Thursday, January 11, 2007

I wish they all could be California...

I'm not quite sure why oldies lyrics have been popping into my head recently (especialyl given that I've been listening to a lot of Muse and Apocalyptica recently).

The two summers prior to this last one I spent working at the St Louis Science Center. The first exhibit was pretty cool. It was called "Space: A Journey to our Future". It had a ton to see for the $7 adult admission. There was a great amount on the Apollo missions, including a moon meteorite slice that you could touch, as well as a rock brought back by Apollo 17 (which you couldn't). The adults that lived through this era really seemed to like that section, while kids ran straight through, looking for things that lit up and had buttons. We even got Gene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) to stop by for a special event.

For those that were more into the astronomical history, it had a section where an actor, dressed as Galileo, allowed kids (and adults) to look through a mock telescope and see the Galilean moons. I wasn't ever any good at being Galileo. Despite several years of theater, I can't fake an Italian accent. My extent of Italian language experience is "It'sa me, Mario!"

But the best part of the exhibit in my opinion, was that it had Hubble's original logbook in which, while observing Andromeda, he realized that one of the stars was a Cepheid variable and would allow him to derive a distance, which prompted him to write "CEPHEID" next to the observation. This artifact was overlooked by almost all guests. But to me, it was the relic that represented one of the most profound realizations in the entire span of humanity: Just how big the universe is.

The next summer, the exhibit wasn't nearly as interesting to me. It was an exhibit on the science of the circus. It didn't really have much science however. But what it lacked in science, it made up for in cool things to do.

One fun part of the exhibit was the tightrope you could try out. Patrons would be strapped into a harness, climb the stairs to a platform 15 ft in the air, and allowed to walk the tightrope. Most people we rigged in so all of their weight was being supported by the suspension system and even if they completely stepped off the wire, they wouldn't be more than an inch below, so it was no real challange. However, it was fun to get cocky little kids who bragged about how easily they'd be able to do it. We'd generally give them about 6" of slack then.

Not a single one ever made it across. By the end of the summer I could make it across without falling too many times.

But the best part was the eurobungee. This contraption was similar to those bungee trampoline setups that many amusement parks (and occasionally some malls) have. Essentially, the person is again put in a harness. They are strapped in on either side of the waist and connected to two sets of bungee cords, the top ends of which, were pulled up, until the person was suspended about 15 ft in the air.

From there, by pulling on the cords in a rythmic manner, you could get fantastic bounces going. For the brave (or perhaps just stupid), it was also quite easy to do flips, nosedives and all sorts of other stunts. Kids were generally petrified of being so high up in the air that they wouldn't let go of the ropes, but some did. We eventually got a contest going to set records for number of consecutive flips. One little girl and I ended up escalating this record to rather ridiculous amounts.

Her grandmother would bring her in every Sunday and she'd brake my record. Then during the week I'd break hers and the cycle would repeat. Sometimes I'd be working when she came in and we'd trash teasingly talk each other. Cutest kid ever. If ever I have kids, I'd want one that cool. But by the end of the summer, the record was somewhere over 350. As I understand it, I ended up losing, but this was due to the fact that I had to leave to go back to school.

But neither of these exhibits are as cool as this one at the California Science Center in LA (now you see where the title comes in). How much cooler can it get than a Star Wars exhibit.

This is one exhibit I'd love to work in. Unfortunately, I'm in Kansas. The midwest misses out on all the cool stuff. But I'm not complaining too much. There's an upcoming AAS meeting in my home of St. Louis for June 2008, so I won't be mising that.


Anonymous said...

About 20 years ago I got to go in the 100-inch telescope dome on Mt. Wilson. They had Hubble's chair on display there, and I got that same sense of wonder that that was the chair he was sitting in when he figured out how big the universe is.

And yes, the Star Wars exhibit looks like fun. Dunno how much science there will be in it, but I'm planning on going. I think it will be entertaining.

Jon Voisey said...

During my internship this summer we headed to Mt. Wilson. I have pictures from it up here.