Located in Huntsville, Madison County, Sci-Quest is a hands-on science center that offers visitors more than 100 interactive exhibits demonstrating basic scientific principles. Sci-Quest exhibits and programming are aimed at developing children's interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The facility also offers informal, hands-on science education and workforce development programs. Sci-Quest is governed by a board of directors and employs approximately 17 people. Community volunteers provide additional support for special events and educational programs. In April 2008, Cyndy Morgan was appointed as the new executive director. That same year, Sci-Quest saw its largest visitor attendance yet, with 90,722 for the year.
The institution that would become Sci-Quest began as the North Alabama Science Center (NASC), founded in 1989 by Huntsville community volunteers who were concerned about science education and careers. During the next decade, NASC conducted a capital campaign and renovated 42,000 square-feet of former manufacturing space donated by Calhoun Community College in Huntsville. Volunteers created hands-on exhibits focusing on space, technology, and science and worked with staff to train additional volunteers. They also developed educational programs that would be used inside the science center. In May 1999, NASC moved from space loaned by Calhoun Community College to the new facility, which was named Sci-Quest.
Grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission enabled Sci-Quest to develop interactive exhibits that aligned with the basic science principles taught in Alabama public schools and to develop an Early Childhood House filled with hands-on exhibits appropriate to children ages four to eight. Support from the Huntsville City School System and the Madison County School System provided teacher assistance in developing the programs. Sci-Quest added two classrooms with funding from the Jane K. Lowe Charitable Foundation, and a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) grant provided funds for a solar display and exhibit.
Sci-Quest houses more than 100 permanent interactive exhibits examining seven themed areas. The PlayMotion exhibit allows visitors to interact directly with projectors to play entertaining and educational games. They can catch falling planets and learn facts about the planet, or build trees around their shadows on the wall. In the Early Childhood area, children aged pre-K to seven years old are introduced to basic sciences through highly interactive activities. The Early Childhood House is specifically designed to engage young children and encourage them to explore and learn. For example, a music room introduces children to the sounds of the different types of instruments mounted on the wall, and a piano keyboard on the floor. A scaled-down kitchen allows children to use their imaginations to create a home environment, and a new hands-on garden added to the Early Childhood House's backyard in 2009 allows children to "plant" different vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, and tomatoes. Sci-Quest also has hosted some popular traveling exhibits, such as "The Magic School Bus" and "Robotics."
Sci-Quest's Immersive Theater presents educational content in a 3-D, high-definition show and through touch-screen computers, allowing visitors to personalize each experience. In 2009, with the help of Connect Class 8 in Huntsville, Sci-Quest added distance learning equipment to its classroom facilities. Schools throughout the Tennessee Valley will be able to connect with scientists around the world and conduct classes and hands-on sessions from their own classrooms.