Major exhibit opens at museum
By Lisa Boykin Batts Times Life Editor
Imagination Station has a whole new look — a look that includes a giant globe suspended from the ceiling in the main gallery space at the science museum.
It’s called Science on a Sphere, and it’s a permanent exhibit that will draw visitors of all ages to stand by its side to gaze and listen.
"It’s an amazing educational tool,” said Martha Bizzell, the museum’s director of education, who demonstrated the exhibit Friday morning.
The hollow sphere, 6 feet in diameter, weighs 150 pounds and is made of carbon fiber. It’s suspended from the ceiling with three small cables that are barely visible, especially in the darkened room.
Science on a Sphere is a project of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration that uses four projectors to display images related to a diverse range of topics from atmospheric storms and climate change to the flight patterns of airliners all over the world and the constellations as viewed from Australia or Austria, the United States or the United Kingdom.
The exhibit has had a "soft opening” for about a month and has been well-received by guests who come through the museum, said director Nancy Van Dolsen.
"I think it will up our admission without a doubt,” she said.
SOS will expand educational opportunities for visitors of all ages, from children who enjoy hearing about the planets and volcanoes to adults who are fascinated by the mountains on Mars.
And it will help get across an important message about the museum, Van Dolsen said.
"We’ve not just for little kids.”
On Tuesday evening, visitors can get a look for free at an exhibit opening from 6 to 8.
Up and running
In 2008, Imagination Station received a $150,000 grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services to plan and implement an exhibit. The museum had to come up with matching funds, which it did with more grants and money from local entities and individuals.
A master plan for the museum was devised using the grant money, and the SOS exhibit was agreed on as the best opportunity for the museum because of its versatility and ability to be updated.
In order to accommodate SOS, the majority of the exhibits in the main gallery space were moved to an adjoining room, including Race the Wild and the gyro. The carpet was pulled up, leaving concrete floors, and the walls were painted black and gray to make the space darker and more conducive to viewing the sphere.
Imagination Station staff members had a week of training by NOAA staff, who also installed the system. Van Dolsen pointed out how impressed NOAA installers were with Greenlight’s capabilities.
Data for Science on a Sphere is stored on a desktop computer at the museum. An iPad mini is used as the remote control of sorts for the device.
Friday morning, educator Bizzell stood by the sphere, holding her iPad, and quickly switched the images on the globe.
In a matter of seconds, she was able to change the display from such diverse topics as the wave propagation after the Fukushimi, Japan, tsunami to the Earth’s moon. Another option shows the Earth at night, with some countries lit up by electric lights and others almost completely dark.
As she changed topics, the iPad displayed a page of information about the subject, making it easy to give information.
There are 691 display options right now, and updates come out weekly. Every three hours, there’s a satellite update for weather.
When teachers book a visit to the museum, they can let the museum staff know in advance what the students are studying so they can tailor the visit to those topics. But if a question arises on a different subject, an educator or volunteer can go to a different sphere image to answer the question.
When programs aren’t going on, the sphere will display an automatic loop of images. If more funding becomes available, the museum can add a device that allows visitors to choose between a set number of images, Van Dolsen said. The device would be installed on the rails encircling the sphere; Wilson Iron Works made the rails.
Van Dolsen would also like to add seating around the sphere if money becomes available.
Van Dolsen hopes Science on a Sphere draws visitors from all over to the museum. Imagination Station is only the second location in the state to install it. The other one is at the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
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Imagination Station: Keep Growing, Evolving
More than a half-million people have visited the Imagination Station science museum since its doors opened 20 years ago.
We're thrilled to see the museum is still able to lure people in and that the museum's staff is bringing in new and exciting exhibits.
The Lego Duplo "Read! Build! Play!" show and the upcoming Science Says classes coupled with the planned Chick-fil-A Days should draw in even more people to the science museum that's enjoyed by children and adults.
We encourage people to take time to check out those offerings and to continue to support the museum as it moves into the future. The fact the museum is able to create and bring in new programs and has been able to revamp some existing offerings is a testament to the staff's ability to get the most out of limited resources.
It's not easy for organizations to show positive signs of growth and change during times when families are still tightening their financial belts due to the economy. The museum has had to cut staff. Still, its leaders are finding ways to keep providing opportunities for children of all ages to learn about science. One of the best things about Imagination Station is its outreach efforts. The museum's staff hits the road on a regular basis taking science classes to day care centers, schools and camps.
In the past year, more than 34,000 children in and well beyond Wilson County have benefitted from the museum's outreach programs.
The museum had some tough times during its early years. Organizers didn't let the fire that displaced the museum in January 2000 kill it. People still supported the museum and many gave money, time and sweat to help the organization repair the damaged building and exhibits.
Imagination Station is truly an asset for the entire region. We are fortunate to have it operating here as an integral part of Wilson's downtown.
We hope Imagination Station continues to evolve and thrive for many years to come.