“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling
The projects shown here are those that broke new ground, for us as planners and designers and for our clients as leaders in the field. No two projects, or clients, are alike. Innovative thinking is what they have in common.
Connecticut Science Center
The Connecticut Science Center features approximately 40,000 square feet of highly interactive exhibition galleries, of which we planned and designed half. With our unique capability to experiment with concept feasibility in our wood, metals and electronics shops, we had an opportunity to develop innovative components that have proven to have high engagement times and be very popular with visitors. For the Exploring Space gallery, the deeply immersive setting shown here, we developed several components that are highly innovative in both design and experience.
The Galaxy Explorer is comprised of three pods, each designed for a pair of visitors in response to audience research the reveals most science center visitors do not come alone, and that much of the learning that takes place is the result of conversations between visitors. In addition to providing an opportunity to share the experience with a friend or family member, the reclining design of the pods puts visitors in a relaxed and very comfortable position. A fourth module accommodates wheelchair users and others who are not able to recline with ease. For one-of-a-kind exploration software, we chose to collaborate with the Swedish firm SCISS, the world’s leading provider of astronomical visualization based on scientific data sets. The Galaxy Explorer has proven to be a destination attraction at the science center.
For the unusual design of the Galaxy Explorer pods, we asked the project fabricator to begin by constructing a full-size plywood mock-up. During a shop visit, we were able to consider all user-related issues, including ease of sharing controls, angle and location of the LCD display panel, speaker location/sound spill, and basic comfort. While we have considerable experience designing for the range of ergonomic factors associated with exhibits, this design approach was sufficiently out of the ordinary that it needed to be vetted in the preliminary study model shown here.
Crater Maker is a component that we have been incrementally refining, this installation being our third-generation version. Visitors aim and fire small, high-speed projectiles into a powdery test bed. Upon impact, a crater is created. The moment of impact is captured by a 1000-frame-per-second camera, with frames instantly processed and stored so that users can immediately play back a video clip of their crater at any speed—from single frame to high speed—simply by turning a weighted, knurled knob on the control panel. At slow speeds the ejecta blanket and the numerous small secondary craters it creates are clearly visible.
For Forces in Motion, a gallery about the physics of motion, we developed experimentation test beds that accommodate multiple users at once. As an example, this sail table test bed is comprised of a fixed-direction “wall of wind” and a low-friction air track used by visitors to experiment with sailing into the wind and, by changing sail angle, sailing with the wind to return to home base. A timer allows assessment of performance.
This 20-foot-long mag-lev track is another example of a test bed used by multiple visitors at a time. Here, experimentation is with vehicles that accelerate down the track through a series of electromagnetic coils. The vehicles are loaded with a magnet module (basically, stacks of magnets encased in a clear acrylic cylinder). Magnet modules of varying levels of power are swapped out by visitors in order to discover which provides the fastest run. Auxiliary components mounted to the same table allow open-ended experimentation with magnetic polarity.
While many of the experiences developed for the Connecticut Science Center utilize cutting-edge technologies, in Invention Dimension we took a low-tech approach that allows visitors to be creative through open-ended activities. In this example, visitors work at one of the classic approaches to invention—combining parts of past inventions. The activity is seeded with challenges such as “design a vehicle that can fly.” Users look through a selection of simple line drawings of objects that might work when combined, and then draw their invention by tracing parts from two or more of the source drawings.
KidSpace—Science at Play is a gallery featuring what is arguably the most open-ended and compelling medium for younger visitors’ experimentation—water. A collection of a half dozen components, large and small, were developed working closely with Alan Wilson, an expert in engineering high-volume water exhibits with swirling vortices and laminar flow water jets.