CDC Museum

Ever notice your child studying her scrapes and bruises with something more than ordinary curiosity?

Does she subject the pediatric nurse to the third degree when she’s being inoculated? Is your son eager to see the thermometer himself after you’ve checked his temperature? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to take your child to the David J. Sencer CDC Museum (formerly known as the Global Health Odyssey Museum) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters.
For my kids, who are intrigued by science (think Bill Nye the Science Guy), top-secret missions (a la James Bond) and modern architecture (The High Museum vs. The Guggenheim), a day at the CDC museum was just the ticket. Located across from the Emory University campus, this state-of-the-art facility features an upstairs gallery space for traveling exhibits that relate to health topics – not just scabs, vaccinations and disease, but also air quality, tobacco, drugs and workplace safety. But it’s the bright gallery downstairs that families want to know about. That’s where you will find a permanent “history of the CDC” exhibit.
My son, a second-grader armed with a juvenile spy thriller, was delighted that our car had to be searched before we were allowed into the parking lot. Once inside the building, both children were enthralled by the multimedia presentation, “The Global Symphony,” which gave them a glimpse of studies CDC scientists have led over the years, such as on Legionnaires’ disease and Ebola. Because they don’t watch TV on a regular basis, this screening was a highlight of the visit.
My daughter, a middle schooler, was fascinated by the traveling exhibit, which covered working conditions in mills throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Though it was certainly eye-opening, these black-and-white photographs did not hold my son’s attention, so we quickly moved downstairs to the colorful, more interactive “History of the CDC” exhibit. We viewed an actual iron lung and the transmission electron microscope that scientists used to study diseases such as the West Nile virus. We learned how human beings, animals and the environment interact in the spread of Ebola. We tried on biohazard suits just like the ones researchers wear when they work with highly infectious agents. We marveled (and cringed) at the three-foot-long guinea worm that had been embedded in a West African person’s leg. We shuddered at the sight of a vial of anthrax behind glass. And that was just in the first half-hour.
Children younger than 10 or 11 may not find it as engaging as older kids. While the exhibits are colorful and artfully displayed, there is a fair amount of text to read. With the exception of the biohazard suits, visitors are not allowed to touch any of the exhibits.

– Beth Balga

If  You Go

David J. Sencer CDC Museum
1600 Clifton Road NE at CDC Pkwy, Atlanta. 404-639-0830; cdc.gov/museum

  • Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Thurs. until 7 p.m.
  • Admission: Free; group tours (10 or more people) available by reservation.
  • Parking: Nearby and free.
  • Upcoming Exhibits: The upstairs gallery space at the David J. Sencer CDC Museum will have two new summer exhibits: “Art Meets Science” will feature 35 quilts by international artists; these textiles draw upon scientific theories in unexpected ways; and “Savior of Mothers: The Forgotten Ballet of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis,” an installation of artifacts and more related to an imaginary 19th-century ballet about a real Hungarian doctor considered the “father of handwashing.” Both exhibits run June 11-Sept. 5.