"My Job Is Science"

April 17th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, From the CEO by Anthony (Bud) Rock

I have been fascinated for some time with the issue of science in the everyday workforce. My goal is for our science centers and museums to give nearly every parent or caregiver the opportunity to describe his or her profession to a child in distinctly “scientific terms,” even if this is less obvious on its face. This might take the form of a program or exhibition entitled “My Job Is Science,” where careers of all types are described in terms of their connections to science: “I am a hospital technician, plumber, restaurant employee, auto mechanic, law enforcement or fire and rescue officer, teacher, farmer—and my job is about science.”

Q&A with Angelo Vermeulen

February 27th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, Q&A by Emily Schuster

Interviewed by Joelle Seligson

This interview appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Angelo Vermeulen’s title is tricky to fit on a business card. He defines himself as an even combination of visual artist, scientist, and community organizer. Vermeulen completed his first Ph.D., on the deformation of teeth of nonbiting midges, at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven in 1998. (He is now at work on a second Ph.D. in starship design.) He also graduated from the city’s Academy of Fine Arts with a degree in photography. This combination of art and science has taken Vermeulen around the world—and nearly beyond—speaking at the TED conference in California, developing a community art project in the Philippines, and experimenting with food on the (simulated) surface of Mars. He chatted with Dimensions about his multifaceted career and endeavors, and how they someday might help sustain humankind.

Read the full transcript, or listen to the podcast.

A Closer Look at Exhibits

January 30th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions by Emily Schuster

January/February 2014

Exhibits are central to the work of science centers and museums, and to the experience of our visitors. This issue of Dimensions draws upon the wisdom of our field, compiling practical tips and guidelines from exhibit professionals working in a variety of museums and companies around the world. These professionals share their ideas, advice, and lessons learned on key topics related to exhibit design, development, and production—everything from exhibit technology (whether high or low tech), to safety guidelines, to inexpensive exhibit production, to prototyping, to partnerships, and much more.

• Tracking Exhibit Trends, by Wayne LaBar
• Inside the Process: Three Exhibit Development Case Studies (extended content available here)
• ExhibitFiles: A Resource for the Field, by Wendy Hancock
• Perspectives on Technology, Part One: The Tried and True: Low-Tech Science Center Exhibits, by R.L. (Chip) Lindsey
• Perspectives on Technology, Part Two: Human Computer Interaction and the Next Generation of Science Center Exhibits, by Jim Spadaccini
• Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not so Great) Budget, by Paul Orselli
Exhibit Tips from Around the World
Keeping Visitors Safe Around Exhibits, by Kathy Krafft and Harry White

Online Departments
From the CEO
Q&A with the 2013 McGrath Fellows

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Exhibit Case Studies

January 6th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions by Emily Schuster

These case studies complement the article Inside the Process: Three Exhibit Development Case Studies, which appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Innovation Labs in Indian Science Centers

To promote national competitiveness in the 21st century, the president of India declared the present decade (2010–20) as the “decade of innovation.” Taking the agenda forward, Indian science centers under the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) have joined with the National Innovation Council in spearheading India’s innovation initiatives. NCSM science centers are now setting up Innovation Labs as essential components of their facilities to provide a platform for youth to engage in innovative and creative activities.

The first of such Innovation Labs was inaugurated in August 2013 at the Birla Industrial & Technological Museum in Kolkata by Sam Pitroda, advisor to the prime minister of India and chairman of the National Innovation Council.

Spread over a 2,500-square-foot (232-square-meter) area, the Innovation Lab has the following components: Hall of Fame (multimedia kiosks telling the stories of major inventors and their inventions in various fields); Innovation Resource Centre (providing online access to innovation-centric resources including grass-roots innovation databases); Activity Laboratory (providing facilities for carrying out innovative activities, experiments, and projects in a multidisciplinary set-up); Tech Lab (facilitating creative and innovative works in robotics and automation).

The lab is currently being used during weekends by its registered members from schools and undergraduate colleges. They either work on their own ideas or choose one from the idea bank created collaboratively by the members. Most projects in the lab relate to real life problems identified by the students themselves.

E. Islam, director, Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Kolkata, India


Exhibit Tips from Around the World

January 6th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions by Emily Schuster

This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

On building interactive exhibits to last

I am convinced that small and seemingly insignificant parts can make the difference between an exhibit that will last for years with almost no maintenance and one that will need constant repair. I offer two design details making this point, although there are dozens that would be equally illustrative.

Both of these examples involve the hand-wheels that allow visitors to turn hand-crank generators, etc. Many times these are purchased “off the shelf” from suppliers like Reid Tool. Often these wheels have revolving crank handles, but the bearings in the handles are not of high quality and fail after a short time. I have seen this happen repeatedly. Therefore I designed a custom crank handle with sealed ball-bearings. I then purchased wheels with stationary handles, which I removed and replaced with these new handles. I have done this to numerous exhibits and none has failed. Some have been in service for over 20 years. Yes, it costs about $500 for each custom handle, but isn’t this money well spent?

Hand-wheels and most levers are mounted on shafts. Most are held in place with setscrews and keyways. This can cause problems, too, because the wheels come off and injure visitors or because they won’t come off when repair is required. My solution has been to machine a hexagonal end on the shaft and broach a matching hex in the center of the wheel. (See photo.) A single screw and washer holds the wheel in place. This prevents the wheel from coming off unless removal is required. Removing the screw allows the part to be easily taken off.

John Bowditch, director of exhibits emeritus, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Michigan

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