- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences is different from most other museums: instead of the myriad artifacts sported by its counterparts, this one features just four, including a tree stump.

“Instead of artifacts, we have a lot of interactives which allow people to explore on their own, make comparisons and come away with their own conclusions,” says Erika Shugart, deputy director of the museum, which opened last year.

The museum’s exhibits are based on reports by the National Academy of Sciences, which was created in 1863.

The “interactives” feature plasma screens connected to panels with joysticks and buttons that visitors can manipulate. Each exhibit has multiple interactive stations. One of these interactives, called “Seeing Science,” is part of the “Wonders of Science” exhibit. It shows all the light sources emitted from Earth at night and what they look like from outer space. It gives visitors an opportunity to compare the light sources of 1993 and those in 2000.

Some geographical areas got darker during this time period, such as Ukraine, while others got brighter, such as Eastern Europe. In the United States, cities got darker while suburbs got brighter. The joystick and buttons allow visitors to zoom in on geographical areas of interest.



“It tells us something about economic activity. The Ukraine experienced a depression after the fall of the Soviet Union,” Ms. Shugart says. “In the U.S., there was an increasing flight to the suburbs.”

There are three current exhibits, “Wonders of Science,” “Global Warming: Facts and Our Future” and “Putting DNA to Work.” These three exhibits will be in place for at least two more years.

If all this sounds a little advanced for a toddler or preschooler, it is. Ms. Shugart says the 6,000-square-foot museum is recommended for children ages 13 and older. She says many school classes come to the museum for field trips, but the museum also sees many families with teenagers during the weekends.

“It’s great when parents come in with their children. They really get the most out of it,” Ms. Shugart says. “The kids are running the stuff and the parents are reading about it. It’s a great combination.”

In the global warming exhibit, visitors can learn about the natural and man-made causes of global warming. Natural causes include El Ninos, solar variations and volcanic activity. A manmade cause is carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuel.

One of the interactives, “Explore Ways to Reduce CO2 Emissions,” allows visitors to choose different lifestyle and societal changes that would have an impact on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. Options include increasing household vehicle fuel efficiency by 10 miles per gallon for all Americans and improving commercial building efficiency.

With each reduction the visitor chooses, the screen will show the effect that reduction has on the overall emission of carbon dioxide nationwide.

Another interactive asks how much visitors would be willing to pay for changes that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Researchers find that people want to save everything until there is a cost,” she says.

The exhibit on DNA covers topics such as DNA sequencing, inherited diseases, DNA and the criminal justice system, improving crops and infectious diseases. At the very beginning of the exhibit, visitors get a chance to test their DNA knowledge. Cardboard cutouts of animals and plants ask how much DNA humans share with them.

Some visitors might be surprised to find out that humans share 44 percent of their DNA with fruit flies, as much as 92 percent with mice and other mammals, and 18 percent with a weed.

Another part of the exhibit shows how the FBI uses DNA to identify suspects. It’s a wall of letter combinations.

“We call this our ‘CSI’ wall,” Ms. Shugart says. “It shows the 13 different spots [of the genome] the FBI looks at.”

The exhibits offer much to digest, but are designed to appeal even to visitors who only want to spend a little bit of time with each topic.

“We like to say that our visitors are streakers, strollers and studiers,” Ms. Shugart says.

The average visitors spends 75 minutes at this museum. What’s the appeal?

“Our approach is unique. We present science and policy and how they relate to people’s daily lives,” Ms. Shugart says. “We want to make people aware that they make decisions every day that involves science. They may not know that.”

Oh, and the tree stump — part of the global warming exhibit, its rings help researchers figure out temperature variations in years past. The narrower the rings, the harsher the climate.

When you go:

Location: Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences is at Sixth and E streets NW in the District.

Directions: The museum is located three blocks north of the Mall, and a block south of the MCI Center and the National Building Museum. The closest Metro stops are Gallery Place/Chinatown on the Red, Green and Yellow lines, and Judiciary Square on the Red Line.

Hours: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and major holidays. The last visitor is admitted at 5 p.m.

Parking: Limited on-street parking is available.

Admission: $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 5 to 18, students and seniors.

Information: 202/334-1201 or www.koshland-science-museum.org

Notes:

• The museum is best enjoyed by children age 13 and older, according to museum officials.

• The museum hosts hands-on activities, led by students from the District’s Banneker High School, on most weekends. Call ahead to get the latest information. One of the most popular activities is called “See Your DNA,” and involves taking a sample of DNA from the visitor’s cheek cells. Visitors can even take home their extracted DNA in a necklace vial.

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