NIAGARA FALLS: Working on a formula for success in the North End

<!--Mark ScheerNiagara Gazette

May 31, 2009 06:39 pm

— Nick Dalacu has been working on a labor of love off Highland Avenue for several years.
In between projects related to the development of a specialized solar panel, the Romanian physicist has been busy turning a relic of the city’s industrial heyday into a house of scientific wonders.
Earlier this month, Dalacu achieved his goal: He opened the Niagara Science Museum inside the old National Carbon Co. headquarters building at 3625 Highland Ave.
The first floor is now home to an assortment of scientific equipment, artifacts, gizmos and oddities, with several pieces dating as far back as the late 1800s.
While excited about the museum’s progress to date, the ever-progressive minded Dalacu says he’s not satisfied just yet — not when the museum building still has a second floor worth exploring and its operator still has plenty of “cool things” he believes visitors will find as fascinating as he does.
“I think together, we can make it happen,” Dalacu said. “I hope that the community will accept us, visit us, support us and let us educate and entertain them.”
Dalacu has been laboring largely on his own and in relative obscurity since purchasing a 5-acre parcel near the intersection of Highland and College avenues in 2003. The property was once home to the industrial giant National Carbon, its successor, Union Carbide and, years later, Standard Ceramics. Dalacu originally invested in the property to give him a location to work on Canrom Photovaltaics, a company he owns that specializes in the development of a unique form of thin-film solar panel technology. He started working on the concept of a science museum in part to keep his active mind even more active and in part to give a greater purpose to the pieces in his extensive collection and to the two-story, brick building where they are now housed.
What started simply as the dream of a man with a love for all things science has in recent months transformed into a viable operation. Others in the community and the region have discovered the richness of Dalacu’s collection and have helped him put it on display for others to enjoy.
“The minute that Nick called me up I said ‘Oh yeah, this is a no-brainer, I’ve got to do this,’ ” said Gary Nickard, a professor of visual studies with the University at Buffalo who is working with Dalacu on the museum’s development. “I was surprised by the breadth and scale of his collection.”
Dalacu has been amassing antique telescopes, barometers, thermometers, mineral rocks, fossils and other items for about 30 years. His goal of going public with the collection gathered steam following a recent telephone conversation between Dalacu, Nickard and Nickard’s associate, Reinhard Reitzenstein, an exhibit designer and sculptor from UB. Nickard, Reitzenstein and Dalacu’s assistant, Richard Gray, have been working at the museum on a voluntary basis for several weeks and have helped him arrange the scientific items and pieces of art into a series of “wonder rooms” in an exhibition style that would have been found at museums in Europe during the Renaissance era. The so-called Wunderkammern style is intended to engage visitors’ curiosity and evoke a sense of awe and wonder as they view displays that are mix of both science and art. Nickard and Reitzenstein were involved in the development of a similar exhibition at Kenyon College where they offered an eclectic display of antique scientific instruments, borrowed artifacts, pieces of artwork and their own photographs. Nickard said the scientific pieces in that collection, while impressive, did not match those found in Dalacu’s own personal stash.
“It’s things that our grandfathers, if they were scientists, would be familiar with,” Nickard said.
“This is an intellectual adventure,” he added. “I’m grateful that he let us come here to play.”
Nickard promises that as per Dalacu’s wishes, the museum will be periodically re-arranged to keep the place interesting for people who visit multiple times throughout the course of a year.
“Unlike a lot of other museums where things are fairly well set once they are set up, this museum is sort of a living, breathing organism and will continue to change,” he said.
The museum is now open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Dalacu said he has received offers from several retired employees from local factories who say they are willing to donate various pieces to his collection. He added that he is continuing his solar-panel work as well.
“A critical mass is now building up with people who like to do these kinds of good things,” Dalacu said.

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James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - Nick Dalacu, founder of the Niagara Science Museum, right, talks about his collection. Gary Nickard, professor of visual studies at the University at Buffalo, left, has been helping to develop the exhibits with Dalacu.

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - Nick Dalacu, founder of the Niagara Science Museum, talks about his meteorological exhibit.

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - The Niagara Science Museum features scientific artifacts collected by founder Nick Dalacu, like these items in this radio exhibit.

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - The Niagara Science Museum features scientific artifacts collected by founder Nick Dalacu.