Electric Space Exhibit Opens to Public

Volume 12, Number 3, September 1996
By James R. Thieman

On August 1, 1996, the new "Electric Space: Bolts, Jolts, and Volts from the Sun" exhibit opened for the first time to the public at NOAA's Silver Spring, Maryland, facility just north of Washington, D.C. Electric Space is an educational outreach project intended to communicate the achievements of space physics to the general public. Interactive displays, video movies, computer information stations, full-sized spacecraft models, and a multitude of beautiful graphics occupy 3,800 square feet. Through these media the browser learns about the Sun's effects on the Earth, space weather, plasma astrophysics, magnetic field interactions, the aurora, and other space physics phenomena that affect the lives of humans.

The exhibit was created by the Space Science Institute in Colorado in close collaboration with the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) with major funding from the Informal Science Education Program of the National Science Foundation's Education and Human Resources Directorate, and NASA's Space Physics Division. The Space Science Data Operations Office (SSDOO) contributed to the project by providing volunteers to serve as docents (scientist/guides) to the exhibit for the public for a morning or afternoon. SSDOO personnel also created a Web page for volunteers to sign up for sessions during the course of the exhibition in Silver Spring.

The author served as a docent on the second day of the exhibition. As might be expected from the exhibit's first few days, there were still a number of displays that needed additional setup and debugging. Nonetheless, it was clear that this was by far the most appealing and professional display of space physics phenomena this author had ever encountered. Visitors were clearly impressed by the phenomena being shown and displayed. It is not easy to convey the concept of plasma, the fourth state of matter, the solar wind and its interaction with the Earth's magnetic field, the colors and patterns of the northern lights, etc., but the interactive displays and integrated multimedia did an excellent job of leading the viewer into these concepts. Children were especially appreciative of the largest terrella ever built, a giant "spirograph" that allowed them to create pictures showing how the solar wind spirals out from the Sun, a large equivalent of a "magnadoodle" where the effects of various magnets on iron filings could be observed, several interactive computer screens, etc. It was a pleasure to answer the wide-ranging questions of both adults and children and to assist in their understanding of the concepts.

The exhibit closed in Silver Spring on Labor Day (September 2, 1996), but from there it moved on to the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be until January 7, 1997. It will be coming back to Maryland at the Science Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, in February 1997 where it will be staying until April 1997. Further information on the itinerary is available at the Web site at http://www-ssi.colorado.edu/Schedule/1.html. The exhibit will be on tour for three years and is expected to be seen by three million adults and children. A smaller 750-square-foot exhibit has been on tour for several years and will continue through 1997.

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Author:Miranda Beall
Curators: Erin Gardner and Miranda Beall
Responsible Official: Dr. Joseph H. King. Code 633
Last Revised: 21 Nov 1996 [EDG]