu has been relentless in his efforts to get people through its doors. 

Listed as one of "the top ten museums for geeks," by Listverse.com and getting support from national museum experts as well as rave reviews on sites including TripAdvisor.com, the white-haired Romanian physicist can't seem to inspire many locals to visit his little museum, located inside the former National Carbon building at 3625 Highland Ave.

He imagines the place filled with students and science buffs of all ages, admiring his wide-ranging collection of scientific gadgets and exhibits, everyone looking at bugs under microscopes and watching demonstrations on electricity and radio waves. And some people seem to have caught his fever.

Retired Niagara Falls chemist and museum volunteer Carl Slenk calls the museum a "fantastic hidden gem," and said Wednesday that "one of my frustrations is trying to think of how the community can support it."  

Mayor Paul Dyster is a supporter and has talked the place up, as well as bringing local leaders to visit. He says the museum displays "bring some of the mystery and romance back to science, which is the way that people get interested in science in the first place."

And recently, state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, promised Dalacu to write letters of support to area foundations, asking them to consider assisting the museum with grant support.

Occasionally tourists wander off the beaten path to make their way to the museum's door and groups of students come on field trips from surrounding schools or summer camps.  But, not nearly enough people come to satisfy Dalacu, a man who has built the museum because he passionately believes that kids should love science — or at least understand it better than they do. Though he gets discouraged, he is always trying to figure out a way to gather support, talking and meeting with as many city leaders as possible to get more people to support his efforts.

Recently, he had an idea that if the people wouldn't come to him, he would go to the people.

He asked Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Cynthia Bianco if he could put items in the display cases at the district headquarters on 66th Street.  She offered him one exhibit case. They finally agreed on seven.

For the past month, he's been getting ready for school to start, filling the cases with some of his most interesting artifacts and instruments, including a 400 million-year-old fossil, an antique vacuum pump and a vintage condenser, which was once used to store electricity. 

"These are beautiful, wonderful things and they are absolutely necessary for developing proper scientific minds in kids," Dalacu said.

Bianco said Wednesday that inviting Dalacu into the building was easier than expecting teachers to take their classes to the museum, especially given the more stringent state education requirements facing her teachers this new school year. 

"I told them this morning, I want you to feel the same sense of urgency I do," she said of her meeting with her teaching staff, who she hopes will hit the ground running and keep up the pace through to the last day of school next June. Bianco discussed the need to meet the state's new core requirements, adding that help from parents and community members, such as the science museum director, are much needed.

Dalacu said he was working late one night when he heard a voice say, "'are you still here?'"

Fidgeting with a display he responded, "Yes. Because I love what I do."

He turned and was surprised to find the superintendent was the one addressing him.

She delivered three words that Dalacu cannot seem to hear enough of:  "We appreciate that." 

Dalacu is grateful in return to be allowed to showcase his museum at the district office. He notes that the more he shows up at the building — carefully creating displays as one might arrange a bouquet of flowers — the nicer people are to him.  He smiled as he described the responses he was getting from those who remark on the exhibits. 

"They are showing their sympathy for what I am trying to do," he said. 

For more information about the Niagara Science Museum, visit www.niagarasciencemuseum.org or call 282-2975.