Museum of Science exhibits aim to beat brain drain

Date: 6/18/2014

BOSTON – The Museum of Science (MOS) is betting it can help beat the summer brain drain by hosting two exhibits designed to help elementary and middle schoolers keep their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills fresh in a fun, interactive environment.

On display in the Green Wing through Sept. 1 are two special exhibits – “Grossology: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body,” developed in collaboration with Science World, British Columbia, and “2theXtreme: Math Alive!,” sponsored by Raytheon Company.

“Studies say that kids lose two or three months of math and science and literacy over the summer,” Allison Jeannotte, director of Strategic Initiatives, Raytheon Company, said during a May 31 family press luncheon introducing the exhibits. “In the end, the combined goal of Raytheon and the Museum is to keep you kids excited about math and science. In the careers you will have one day, you must have a love of math and science.”

She added that Raytheon had been partnering with MOS since the 1950s “because we share a common goal of encouraging students to realize that math and science are all around them and to help them find a passion for it.”

There was plenty of math and science for kids to get passionate about in both of these exhibits – disguised as video games, interactive quizzes and just plain fun things to do.

In “Grossology,” the two 14-year-old boys who visited the museum with me – my son, Evan Gardner and his friend, Vinnie Bussolari – zeroed in on such disgustingly interactive exhibits as the Burp Machine, Vomit Center and Toot, Toot (which first explained, then simulated the process of the human body passing gas).

In that same exhibit we all had fun trying to beat each other in the bodily function based quiz, the Urine Game, while the simulated foot, armpit, butt and mouth odors exhibit was quite an olfactory experience.

Based on the best-selling book, “Grossology,” the exhibit, designed by Advanced Animation LLC, truly lets young and old have fun exploring the good, the bad and the ugly sides of such bodily functions as runny noses, digestion and body odor. I can guarantee the kids will have a blast, and won’t even know they’re learning a bit of biology.

We spent longer visiting “2theXtreme: Math Alive!” simply because there were so many more things to do in this large exhibit sponsored by Raytheon.

Yes, there were plenty of math concepts on display. But what hooked our group was the fun.

At the “Robotics and Space” station, the boys took turns trying to program a virtual robotic arm to perform tasks on a 3-D simulation of the International Space Station. It looked easy when we watched the demo video, but the actual “doing” required a bit of thinking – and reading – to figure out the right coordinates and move the arm in a beat-the-clock scenario.

Over at “Pedal to the Peak” – a mountain biking challenge – both boys initially tried to go too fast, exceeding the exhibit’s instructions to pedal just quickly enough to keep the graph measuring their progress within the 100 percent range.

“You had to go at a certain amount of speed to stay level,” Evan explained after his second try: “It was hard to keep the graph in line.”

I don’t think either one realized that winning their “competition” was based on the mathematics needed to calculate the speed and distance of their virtual mountain climbs.

Vinnie spent quite a bit of time working out how to get the best “pop” out of a skateboard at “Ramp it Up” – a station where visitors could chose from a combination of real and virtual parts to design their own perfect skateboard.

“You actually got to test out how different ways the board are made lift up in the air,” Vinnie said after he ran his design through a virtual test track.

Evan, on the other hand, was fascinated by the digital representation of how many times a Facebook or Twitter post can multiply once your friends start reposting it in the “Going Viral” demo. We’d talked about this phenomenon – in the context of being careful what you chose to post – but I don’t think he believed me.

“It really doesn’t take that long to get something out once you share it,” he said as we watched the virtual post’s contact circles multiply exponentially.

We all tried our hand at “Boardercross” – an interactive snowboarding video game where the goal was to shift your weight on a board simulator as you tried to pick the best angles to make turns in the virtual course. You had up to five wipeouts before you were eliminated from the game. I failed miserably, hitting maximum wipeouts in the first few turns. My husband, John Gardner, and the boys, however, showed me up handily, each almost making it to the finish line.

“Snowboarding was cool,” Vinnie said. “They virtually made it so you could actually get on the snowboard.”   

We all tried the dance motion simulator, and watched our moves translated into a rainbow of binary-generated colors on a screen. We didn’t have time for the 360-degree motion capture movie exhibit, but the visitors we saw trying it out seemed to have a blast.

There was plenty of other “math” to play with throughout the exhibit – from a strobe-based animation simulator to an opportunity to design a video game or construct a virtual city, and we sampled as much as we could during our tour.  

If your kids think math has nothing to do with their lives, this is the exhibit to visit. Even I was a bit surprised by how many mathematical concepts are part of the everyday things we take for granted.

Though you can easily spend a good part of a day in these two exhibits, make time to visit the rest of the Museum. From the newly renovated Hall of Human Life to the New England Habitat, Conserve @ Home, Dinosaurs, Nanotechnology and more showcases, there’s lots to see and do. The recent addition of an area called “Science in the Park” offers younger visitors an opportunity to burn off a little energy while using everyday objects to learn about the concepts of pushing and pulling.

The Museum of Science, Boston, is located at 1 Science Plaza. For more information about the museum, including parking, extended summer hours, admission, and shows at the Mugar Omni Theater or Charles Hayden Planetarium, visit, email or call 617-723-2500.