It would be tough to top a 99-year old train station as the ideal place for an exhibition on the technology of transportation. Just don’t look for any trains.
Cars, planes, bikes, boats and even a hovercraft make up “Going Places: The Technology of Transport,” a new highly interactive exhibit opening Friday at the Science Museum. Even the seating scattered throughout the exhibit references various modes of conveyance, with wooden car seats, bus seats and rally car seats providing respite.
Using key science concepts in engineering, physics, biology and math, the exhibition invites guests to experience various aspects of transportation as well as explore the technology, efficiency and reliability behind them. For a kid, it’s one thing to see adults put a key in a car’s ignition but quite another to use a screen to build a virtual automobile engine that then allows them to turn the key and pump the gas to start the “engine.”
Chuck English, the Science Museum’s director of playful learning and inquiry, sees the exhibit as an entertaining way for the family to learn together. “With technology and engineering, kids always ask why I need to learn this or that,” he says. “Kids can draw connections by doing the exhibit with their parents.”
Carrier ships are highly efficient modes of transporting goods, but packing them requires attention to weight and placement, a concept kids can explore by loading a miniature ship efficiently enough that it won’t capsize.
For every adult who has no idea that it was German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who invented the first rigid-framed steerable airship, there are likely a dozen children eager for an opportunity to steer one of the two airships in the exhibit through a large hoop. Doing so requires patience and tenacity, qualities often in short supply in an instant gratification world.
“It’s a purposely slow process,” English explains of the controllers on either side of the cage housing the airships. “It’s a chance to play with something not nearly as easy as a drone, although with no wind to battle, it’s easier than it would be outside.”
That’s not to say there’s no wind in “Going Places” because it makes an appearance further into the exhibit at a display of land yachts. There, visitors can launch a selection of wooden boats, assuming they learn the basic principles of how a fan simulating wind works on a sail to affect the boat’s movement. Or they can take a seat in the hovercraft to get one minute of feeling the wonder of riding on air.
A variety of experiences make the exhibit a kind of transportation sampler. There’s a pair of very differently styled recumbent bikes that allow visitors to climb on and pedal to compete against each other on a race course shown on a large screen. For an even bigger challenge, check out the red and white flight simulator, complete with wooden propeller and wings, that allows an amateur pilot to do basic flying. Just don’t expect the simulator to allow you to land on a roadway because, as English demonstrated, it’s smarter than that.
For those with a creative bent, there are stations to design your own city from the ground up and post the results on a wall. Gearheads can design two cars, from body shape to engine to tires, and then race them onscreen to see how design elements determine fuel efficiency.
The exhibit was created in Australia – check out the license plate on the half car with the open trunk – and has made appearances in California, Texas and New York, but this is its first mid-Atlantic showing.
“We hope families will experience it together,” English says. “If kids get excited exploring it, they may want to go into these fields. It’s hands-on applications that excite some kids.”
“Going Places: The Technology of Transport” opens February 16 and runs through August 19 at the Science Museum, 2500 W. Broad St. smv.org