Black Holes: Space Warps and Time Twists

Review

of an Exhibition

by Elizabeth Wallach

Published on March 29, 2011, Modified on June 14, 2011

  • Description:

    The Black Hole Exhibition at the Peabody Museum is an engaging interactive experience that appeals to visitors young and old. Co-developed by youth programs such as Boston’s Youth Astronomy Apprentices and Galaxy Explorers from the Chabot Science and Space Center, the experience offers multiple entry points into the world of black holes from the perspective of both high school students and astrophysicists. The layout makes it accessible to school groups, as it is easy to maneuver between exhibits. The labels were insightful and informative, yet easy to understand.

    The purpose of the exhibition was to unwrap the mystery surrounding black holes by deconstructing myths created by popular media. Professionals and teenage “Black Hole Explorers” encourage visitors to decide for themselves “whether black holes have moved from the realm of science fiction to the status of reality.” (www.blackholesexhibit.org) This “big idea” was broken down by the youth curators into several key points: “Black holes come in different sizes. They have different gravitational pulls. They can grow in size by pulling in more stuff. They don’t suck! Stuff has to be close by to fall in.” Each key idea was supported by a variety of interactive and educational elements.

    Upon entering the exhibition, each guest registers as an “Explorer” by choosing an identity (I was Astro Star) and receiving an “Explorer’s Card” which keeps track of your journey through space and time. Automatically, visitors connect to the content by becoming part of the exhibition – an active participant. At each interactive, the “Explorer” inserts his or her card into the reader, which then records photographs and observations into their “Explorer’s Journal.”

    Each station teaches a different characteristic of black holes. “What is a Black Hole” is narrated by Einstein, while “Snapshots in the History of Black Holes” provides a brief timeline of our understanding of black holes, featuring Shakespeare and Isaac Newton. Understandably, the more interactives that you visit, the more you learn. At the end of each computer-based station, the exhibition developers evaluate the effectiveness of the exhibit by asking the visitor a question and then showing how their response ranked amongst scientists and fellow visitors.
    Following my trip to the Peabody, I was able to continue my journey through space by visiting the exhibition’s and logging in with the ID on the back of my “Explorer’s Card”. At home I can view photographs of the black holes that I visited, listen to interviews with scientists, play games and find links to ongoing black hole research.

    I went into the exhibition knowing very little about black holes. I had a very engaging and interactive experience which not only interested me in the subject matter, but made me want to learn more. I would highly recommend this exhibition to someone with an interest in astronomy as well as anyone who enjoys unraveling the mysteries of the universe!

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