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

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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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Keeping Visitors Safe Around Exhibits

January 5th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions by Alejandro Asin

By Kathy Krafft and Harry White
From Dimensions
January/February 2014

If you say that visitors can do anything they like—and we do say that—then you can’t be surprised at anything they actually do.

At-Bristol, in the United Kingdom, has 250 exhibits and receives 250,000 visitors per year. If each exhibit is used only once in a visit, then the science center has 62.5 million visitor/exhibit interactions every year. So “one chance in a million” is more than one accident every week. One bad accident could close a museum.

All science centers and museums want visitors to explore and interact with exhibits. We want them to be engaged, not wrapped in a cocoon. But we don’t want accidents, especially ones that could seriously injure someone, damage a reputation, or lead to a lawsuit. At the Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York, and At-Bristol, we continually have conversations among our staff and with other museums about safety and managing risk.
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The Beauty in the Telling

January 5th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, From the CEO by Anthony (Bud) Rock

My father was a businessman who was required, on occasion, to visit the manufacturing headquarters for the products that he sold. As a child, I sometimes tagged along. One trip always stands out in my mind. We made a visit to Corning, New York, to the site of what is now the well-known Corning Museum of Glass.

Most striking to me about this visit was the presentation of not only the remarkable, centuries-old artwork in glass, but also the exceptional effort made by the museum to demonstrate the craft of glassmaking. The exhibits were carefully constructed to amaze and to educate about the processes, techniques, and, yes, the science of glassmaking.
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