Science Storms


of an Exhibition

by Marcus Harshaw

Published on May 26, 2011, Modified on May 29, 2011

  • Description:

    Greetings all!

    I thought today I would do something a little different and instead of discussing a traveling exhibit, I would like to discuss a brand new permanent installation at one of the top museums in the country; the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois.

    In March on my birthday trip covering 5 museums in 3 days, the final museum of the trip was MSI, Chicago. I had not visited MSI since 1992, so to return there after 18 years was a big deal for me. I realized that although I had been to Chicago a gazillion times in that 18 years, the Field Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago have taken up my museum time while visiting the Windy City.

    So, it was an odd homecoming for me to return to MSI after all this time, and impressed is not even close to the word I am looking to use here. Impressed doesn’t do it justice. How many exhibits do you know have a four story tornado in it?

    Well this one does.

    So I’m standing in the Grand Rotunda and I’m panning from the left, and see the transportation exhibit with The Great Train Story in the distance. If you’ve never seen The Great Train Story, it is very similar to Cincinnati History Museum’s Cincinnati in Motion. Ahead is the coal mine, and to the right is a sight so amazing that it was overwhelming. Science Storms.

    There was a lot going on. A tornado, balloons, a huge spinning table of sand, prisms, and lightning. All this and I haven’t even gone in yet!!! Of course, because I’m a Foucault groupie, the first thing I am attracted to in many museums is their Foucault Pendulum. While I understand that the concept is the same, it is always interesting to me how the pendulum is interpreted, and what is used as the medium to show the movement of the pendulum. While the Indiana State Museum’s brass pendulum knocks down wooden pegs, the COSi brass pendulum knocks metal balls onto wooden blocks, the MSI silver pendulum knocks down metal pegs.

    Of course the main attraction was this 4 story tornado. Water vapor is controlled by visitors! There are levers all around the base and on the upper level of the tornado to make the funnel itself behave differently. You can make your tornado thin, slow, fast, thick on the top, thin on the bottom, whatever you want. The best part about the experience was there was not only the 4 story tornado, but there was an area of smaller individual tornados, and a virtual tornado! (I destroyed a barn TWICE with that bad boy!) Because there was diversity in the presentation of the content, a visitor can have the tornado experience that they wish to have.

    The entire time, above head a Tesla Coil would crackle and spark and create, well, lightning. Due to the size of the coil itself, lightning is the only true word to describe what was going on there. I needed to investigate closer. I move up to the balcony level and am sidetracked by fire. There is a tank with fire, and visitors get to control the amount of fuel getting fed to the fire, the amount of water mist, and turn on cool lasers that make it easier to see what happens when these things are all changed. Made it closer to the Tesla Coil, and all I can say is I felt like a mosquito that couldn’t look away from the sparks and shiny, bright light.

    The last highlight was the extremely neat Periodic Table. Visitors can select elements in a digital/virtual interface and put those elements together to make other stuff. For instance, if you select hydrogen and oxygen, it asks you to pick another hydrogen and voila; water! As an anti-chemist, I wasn’t quite able to make anything that made sense, but I don’t know how I do it, but every time I visit the exhibit, I make rocket fuel with like, two elements!

    My professional opinion -

    This is the best new permanent exhibit around. Period. While it may seem overwhelming initially, once you get started you are immediately learning about many different phenomenon in the natural world. Not only are you learning, it is fun, engaging, and interactive. The open floor plan is great, the space is well laid out, and with every step there is something to play with. As I write this post now, I have already been back to see the exhibit a second time because I was that impressed, and I’m planning a third visit this summer. The exhibit is so good and had so much more to offer that a second blog post might have to get written just to discuss it all. It is an extremely good exhibit for children of all ages.

    5 out of 5 tickets! This exhibit is amazing! If you find yourself in Chicago, stop in and check it out.

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    Science Storms is brought to you through the generosity of The Allstate Corporation, The Allstate Foundation, and The Grainger Foundation. Additional major funding provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Latest Comments (1)

Another perspective

by Wendy Pollock - May 29, 2011

Readers of this review might want to also read Beverly Serrell’s April 2010 review of Science Storms: Thanks for sharing your experience, Marcus!

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