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Posts Tagged ‘science’

This summer my museum’s special exhibit is Mummies of the World, a fairly new traveller from American Exhibitions Inc.  When I first heard that we were getting this exhibit I was stoked, I mean really excited.  Since I’ve worked at TFI we’ve hosted two blockbusters about ancient Egypt (Tut and Cleopatra) and although these were fantastic exhibits with beautifully presented artifacts, they were seriously lacking in the wrapped-up dead people.  And I mean, c’mon, isn’t that the thing we living humans are REALLY interested in?  Okay, maybe just me and all the 10-year old boys out there…  Anyway, Mummies of the World boasts 70 human and animal mummies all sharing a well-designed 10,000 square foot gallery space.

Our Public Relations department did a great event for the press during the load-in process.  They got some uber-serious security guys to escort the exhibit cases and personally load in the mummies.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that all I could think of the whole time was what a great practical joke it would be to hide someone in one of the cases (wrapped in bandages, of course) and then have them pop out right after the Philly Tourism Board spokeswoman exclaimed, “Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over!” with a sign reading “FOREVER.”  But I guess that’s what working in a haunted house for 3 years will do to a person…

The "short guy" was probably 6'3"...

And I thought I had a weird job.

"With Love" campaign banner, cute!

When the education team met earlier this year to plan out what programs we wanted to offer, one of the ideas we kept coming back around to was how cool it would be to let people touch mummies.  Since the exhibit curators wouldn’t look too kindly on us prying open cases for guests we decided to take a slightly different route: frogs.  So in February we ordered an army of frogs (dissection specimen, we didn’t catch them…) and set to mummifying them in a variety of ways.

Buddy and his many mummified frogs

The specimen were dried, baked, salted, pickled and frozen and all turned out surprisingly well.  During the press event we were able to meet with Dr. Heather Gill-Frerking, the lead scientist/mummiologist (a special word made up by the exhibit) on Mummies of the World.  I was a little nervous at first, worrying she might take our demonstration the wrong way and think we were making fun of her work.  Fortunately she was thrilled.  Her own PhD dissertation examined mummies and she created a similar experiment with fetal pigs in the bogs of north Germany.  An anchorwoman from a local news station was really interested and did a fun spot with Dr. Gill-Frerking and the frogs.  More pictures from the event here.

The anchorwoman loved it 😉

We’ve had the “Mummification Station”, as the demonstration is now called, on the museum floor for a few weeks now and it seems to be a really big hit with our guests.  After the press event we ordered a kitchen vacuum-sealer and encased the frogs in freezer bags.  This way guests can still get a good idea of how the various mummification techniques look and feel.  The one specimen that I have some reservations about is the frozen frog, or “Flash” as he is affectionately known around the office.  Even though he spends the day packed in an insulated cooler surrounded by ice packs he still ends up a bit mushy by closing time.  This might be one of those instances where our imaginations are better than the real thing…

Meet Flash

The exhibit itself is really interesting and I definitely recommend it.  There are mummies from all around the globe– South America, Europe, Oceania, Asia and of course Egypt.  The exhibit focuses mostly on what scientific techniques and technologies are used to learn more about mummies.  It also talks about the history of mummification though you will have to look and listen closely to get the religious and cultural lessons in some galleries.  The art historian in me was a little let down BUT the exhibit is meant for a science museum venue so I really can’t complain.  I left the exhibit with a greater understanding of how other cultures handle their dead and some new science knowledge.  Oh and the gift store has some pretty hilarious merchandize like onsies that make your baby look like a mummy and “I ❤ my Mummy” t-shirts, I must resist it’s fun wares daily 😉

 

*Because they keep things under wraps!!!  Hahaha, of corpse that’s the answer!

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I can’t believe how remiss I’ve been in my journal!  Nothing much exciting was going on and then I was sick for a week and did nothing but lay on the couch (and go to work, so stupid).  But last week I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the “Science of Art” conference hosted by the National Museum of American History in D.C.  The museum paid for my first night and then after the conference was over Patrick and I made a little holiday of it and stayed an extra day and a half. 

Washington Monument and swirly cloud by Patrick

The conference was actually really interesting and I always enjoy meeting colleagues from other museums.  I liked brainstorming with the other attendees and thinking of ways we can better the leaders of tomorrow.  I was also able to incorporate the enthusiasm for arts-based teaching I gained into a family workshop today at work– very cool!  I did a reprise of my fresco painting class, condensed to 45 minutes.  Everyone had a blast 🙂

Anyway, back to D.C.  Pat wandered around on his lonesome while I soaked up all the art and science goodness.  He took some fabulous photos and is now the house expert at the “shutter priority” setting on our camera.  I was especially impressed with some of his museum shots.

Dancing with the planes @ Air and Space

 

Black and white composition

 

Air and Space

After the conference ended we did a TON of sight-seeing.  One of my co-workers used to live in D.C. so she had a ton of insider tips for us (like how to get the Zoo without walking up the huge hill from the Metro- yessss!).  It was so good to be out of  Philly for a few days, to explore a new city together and to just relax.  I am also very excited that we stayed exactly on our pre-planned budget.  My favorite splurge was definitely our yummy lunch at some Mexican place by the Zoo.  Nothing like a pitcher of sangria to put you in “vacation” mode!

Not as awesome when you're on the bus for 4 hours after...

D.C. is a really interesting town.  We were both surprised by the lack of tall buildings (is there some kind of building code?), but it certainly made it easier to orient yourself to the Capitol!  They seem to have a pretty extensive bicycle lane infrastructure– here’s an example of a “bike boulevard”, so classy.

Bike commuter paradise

There are also racks of bikes all over the city that you can rent by the hour and then return to any other rack station in the city.  Seems like a pretty nifty idea and a good way to encourage people to leave their cars in the suburbs.  We did notice a lot of pedestrians using the bike lanes as their own personal extension of the sidewalk though, so I guess this system is still getting some kinks worked out.

Tidal basin Cherry Trees

We spotted an alarming number of bow ties, many potential undercover agents and the usual kinda crazy/kinda funny bums.  It’s really true, no matter where you go… people are pretty much the same! 

Very wise!

On Friday we trekked to the National Cathedral.  Very beautiful art, amazing stained glass and just a wonderful feeling of immensity.  But beyond that we agreed that it didn’t really feel like a hallowed space.  I wonder if it was the hoards of tourists or the fact that this space really does serve a non-religious purpose at times?  I’m interested to see how this experience compares to centuries-old churches we’ll visit in Europe.

My photographic juxtaposition of church/state

My favorite sculpture

Central nave

We took over 800 pictures yowser!  I can’t post them all here so I put a bunch on my flickr site click here.  I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites:

Panda butt

By Patrick

Botanic Garden

1600 Pennsylvania Ave

Fun trip!

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Games=Learning?

Yesterday the vice president of our education/exhibits shared some statistics with us:

The 2010 PSSA (state proficiency exam) shows that only 16.3 percent of 11th graders scored a “proficient” in science testing.  That means 83.7 percent of these students are NOT reaching the “proficient” standard.  83.7!  Looking at younger grades, 8th grade students scored a 25.9 percent proficiency and 4th graders pulled a 53.3 percent proficiency.  A quick google search of “PSSA scores, news” reveals a few databases and some success stories of schools who pulled their numbers up.  The District touts improvements in math and reading (as they should) but is completely mum on the science scores.  There are few (if any) articles that admonish the fact that 83.7 percent of this city’s young adults are scientifically illiterate.  Hmm.

These statistics lead to a discussion of our role as informal educators in a science museum.  Our mission, to inspire a passion for science and technology learning, is supported by our programming efforts.  Our VP explained that the mission is our “what” and programming is our “how” but what we’re missing is the “why”.  Why do we, the museum and educators, provide programming? 

Revealing the "fingerprint" of a star

We all mostly agreed that the museum is an alternative to formal education, to news outlets and the internet.  It’s a place where people can supplement their knowledge, test ideas and experience science phenomena first-hand.  We provide programming because being scientifically literate is essential.  Science helps explain the world around us.  It makes us think and question.

Biology- it's the science of us

One of the group members said something that really stuck with me– that most informal educators are in museums because they feel there is something wrong with the formal education system and they can’t reconcile that with their desire to teach.  For me this is not the case.  I work in a museum because I love museums.  But I love school, too!  As I learn more about formal education in our country I find myself becoming more and more interested in becoming part of the “cure.”  Sure, I love creating fun programs, interacting with guests of all ages and teaching others how to teach.  But what if my talents are better suited to the “front lines” of education?  It’s something to think about.

Dance, molecules, dance!

In the meantime I know my team and I can continue to try our best to get visitors excited about not just science but learning in general.  Afterall, if people aren’t excited to learn and to develop their mind why should they care about the subject– science, math, social studies, etc.  For me the “why” is because we need a society of enthusiastic learners who delight in critical thinking.  Brains on, everyone!

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tired cat (not like he worked all day...)

what a yawn!

We had two big thunderstorms today.  Luckily no major winds like the storm a few weeks ago.  I patiently waited on our back stoop under the cover of our neighbor’s balcony for the storm to pass.  Cool rain washed away the mugginess of the day’s heat.  Thunder boomed loud and commanding as lightning flashed across the sky.  I filled my nostrils with the sweet smell of damp earth.  Soon enough the rain slowed, the clouds parted and I ventured into our soggy backyard to document the drips and drops:

rain and sun loving weeds

drip!

I couldn’t stop thinking about science the whole time I watched the storm.  Today I found out that the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is holding a contest to find a “roommate” for a month– you go live in the MSI for a month and blog/tweet/talk to visitors about it.  How cool would that be?!  I love that place– my parents would take us to Chicago at Christmastime and I have many fond and vivid memories of the MSI.  I have to make a 60-second video on why they should pick me…  isn’t being a huge museum and science nerd enough?

Isn’t it amazing that science can explain the shape of a raindrop, the different “pings” that raindrop makes when it hits different surfaces and even the ripple-y puddle it falls into?  Living before the “age of enlightenment” must have been so mysterious.  Thunder wasn’t caused by super-heated air expanding, it was the ire of the gods.  The hammer of Thor!  But what I find really fascinating was that even before modern science people were still finding ways to explain the world around them.  Isn’t that what science is all about?  Finding problems in our world, thinking about them critically, trying out experiments to learn more and then drawing thoughtful conclusions.  Before we knew it existed, humans were naturally interested in science.  Go SCIENCE!

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Last week I went to a work conference in St. Paul hosted by the wonderful Science Museum of Minnesota.  Their museum is huge and much different from the one where I work.  Well, mainly just the layout.  Like us, they also want to get people excited about science. 

SMM main entrance. It's actually 6 storeys!Science!

 

Science!

Check out this nifty guy!  We love electricity.  

They had a great exhibit on the Mississippi river, which is within spitting distance of the museum (don’t worry, I didn’t actually try it…)  They had a cool stream table that showed how different river features form, like ox-bow lakes.  

 My favorite exhibit, however, is really fascinating.  In their “Big Backyard” the museum has created a gigantic camera obscura

See the hut on the right? Camera Obscura!

 

A camera obscura is just a big box with a tiny hole in one side where light shines in.  A lens is fit into the hole to help focus the light.  This projects an image on the opposite wall of the box (upside down, because of the lens).  Then you can do things like trace the image you see, modify it slightly to become an early camera or just stare at the beautiful scene it creates: 

Image inside the camera obscura

The picture is neat but the most captivating part was watching cars move, grass sway in the breeze and clouds pass upside down across the wall.  I really felt like I was a teeny little bug inside someone’s camera!

 
So I have to say my introduction to Minnesota was very nice– hospitable, clean and full of beautiful parks.  They seem to be pretty bike-friendly, too.  Surprising for a city that has 7.5 months of winter (burn! don’t worry, I’m from the midwest, too).  Check out these weather-proof bike lockers on the street:

I'd be scared of getting locked in there

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As I mentioned a few posts ago, my museum is putting the finishing touches on the world premiere of “Cleopatra…” scheduled to open this Saturday.  I spent the past few days putting together and testing out a prototype for an educational program I’ll be running during the exhibit.

The idea is for visitors to get a better idea of what archaeologists do and how they work on an excavation.  All of the artifacts in the exhibit were excavated either from the desert or the harbor at Alexandria.  I also wanted to show how an archaeologist differs from a treasure hunter (careful, methodical excavation with the intention of recording all findings, etc) so a big part of the prototype is finding the right “digging medium”.  Too soft and they’ll sift right through, too hard and they’ll never find anything

Waiting for some visitors

So after much thought and research I settled on a mixture of sand and melted wax.  When the wax hardens the sand is suspended in it, created a nice firm medium to scrape/brush at.  *If you’re trying this at home, be prepared to say goodbye to one of your saucepans… I plan on getting these nifty crock pot liners to throw in our beat up crock pot at work*

I made “stone” walls from modeling clay and arranged/hot-glued them in a shadow box frame to represent the foundations of an ancient Roman dwelling.  Then I poured the sand-wax on top and let it dry over night.

Ancient Roman walls

I tested it on our visitors this weekend and received almost 100% positive results.  There are a few kinks to be worked out but nothing a little bit of tweaking won’t solve.  I definitely want to make sure more of the “walls” are visible above the sand-wax, makes it much easier to start somewhere.  I also want to make flipbooks showing real archaeological dig sites– a lot of kids have a hard time figuring out what we’re looking at (“these are weird dinosaur bones…”)

Progress after 1.5 hours of testing

This is definitely a “family” activity so I think it will only come out on the weekends, rather than our crazy busy weekdays.  I really like that visitors stay for a decent amount of time; it gives me a chance to find out what they know and to guide our conversations along those lines.  You would be amazed at how much kids already know about archaeology and how interested they are in digging around!  I had a really interesting conversation with a young visitor (~8 years old) and her dad today about archaeology in Philadelphia– a few years ago the city dug up the foundation of George Washington’s house before a parking garage was put in.  They were both excited to learn that archaeologists don’t have to work in the desert, sometimes they start in their own backyard!

Covered with dig medium and the floor plan

Final product should be out on the museum Floor in 2-3 weeks, I’m excited!

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