Nearly 10 years ago, IEEE Spectrum put out a call to engineers and their kids. We asked them to check out some of the U.S. science and technology museums and tell us the truth—were they fun? Were they accurate? Were they up to date? At the time, more than 50 families reviewed 37 museums in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
These museums can have a huge impact; my husband, for instance, credits a childhood visit to a science museum with starting him on his path to a Ph.D. in space physics. So last year we asked again. This time, thanks to the Internet, IEEE members around the world contributed. So far, 14 families have reviewed 26 museums in seven countries.
This month in Spectrum, we begin publishing summaries of our members' latest reviews. The reports are personal—and what interests one family may not interest another. Still, some trends are emerging. For example, physical implementations and demonstrations of scientific principles have a bigger impact upon many of our reviewers than computer simulations.
Museums are not scientifically selected, because we depend on volunteers visiting museums and writing up their opinions. So if you know about a museum you think we should feature and you want to join our volunteer corps, please e-mail
ADMISSION: Age 4 and up: ¤12.50
ENGINEERING JUDGE: Ted Timar, business development manager, Voxar (Canada) Inc., Toronto
JUNIOR JURY: Lucas, age 12, and Mirthe, age 9
Our judge says that this museum is "by far the best interactive science center" he has visited and that its exhibits are "exceptionally interactive." Examples include a demonstration of a complex chain reaction that successfully explains the difference between potential and kinetic energy; an interactive hydroelectric exhibit in which children build dams using small sandbags to spin turbines; a complex maze through which children must guide balls; and an explanation of DNA. The junior jurors, who were captivated by the exhibits, were observed to be learning without realizing it. Few exhibits were computer-based, which our judge preferred, believing hands-on activities encourage deeper learning.
Mid America Science Museum
Hot Springs, Ark.
ADMISSION: Adult: US $6; child/student/senior: $5; laser show: $1.25
ENGINEERING JUDGE: Janet M. Six, principal, Lone Star Interaction Design, Dallas
JUNIOR JURY: Alexander, age 6 months
Hands-on exhibits are plentiful and focus on perception, matter, energy, and life. The intended audience is children, but many of the exhibits work for adults as well. A highlight is Energy Island, which interactively demonstrates kinetic, electrical, and magnetic energy. The museum also recently unveiled an exciting Tesla coil exhibit, which produces impressive lightning-like electrical discharges. The junior juror was fascinated by the colorful exhibits and the laser show.
Museu de Ciências e Tecnologia PUCRS
Porto Alegre, Brazil
ADMISSION: Adults: US $3.50; child/senior/students in groups: $1.75
ENGINEERING JUDGE: Eduardo Todt, professor of computer science and engineering at PUCRS and a private industrial automation consultant, Porto Alegre, Brazil
JUNIOR JURY: João Rodolfo, age 6
Museum of Science and Technology of PUCRS, the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul
The museum's interactive displays cover agriculture, environmental education, the earth, the human body, math, chemistry, computer science, physics, and communications. Our judge ruled them up-to-date, technically precise, and easy to understand. The math experiments and games were the best part of the visit for our judge. He says that the exhibits "are very rich in technical background and relation of theory to practice." He recommends that all visitors to southern Brazil pay a visit to this museum. The junior juror liked exhibits covering the human body, physics, and math, but was unimpressed by a display on vegetable physiology.
AMY KLEKOTKA assisted in the organization and early stages of this project.
About the Author
JANET M. SIX is the principal of Lone Star Interaction Design, in Dallas, and is the author of an upcoming book on how and why companies should design easier-to-use products.