Exhibits at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center go from Earth to the moon
Heaven knows we’ve got enough things to feel guilty about during these lazy days of summer: “Kiddie” cones that ought to be called “who-am-I-kidding?” cones. Work-from-home days that miraculously leave us looking a little tanner. Vacation splurges, poolside pitchers of daiquiri, forgotten piles of paperwork
. . . You get the idea.
So if you visit the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center over the next few months, you could be forgiven a certain trepidation over the title of the new exhibit, “Sustainable Choices.” Fortunately, the eco-themed exhibit and its companion exhibit, “Expedition Earth,” are matter-of-fact, fun and informative while stopping short of banging you over the head with guilt.
“Sustainable Choices,” which is on display through Sept. 15, is a bright, interactive exhibit that presents daily life through the lens of our environmental impact. There’s a recycling unit where kids can sort “trash,” a trio of lamps with push-button switches to compare types of light bulbs, even a what’s-that-smell panel, where you can lift the flap on various environmental villains such as rubber tires, PVC shower curtains and leather and learn about their effect on the humans and the Earth.
One simple but engaging activity is a quiz that lets you tally your carbon footprint using wooden beads and a series of multiple-choice questions about your lifestyle and habits. Living in a big house versus an apartment costs you a couple of beads, while being a vegetarian lets you slide one back in the opposite direction. And so on.
A series of colorful panels discuss the choices humans make about transportation, shopping and consumption, home appliance use and other issues. The displays are peppered with helpful tidbits such as the virtues of online shopping: a 10-pound package shipped by overnight air (the most energy intensive delivery method) uses 40 percent less fuel than the average round trip drive to the mall; or the case for unplugging that cell phone charger: “In the average home, 5 to 10 percent of all electricity used to power electronics is consumed when they are ‘off.’ ”
Although there are a fair amount of hands-on activities, the displays are a bit text heavy for people with short attention spans (read everyone). The exhibit would benefit from some kind of computer activity – maybe some sort of Sims-like game that lets visitors make choices for virtual families and communities and deal with the fallout. But taken together with the rest of what’s on offer at the Discovery Center, there’s plenty to enjoy.
Alongside “Sustainable Choices” is a companion exhibit called “Expedition Earth” that teaches visitors about the various climate zones on our planet and the wildlife that inhabit them. There’s a model of a prairie dog den along with a “burrow cam” where you can see a real prairie dog scoot through a tunnel, a formidable looking stuffed bison and a stuffed polar bear. The bear’s collar transmits data to an Arctic outpost, a cozy-looking tent that houses a cot and computer workstation. While they’re exploring the arctic, kids can also try on snowshoes and learn about seal species. Expedition Earth is on display through Jan. 5.
After you’ve tired of Earth, you can head to the moon with the Discovery Center’s other new exhibit, “Lunar Recon: Spacecraft, Craters, and Cosmic Rays.”
The interactive exhibit, which opened just last weekend, explores the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and its mission and features two giant murals of the nearside and farside of the moon. For information, visit starhop.com.