About spectrUM

spectrUM through the years


Ignite passion for discovery through science.


A future where everyone has the opportunity to experience joy in science.


Science is creative.

Science is a process.

Science is collaborative.

Science is for everyone.

View our 2023 impact report.



  • UM chemistry professor Chuck Thompson initiates a vision for a UM hands-on science center. With the support of Biomedical & Pharmaceutical Sciences chair Vernon Grund, the concept is incorporated into a successful National Science Foundation EPSCoR proposal.
  • Holly Truitt joined the newly forming project as founding director and, with MT NSF EPSCoR’s Gay Allison, visited science centers up and down the west coast to study effective models and cultivate relationships with mentors in the field. They were particularly influenced by the San Francisco Exploratorium and its robust high-school “Explainer” program.
  • A steering committee was formed. Members included Estella Anderson, Callyn Casady, Gary Gagermeier, Katie George, Diane Friend, Jerry King, Sean Kiffe, and Glenn Kreisel, with an ad hoc member, Sam Dean, then with the San Francisco Exploratorium.
  • In the summer of 2006, the project piloted the Science Learning Tent, assembled its first team of educators, launched the Explainer program, and named itself the Super Science Squad. That winter it hosted a Circus of Science that had over 1,200 attendees.


  • The steering committee generated a list of names. Gary Gagermeier suggested SPECTRUM submitted by Gary Gagermeier, and Chuck suggested the name be all lowercase with the UM capitalized.
  • That year, spectrUM formally partnered with the San Francisco Exploratorium through its ExNET program for its first exhibits, and on October 7, 2007, spectrUM opened its doors in the Skaggs Building on campus.


  • spectrUM launches the Montana spectrUM Science Experience (now called Science on Wheels), which brings spectrUM exhibitions to K-12 schools statewide, transforming school gyms into hands-on science centers.


  • UM neuroscience professor Mike Kavanaugh secures funding from the National Institutes of Health for the Big Sky Brain Project, with Holly Truitt as co-principal investigator. The grant includes funding for a high-school neuroscience Explainer program, a traveling neuroscience exhibition, and in-museum exhibits and activities.


  • spectrUM expands and relocates to the Maya Building on Front Street, with major support from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
  • With seed funding from the Science Festival Alliance, a project of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Holly Truitt invited a group of long-time partners on the Flathead Reservation to form an advisory group that would soon name itself SciNation.


  • Missoula Public Library hosts spectrUM’s nanoscience exhibit, the first of many free pop-up exhibits to rotate into the youth services area of the library.
  • spectrUM receives honorable mention in the Noyce Foundation’s Bright Lights Community Engagement Awards competition in recognition of its innovative partnership with SciNation to co-program the Science Learning Tent at the Arlee Celebration.
  • Missoula Public Library invites spectrUM to consider joining a museum-library complex to be created with the future construction of the new Missoula Public Library.
  • spectrUM, along with multiple partners, is awarded an EPA grant to provide field-based groundwater education to high school students in western Montana.


  • The National Science Foundation awards spectrUM a grant to co-design and program a mobile, cultural makerspace on the Flathead Reservation.
  • The Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science awards spectrUM and SciNation the Paul Shin Memorial Award for their work inspiring people about science.
  • With support from the Jane S. Heman Foundation, spectrUM launches the Bitterroot Summer of Science, which has since continued each year to bring free hands-on STEM programming to communities across the Bitterroot.
  • spectrUM launches Big Night, its annual fundraiser to promote access for all. In its first year, Big Night is held in a tent in the parking lot of the Maya Building.


  • The Institute of Museum & Library Services awards spectrUM funding to create EmPower Place, a collaborative project with Missoula Food Bank and Missoula Public Library to create a free family learning center at the food bank.
  • The Martin Family Foundation awards spectrUM a grant to partner with Bitterroot schools to develop in-school making and tinkering experiences and role-model engagement. The project launches the annual Making & Tinkering Institute, a professional development workshop for educators, as well as spectrUM’s Bitterroot advisory group.


  • spectrUM relocates to Toole Crossing on Missoula’s Westside and celebrates its 10th birthday with a community celebration.
  • EmPower Place celebrates its grand opening.
  • spectrUM, SciNation, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes launch the Kwul 'I'tkin Maker Truck, the mobile, cultural makerspace developed with funding from NSF.
  • spectrUM and SciNation receive a special recognition award from the Montana Indian Education Association for their innovative, community-based approach to STEM engagement.


  • After Holly Truitt steps down as founding director, Jessie-Herbert Meny, who had led spectrUM’s education programs since 2008, is appointed director.
  • The Association of Science & Technology Centers honors spectrUM with a Roy L. Shafter Leading Edge Award in the category of visitor experience. The “Edgie” recognizes spectrUM’s role in developing and programming EmPower Place.


  • spectrUM closes temporarily on March 14th during the Covid-19 pandemic. During this closure, spectrUM moves into the new Missoula Public Library complex.
  • spectrUM is awarded funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to design a new "Making Across Montana" exhibition.
  • Through a collaboration with Maker Ed and with generous funding from Cognizant, spectrUM worked with a cohort of over 20 teachers at five different sites around the state between the spring of 2020 - fall of 2022 to embed maker education within their curriculum.


  • spectrUM reopens at its new location on May 3rd at the Missoula Public Library and begins to offer free admission for all.
  • spectrUM is awarded funding from the Institue of Museum and Library Services, "Transforming Spaces" to develop Native science experiences.


  • spectrUM becomes a NASA Community Anchor.
  • spectrUM is awarded a Communities for Immunity grant from the Association of Science and Technology Centers to develop a series of public events that educate about the Covid-19 vaccine.


  • Alex Sobin is appointed director in November.