The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a brand-new permanent exhibit which opened on Thursday, called “You! The Experience”.
I was extremely lucky (and honored) to snag an invitation to the Media Open House on Wednesday. I wanted to bring someone along, and I called one of my favorite sidekicks, Weaselmomma.
Being escorted into the museum through the employee entrance and then led directly to the exhibit, which was already crawling with kids from a few schools brought in for the preview, was really exciting. We got a brief summary and tour of the place and then were let loose to enjoy it. There were so many highlights; I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to share them all.
To summarize the idea of the exhibit? It’s basically a very interactive experience that teaches about the science of the human body. Weaselmomma asked someone what the target age was for it and was told 7-12 years old (though it’s meant to be suitable for the entire family). I’ll get to what we thought about that later. There are more than 50 activities, experiences, artifacts, and specimens in this huge and colorful exhibit, so make sure you’ve got some time carved out of your day if you decide to visit!
Something I really liked about this exhibit is the Scipass, which makes it possible for you to extend your visit by enjoying and sharing what you did when you get home. The Scipass is a little yellow card that has an individual barcode on it; there are Scipass slots at some of the activities, and you just slide your card in there to save your activity. When you get home, you can go online and take a look at what you did.
There are eight topic areas that make up the exhibit:
There’s no way I’d be able to cover everything for you right here, so I’m just highlighting my favorite parts of the exhibit. In “Your Movement”, we had to hit the human-sized hamster wheel, created by the Lifefitness exercise equipment company. This thing was hysterical. I had to get the Weaselmomma on the hamster wheel, because that just sounded funny.
“Get in the Action” is a really cool activity: you watch one of three people on a screen (a basketball player, a hip hop dancer, or a tai chi…person?) and when you imitate what they are doing (or just move, in general), you can see your silhouette on the screen along with colorful trails that follow your movements. As it turns out, Weaselmomma is not so great at tai chi, but pretty good at spontaneously dancing.
In “Stay Active”, you can learn about people who have overcome seemingly unsurmountable physical challenges (amputations, paralysis…) and are absolutely thriving and physically active in spite of their “limitations”.
One of the people featured in this part of the exhibit is Tanner Lanksbury, a teenager from Corona, California who had the entire right half of his brain removed eight years ago. Tanner was suffering up to ten Grand Mal seizures on a daily basis, and because these seizures can eventually damage the rest of the brain, doctors performed the 9 1/2 hour surgery that ended up saving his life. Weaselmomma and I had the pleasure of speaking with Tanner and his mom, Michelle, who were there to help open the exhibit. Since the surgery, Tanner has not had one seizure. The left side of his body is slightly disabled as a result of the surgery, however he is a member of his high school tennis team. When serving the ball, Tanner tucks the racquet under his left arm, tosses the ball up in the air with his right hand and then quickly grabs the racquet with his right hand so he can hit the ball. Because he was only eight years old when he had the surgery, his brain was able to quickly rewire itself, and his mental capacity is fine. We had a great little conversation with him and his mom, and I walked away so truly inspired by them and their story.
The “Your Heart” part of the exhibit was also very cool. The museum used to have a giant, “walk-through” model of a heart which they removed when this exhibit was installed. The new Giant Heart, more than 13 feet high and eight feet wide, will sync itself with your own heartbeat when you grab onto the bars at a nearby kiosk. It was fun to watch some of the children doing jumping jacks to make the giant heart beat faster.
The “Your Appetite” section was interesting to me. Have you ever wanted to really take a look at what’s in a Twinkie? You can find out, here.
“Snack Attack” is a mechanical interactive display where you can literally feel the impact of certain snack foods when you eat them regularly. As you lift up the jelly beans, the soda, or the candy bar, ;you’ll be lifting the amount of weight you’ll gain if you eat these things on a daily basis. (Hint: it’s a lot.)
Over in “Your Vitality”, Weaselmomma and I competed in the “Mindball” game. The object of the game is to relax enough to get the little ball to travel to your opponent’s end of the table. We had to put straps around our heads that would measure the brainwaves that elevate with relaxation. Guess who won? (I’m sure it was just a fluke.)
At “Sleepers”, it was time to go to bed. Sort of. There’s a “bed” that you lay down on, from which you can watch (on a screen overhead) videos about getting a good night’s rest.
As we got onto the bed, Weaselmomma cracked, “Well, this is the only time WE’LL be getting into bed together!” Always a comedian. We watched a hilarious cartoon that had caricatures of the Star Trek characters, and the Captain Kirk imitator was just too funny.
In the “Your Future” section, we enjoyed an activity called “Talk to Me”. It’s a storytelling booth in which you can interview who you’re with. The computer monitor shows a selection of questions to get you started, and this is one of the places where you can use a Scipass. We had fun with it; let’s just say we took it in a different direction, and I may have spilled a big secret.
The “Medical Innovations” section is a nod to changing trends and breakthroughs in the medicine world.
This is where “iStan” lives. iStan is a Human Patient Simulator who will be the focus of “MSI Hospital”, a facilitated session that will run at least twice per day, during which the guests can check out his symptoms, compare his vital signs to their own, and attempt to diagnose him. When we visited, he didn’t look like he felt so good…
My overall impressions of the exhibit? I enjoyed just about all of it. We were there for 90 minutes and still didn’t get to see every single thing there. We had such a good time, and it was very educational without being obviously so, so I can see how children would love it as well. As far as the target age of 7-12, I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure if the Prenatal Development section, which I think Weaselmomma will be including in her post, was really appropriate for the lower end of their recommended age range. I guess that for me, there were some parts of the exhibit that didn’t seem to “match” the others. There were so many FUN interactive activities that were full of color and sound, and then there were the real embryos and fetuses that were on display in a darkened room (disturbing to Weaselmomma and I when we realized they were not molds), as well as plastinated bodies and the body slices, which seemed so serious. I guess that another way to look at it as a whole is that there is something there for everybody, and every family that visits would hopefully modify which segments of the exhibit they are focusing on. There are plenty of conversation starters to be found; that’s for sure!
All in all, I’m looking forward to going back with my family! And you Chicago-area folks, take note: the Museum of Science and Industry has FREE admission Monday-Friday during the entire month of October 2009! (“You! The Experience” is included in general admission!) See you there?
P.S. Weaselmomma has written a companion post. Check World of Weasels for her take!