Wednesday, August 29, 2007

National Museum of Science and Technology ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ in Milan, Italy

Having helped to develop the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY by incorporating the buildings of a former wastewater treatment plant, I can appreciate the challenges of this museum in Milan, which is housed in a former 16th century monastery. Many of the galleries consist of long, narrow spaces, with masonry walls that can not be moved both for practical, as well as historical, reasons.

The building, as old as it is, is actually new construction, having itself been built on the site of an earlier 4th century walled area and church. Its interior courtyards are crossed by historic foundations (which also can’t be disturbed).

The museum was started in 1953 to foster democratic knowledge and to circulate scientific and technological culture. Visitors are greeted at the entrance to the exhibit area, for example, by this 184-kW steam-powered generator that powered 1,800 looms in a silk factory from 1895 to 1954. This is a huge, impressive machine, with a 5-m-diameter flywheel. But it is literally stuffed into the space it occupies, and visitors must view it in sections through openings in the walls on 3 sides.

The museum is undergoing a gradual transformation to bring its science and technology collections into closer connection with the interests of its visitors. In contrast with Technorama (previous blog entry), which changed its name and simply removed its historical, non-interactive collections, this museum plans to keep its collections and use them for accomplishing its dual goals of: 1) connecting its visitors with their scientific and technological heritage while 2) inspiring them for the future.

To help accomplish this second task, the museum has set up 16 interactive laboratories (i.Labs), each with its own space, where school groups or visitors can sign up for hour-long programs. I sat in on a robotics lab, where 4 boys (ages 8-10) and parents sat with an explainer, learning the basics of robotics through a pre-built Lego Mindstorm unit. The explainer was captivating and held the boys’ attention for a full 30 minutes of discussion before starting to add sensors and program the device on his laptop based on the requests of the particpants.

i.Lab topics include energy, ceramics, copperworking, genetics, and many others. These hands-on experiences give visitors the opportunity to taste many different subjects. What is particularly interesting is that the explainers who teach these sessions use an inquiry approach, often starting by asking visitors what questions they have about the topic and then building a custom program around those questions. This means that explainers must be well-trained because they must respond to a wide variety of questions to avoid delivering a scripted demonstration or activity.

These i.Lab sessions are sprinkled periodically throughout the day, and all are not offered each day. Each i.Lab has its own space, however, so that materials and equipment can be left available for next time.

The museum has also mounted an exhibition of many varied items from its collections with the stories of how they were used by people. This photo shows a plow, and other objects range from an early sewing machine to an early car to a beautifully tooled cash register made by National Cash Register.

There are other wonderful stories that this museum can tell about its collections and some are being told. For example, in one basement room, a nail-making machine here has a label that tells about how a beginning blacksmith would take 2 minutes to make a nail, while a highly experienced blacksmith could make 2-3 in the same amount of time. The machine here changed the face of both blacksmithing and construction forever, however, by making uniform nails at a rate of 250 per minute. Unfortunately, these types of stories are relatively rare, and many of the objects have no labels. In a number of other cases, the low or glaring lighting makes it difficult to read labels that are present. There is a huge potential to bring some amazing objects to life for visitors.

The museum places considerable emphasis on Leonardo da Vinci, who is officially part of the museum’s name. One long exhibition space has many models of Leonardo’s machines, ranging from a pile driver to a helicopter to a printing press to various war machines. I particularly liked the model of a double catapult (see photo) which, according to Leonardo’s plan, was to have been built with bows measuring 50 meters in length (!) and would be capable of hurling 20 kg stones great distances. There is an i.Lab for visitors to experiment with copies of several da Vinci machines, as well.

In addition to the main building, there are three additional exhibition venues.

1) a building devoted to rail transport, with a number of locomotives on display;

2) a building with maritime and air transport exhibits, including a full-sized square-rigged ship and an Italian 2-man torpedo (see photo for a look at this ride-‘em-cowboy device)…

3) #506 – a post-WW-II submarine that was decommission- ed in 2000 and brought to the museum with great community interest in August 2005. Curiously, it was dedicated at the museum on December 7th of that year, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, the sub also doubles as a full-size exhibit on albedo. Because it sits outside and is black, the sub gets too hot on sunny days for visitors to go inside.

From an educational standpoint, the education staff is working hard to make the collections more intellectually relevant and accessible. In particular, the staff has been at the forefront of transnational collaborations to improve the educational impact of school visits to museums. A major European Union research project, known as SMEC, has produced valuable publications, exemplars of museum programs for visiting school groups, and general experiences that all museums can gain from.

The staff runs literally into a wall at every turn, because of the challenging long and narrow spaces that this masonry monastery building provides. and there are still many holdover objects, such as many religious frescoes that have been removed from their original location, preserved, and displayed in the museum. From the standpoint of curb-appeal, the entrance to the museum is almost invisible because it is small and set back in a side wall of a broad courtyard off a side street. Visitors have virtually no convenient parking These characteristics probably contribute to the annual visitation rate per square meter of exhibit space that is about 20% that of many interactive science centers. However, recent changes have significantly increased attendance in recent years, and the success of the i.Lab program is certainly worth watching as a model for deeper engagement of youth at museums in general.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Technorama in Wintertur, Switzerland

Technorama is the result of the re-invention of an historical technology museum into a vibrant science center in Winterthur, Switzerland. It is the only science center in the country, but with 500 hands-on exhibits, there is plenty of opportunity to go around.
The process started in 1991 with the replacement of a group of historical objects with a set of phenomenon-based hands-on exhibits. At the end of the venue, the museum kept the most successful exhibits as permanent. They repeated this process over the years and have now replaced all of the original historical objects (which are still safe in storage)

I was particularly impressed with the robustness of the exhibits. Of exhibits on display, I noticed only one that was out of order. About one-half of the exhibits have Exploratorium origins, but many have been re-engineered over the years. As a result, they are the best-functioning exhibits I have seen in 40 years of visiting science museums.

Technorama has regular floor programs that range from big and impressive (a show on gases that includes a number of big, impressive explosions and a great high-voltage show) to moderate-sized (a Coriolis-effect show delights about 50 visitors at a time, 20 of whom sit inside a spinning carousel and can roll balls to each other and do half a dozen other guided activities that bring the Coriolis effect to life. A scanning tunneling microscope demo produced a 3D atom-by-atom map of the surface of a graphite (carbon) crystal and brought nanotechnology to life.

Another demonstration showed visitors how increased atmospheric CO2 enhances the greenhouse effect by decreasing the amount of infrared radiation (heat) emitted back to space.

Technorama has an interesting area called the Youth Laboratory, which houses exhibits that in general take slightly more time. Many involve measurements or experimentation with parameters or sometimes more dangerous activities (such as heating compost with a flame to determine the residual mass). In this area, school groups can reserve the lab in the morning, and general visitors are free to use the space in the afternoon. The lab also includes a kitchen lab and a chemistry lab staffed by a full-time PhD in chemistry.

This year’s special exhibition is called ‘Atomic Zoo” and will be on display through summer 2008. It includes 29 stations where visitors can experiment with real equipment and direct observation of atomic=scale phenomena.

There is a small outdoor science park which presents many opportunities for the future. Currently the park has a Boyo human yoyo, a set of coupled swings, a 5-ton rock on a swivel, and a wonderful chalet for children’s activities.

It was particularly interesting to see the distribution of visitor ages at Technorama. In comparison with the usual bimodal distribution of ages groups in many science centers (pre-teen children and their parents), there was a significantly higher percentage of teens (often on a date) and older adults (often by themselves). There were few very young children (Technorama doesn’t charge for children under 6), but instead I noticed a relatively uniform distribution of ages, with significantly more teens than one sees in most museums of this type.

Interestingly, there is little outreach from Technorama. Everything is done onsite. To date, there has been strong on-site operating support from the Swiss government, but little funding for educational outreach.

From the standpoint of educational philosophy, Technorama has strict guidelines regarding what it will put on the museum floor. First, it seeks exhibits that are purely phenomenological. Inspired by both the Exploratorium and its artists, and to to some extent by the Science Museum of Minnosota, this museum is really hands-on and proud of it.

If Technorama can’t create a real hands-on visitor experience with a phenomenon, they won’t build the exhibit. You won’t find any ball-and-stick models of molecules, touch boxes, push buttons that light up text, flip-up panels, or other types of gratuitous interactivity. In fact, there are almost no computers except where they are used for measuring/displaying a quantity. Just real phenomena.

As a result, as much as Technorama would like to develop exhibits on nanotechnology, they are playing a wait-and-see approach because of the difficulty they see in bringing real phenomena at the nanoscale to visitors without models, information panels, computer screens, or other information transfer techniques that do not present visitors with real experiences at the nanoscale. They are following NSF’s Nanoscale Informal Science Education (NISE) Network project very closely, along with efforts by other museums to address nanoscale science interactively.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven, Germany

Arnim, my close friend of nearly 30 years, was born in Bremerhaven and emigrated to the U.S. as a graduate student. He encouraged me to check this museum out, and it was definitely worth the effort. Again, this museum is not a science museum or center, but there are some wonderful features that might give those of us in the science center field some ideas.

The museum tells the story of how millions of Germans shipped out from Bremerhaven in search of a new life, often in America. What is particularly ­­noteworthy, in my opinion, is the remarkable immersive environment this museum creates through a series of relatively simple, multi-sensory techniques. And then there are the stories.

To begin with, visitors receive a ticket with the name of someone. While other exhibitions (e.g., “Titanic”) use this technique to increase visitor interest, this museum provides you with an electronic card. Your card links you to your character at many different stations throughout the museum, allowing you to easily hear or read the stories connected with embarking, eating, sleeping, and just plain surviving the transatlantic trip. You can, of course, hear the stories of other people, but this technology allows you to easily follow your character’s experiences.

To begin with, after a short orientation, visitors go to a wharf to get the experience of how emigrants left home for a new life, along with the sounds, sights, and smells of the real thing. This experience is followed by walking up a gangway into the “ship” and from here on, it is as if visitors were really on board a ship bound for America. Stories are cleverly told through audio labels or on text panels that often are located behind paneled cupboard doors, for those who want to read. While opening doors to read text may seem boring, it works here, because every door has a story behind it.

The stories of 20 people living in a tiny bunk room in steerage are brought alive by representative vignettes about sleeping, sea-sickness, giving birth on board, and a typical diet – all done with restraint in the face of what must have been thousands of potential stories worth telling.

The simulated waiting and questioning rooms on Ellis Island, New York (photo left) left an impression on me. Visitors are challenged to answer the same battery of questions that examiners used 100 years ago to quickly determine the next step for immigrants - whether they would be accepted into the country and if so, what they could then do. Even in English, this was not a simple task, but the exhibition encourages visitors to imagine going thru this triage in a foreign language. All the while, a bell was ringing every few seconds to indicate the processing of yet another new immigrant by some anonymous examiner within the facility. One wrong answer could make the transatlantic trip a trip in vain.

While few science centers or museums can afford to create this level of immersion, there are some lessons to be learned from an exhibition like this. The use of personal connection, amplified with technology that works, can greatly increase the level of personal interest. The technology here was flawless. And we have all experienced exhibits where the potentially great technology functioned only minimally, creating a sense of frustration and alienation.

The use of all possible senses can add an important measure of connection. I wonder how much more we might be able to do within the science center context, for example, through the appropriate use of sound and smell in addition to the senses of touch and sight that we usually employ.

The final experience for visitors is a research room where visitors can look up their ancestors on a variety of web-based databases. Experts are on hand to help with a search, which may produce copies of original documents such as a ship’s manifest or a record from Ellis Island. I found 8 immigrants listed with my great-grandfather’s name (Adam Trautmann), but there was not enough information to select which (if any) was the correct one. I have some more homework to do...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, Germany

The Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, which is not a really science museum or science center, but it has some very good displays of boats, ships, and marine-related technology. These exhibits include all manner of marine engines, mechanical devices, navigational equipment, and of course many different boats, starting with some more than 1,000 years old.

More important, however, are the stories that this museum tells and the way it tells them. The museum uses its stories to bring alive a subject that is increasingly distant for many people. There are some good lessons here.

For example, when I visited, the museum was showing a temporary exhibition called “Windjammer.” Having grown up with windjammer schooners (fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessels with 2 or more masts) on the coast of Maine, and having always enjoyed seeing boat shows with what some people call windjammers (square-rigged or “tall” ships), I was interested to learn that “windjammer” was actually a derogatory term used by sailors of square-riggers to refer to sailors of schooners (who did not have to climb the rigging to set and furl the sails and were therefore considered second-class sailors). This exhibition was full of stories, such as the medical roles of the captain (responsible for amputations and deliveries) and the first mate (responsible for the unpleasant task of lancing carbuncles – a common medical marine malady in those days). The photo shows a 3D model of what a typical carbuncle looked like, to go along with the text.

Sailors were given a checklist of gear to bring along, including 150 name tags so that they could sew in into every piece of clothing they brought on board.
Other exhibits in the useum told stories such as the conversion of an experimental nuclear-powered ship to a conventionally powered container vessel (the original control console of the nuclear version is on display - see photo).

Or of the coal-fired boilers on a steamship and how workers on these boats shoveled 24-7 to keep the fires burning and the ship moving.

This museum relates its objects to the everyday experience of its visitors, thereby generating a heightened sense of connectedness and curiosity compared with typical maritime museums. This approach provides answers to the question "so what?" that can turn an old object into a fascinating window on another time and place.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Technopolis in Mechelen, Belgium

Technopolis was a fun stop - I had planned to spend only a portion of a day there, but once inside, my visit quickly expanded into nearly two full days.

First, a bit about Belgium. The country is divided into very distinct halves, with the northern part (Flanders) speaking Flemish and the southern part speaking French. Technopolis is the only science center in Flanders and it both draws from and provides outreach to the entire region, which measures roughly 150 km E-W by 100 km N-S. The center is located between Antwerp and Brussels.

Technopolis opened in 2000 and has hosted a relatively consistent 250,000 annual visitors ever since. The project was the brainchild of Erik Jacquemyn, who began public science programming in 1985 and remains as the center’s director. Early on, the center decided not to group exhibits by subjects (physics, astronomy, electricity, optics, etc. ) or by themes (energy, communications, transportation, health) but instead created a series of flexible umbrella-like areas. One of these, called “Structures,” embraces exhibits in areas such as mechanics (structure of buildings) and DNA (structure of life). Another area called “Invisible” includes things difficult to see, such as electricity, microscopic things, and the ubiquitous Mindball exhibit, in which visitors relax their way to victory by creating more alpha waves, thereby sending a small ball rolling to the opposing visitor.

Technopolis unabashedly employs the Trojan Horse approach to public understanding of science: engaging visitors with fun, attractive, sometimes theatrical experiences and leaving them with a deeper understanding of science. Using a strong base of both science and performance, the center houses a colorful, attractive collection of exhibits from all over the world as well as many from its own extensive shop. The exhibits are highly interactive and arranged for maximum group interaction. One long wall of the museum is glass, providing lots of natural light which, in combination with carpeted floors, creates a visitor-friendly environment.

The exhibits include a number of standard Exploratorium favorites but also a number of original creations. Technopolis also creates and tours its own temporary exhibitions, such as one on “Health and Happiness” that is due to ship out later this year. This exhibition included dozens of interactive stations, all linked via bar coded wrist-bands to individual visitors. At the stations, visitors can measure the heart rate, test their math reasoning skills, evaluate their diet, and measure their flexibility before printing a color certificate with their individual results.

A new children’s venue, targeting 4-8 year olds, houses a colorful and highly interactive set of activities. In one area, visitor can have their picture taken and then print a sheet of Technopolis play money in various denominations with their face on each bill. Nearby stations include a counterfeit station that allows visitors to look at real Euro bills under a black light (a specific portion of each bill changes color) and a magnifier (letters in one word on each bill are themselves made up of tiny letters). Families are encouraged to talk about what would happen if everyone could print their own money.

Science theater is alive and well at Technopolis. As one staff member put it, “You have to be a performer to work here.” I watched an auditorium show, a Van de Graaff generator show, an object theater (“automatic”) show, and a mime doing science for young children and their families to the music of a nearby boom box. In almost all cases, the materials used in the activities were common, everyday things, and except for the mime, the phenomena were followed by clear explanations that related the observations to everyday life. Presenters were enthusiastic and dramatic in their presentations in a way that I found highly engaging.

Outreach is a strong part of Technopolis. Programs include: 1) a mobile science van that travels to schools, unfolds into a portable lab, and presents a highly tailored program for 30 students at a time that supports the 11th grade curriculum; 2) science puppet theatrical performances; 3) a van that goes to schools; 4) participation in public events; 5) much more.

Public relations and marketing are a strong component of this center. Their logo appears on everything, from exhibit signage to printed materials to their website, and a recent survey showed that 84% of all Flemish Belgians recognize the Technopolis brand (a remarkable accomplishment within 6 years of opening).

An outdoor science park has about a dozen exhibits, including this wooden xylophone.

The center has decided that it should address the issue of climate change, but that interactive exhibits are a difficult medium for the topic (in part because they take a long time and budget to develop). So Technopolis has opted for a programmatic approach that includes: 1) hosting a session by one of Al Gore’s ambassadors; 2) purchase of a “Magic Planet” exhibit with environmental graphics; 3) setting up a kiosk for visitors to read current articles on climate change; 4) taking part in world-side events (a public ice-science demonstration during the Live Earth concert in July; 5) serving as a venue for the new world-wide global warming DECIDE game, to be played on October 4); 6) providing support on connecting with the public for a series of 10 special science sections in a major Belgian newspaper, each of which will run 12 pages and which will include information on climate change.

Technopolis is high-tech in its internal systems, well-organized, and forward thinking. I was particularly impressed with the center’s big-picture outlook on opportunities for world-wide collaboration on projects related to public understanding of science and technology, including ASTC’s IGLO (International action on GLObal warming) project, transnational roundtables for professional development, and fostering the development of both regional and international museum networks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Phaenomenta in Bremerhaven, Germany

Phaenomenta, a small and decidedly funky little science center in Bremerhaven, is inspired by the original Phaenomenta in Flensburg (which I described earlier in this blog). The center is housed in an old concrete building in the southern portion of the old fishery district on the waterfront. The fishing and associated smells are now gone, and a number of new tourist attractions have sprung up instead. (In its current size and format, however, this center is not one of them).

The center has roughly 100 sq m of exhibits and a staff of 7 plus director. The exhibits are decidedly homebrewed and a mix of Exploratorium Cookbook favorites and funky originals.

One room was filled with a series of sound-related exhibits made from found materials (hoses, pipes, rope, etc.) that are scheduled to be changed out this fall and replaced by new exhibits. Several families with very young children were having a good time exploring the center. It took about 15-20 minutes to try most of the exhibits.
And a first for me: there was a candle in a floor stand with a Zippo lighter so visitors could light the candle and then blow it out with the nearby air cannon. The wick was so short that I burned my fingers trying to light it.

It was clear that this center has a very enthusiastic staff, with equally enthusiastic volunteers helping to build exhibits. One can only hope that this enthusiasm will translate into a larger, permanent home in the future and the resources to create a set of exhibits and programs for local families and their visitors. Given the strong tourism and climate orientation of the upcoming Klimahaus project, it would seem that there is plenty of opportunity for both venues in Bremerhaven. However, as currently set up, this center is too small to attract a regional audience and faces many challenges on the road to sustainability.

Klimahaus Bremerhaven 8-deg East, Germany

Klimahaus is an exciting new 9,000-sq-m (100,000-sq-ft) attraction, based on global climate change, that is currently under construction and due to open next summer (2008).

The frame of the building is the wide, lower construction with cranes in the front of the photo, showing outward-sloping concrete columns in the lower half of the building. (The taller structure is a hotel, also under construction).

The project was proposed by the same private firm Petri and Tiemann (”Marketing, Themes, and Edutainment”) that operates Universum in Bremen. The venue will be operated by an independent company organized and owned by Petri.

The organizational model for Klimahaus is an interesting one. The project is being funded by the city of Bremerhaven (70 million Euros, or a little under $100 million USD), with a new for-profit management firm Klimahaus Betriebsgesellschaft mbH responsible for operations. Profits accrue to the management firm, but the building, exhibits, and land will be owned by the city.

Klimahaus, even while under construction, is a dramatic presence on the waterfront of Bremerhaven. Its kidney-bean-like shape is evokes the image of a cloud, and the exterior is entirely clad in glass, apparently with no two panels alike. And, according to the prospectus, there will be no right angles inside.

I observed the construction site (currently building interior reinforced concrete columns, beams, and floors) and was fortunate to receive the first English-language prospectus of the project, which included a DVD with a virtual 3-D tour through the building. A webcam is also available 24-7.

Inside, there will be three primary themes, including:

1) Journey: a trip to 8 different locations showing how people live in different climate zones along the 8-deg longitude line that goes through Bremerhaven;

2) Elements: an interactive look at the relationship of Earth, Wind (air), Fire (Sun), and Water to climate; and

3) Perspectives: a look at climate change, human influence, and what we can do to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

Also, Klimahaus has produced a series of almost 20 interactive exhibit stations that are being sent to 30 schools over the next 2 years.

This project may well be the world’s largest museum venue specifically dedicated to bringing the issue of climate change to the public (for some time to come). It is clearly set up as an edutainment venue, with increased tourism for Bremerhaven the principal measure of success. However, the project team has been careful to engage climate experts from a several well-respected institutions (such as the nearby Alfred Wegener Institute) to ensure that the exhibits reflect the best current scientific thinking about global warming and climate change.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Universum in Bremen, Germany

Just when I was starting to think I had seen most of the models for science centers in Germany, I visited Universum in Bremen and found a totally new concept, both in terms of the exhibits and management.

This center is now owned by the City of Bremen and managed by a for-profit corporation that pays annual rent to Bremen. The building is a dramatic pod-like structure, surrounded by shallow water, reminiscent of a whale from one angle or a mussel shell from another. The building is clad in shiny metallic panels resembling fish scales that ensure a reflection (if the sun is out) no matter what time of day.

Almost all of the income comes from the gate, gift shop, and cafeteria, with a small amount from corporate sponsorships. Inspired by the Exploratorium, the center was planned by a group of university scientists, politicians, and representatives from what is now the management corporation. The center opened in 2000 and has a close relationship with the university nearby; of the 130 staff, about 100 are university students, who wear red jackets and are called “scouts.”

Universum is organized along three basic themes: the Expedition Earth, Expedition Mankind, and Expedition Cosmos. Visitors start one of these three essentially linear experiences high above the ground floor and follow a wavy path downward through various immersive environments and interactive exhibits.

This huge map of the world shows the distance between Bremen, Germany and New York City in nanometers. The distance increases as you watch because of continental drift (about 30 mm/year, or 1 nanometer per second).

In July, Universum opened a new outdoor science park (photo left) that includes many hands-on water exhibits, a small climbing wall, an outdoor amphitheater with regular demonstrations by university students. Visitors can also jump using the human yoyo or sit and play a huge wooden xylophone. A new 27-m-tall observation tower (photo below) in one corner of the park is full of both interactive exhibits (drop balls down a tube and see the speed at various points) and contemplative exhibits (wind harp; small room with seats at the top with a square hole in the roof that encourages observing the sky without anything else in view.

Under construction and due to open in October is a new building across the street called the “Show Box,” which will have a 750-sq-m area for temporary exhibitions, a bigger exhibits shop, and office space. The first exhibition, opening later this fall, will be on chocolate. I took part in a visitor survey to name the exhibition (my contribution: “Chocolate: Food for the Mind”) and to contribute an experience with chocolate (“For more than 30 years, my top priority whenever visiting San Francisco has always been a trip to Ghirardelli Square for a hot fudge sundae.”)

At the top of the center is an inviting and well-stocked program room (see photo below) where school groups can come for one of many exploration programs offered by Universum.

It will be interesting to see how the new traveling exhibition venue Show Box across the street works in attracting additional visitors. Because of the public-private funding model for Universum, it is not a simple matter to obtain funds to replace exhibits in the main exhibition space, and the linear, thematic exhibition concept will likely require wholesale re-design and re-construction of a large complex space and the associated exhibits.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Artefact PowerPark and Natural Living Space, Gluecksburg

Artefact is a real treat for those who find out about it and then can find it.

It is an outdoor park-type exhibition dedicated to renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles that are in harmony with nature. Everything here is powered by wind and sun, and most exhibits are outdoors. For the most part, they are interactive and several are clever in illustrating principles of energy. Several funky buildings house a exhibits and demonstrate how to use renewable and recycled building materials. All of the exhibits appear lovingly homebrewed, and many deserve more maintenance than they are able to receive.

Several exhibits demonstrate principles like potential and kinetic energy by allowing visitors to turn a crank that lifts a huge concrete weight; by pushing a lever, the weight falls and lifts up an almost equally heavy stone. In another exhibit, visitors spin a heavy rotating disc and can then feel the heat of friction when they push on a metal sleeve that acts like a brake.

Dozens of other exhibits range from solar cells that power a tall water fountain in a pond to blades from real wind turbines to a compost system, honey bee hives. There is even a pair of pigs. An operating wind turbine looked to be generating a significant amount of energy, but unfortunately there was no explanation or readout to indicate how much power was being generated.

The main solar array, however, had a readout that indicated instantaneous power, total kWh, and the equivalent CO2 avoided. The waste-water for Artefact is treated by a multi-phase natural system involving tanks, reed beds, and ponds and demonstrates how facilities can treat their own wastewater.

Artefact is (unfortunately) far off the beaten track but appears to attract a number of school groups for its educational programs. I wouldn’t be surprised if more educational parks like Artefact began to appear in other cities throughout Germany, or other countries where the environment is given a high priority. I could also see nature and science centers in the U.S. adopting this approach of outdoor exhibits to promote the importance of sustainable development, particularly among school children.