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The lens bench is an optical rail with a pair of high brightness LEDs at the object end, a movable lens on a carriage, and a movable screen on a separate carriage. The visitor positions the lens at various distances from the object, then moves the screen to focus the image. The screen has a built-in scale to measure the size of the image. This is compared to the distances of object and image from the lens, and the relationship between magnification and the ratio of these distances can be determined.

COMPUTER 3D DISPLAY (similar to old fashioned 3D viewer)

This display consists of a computer monitor to which is attached a binocular pair of lenses. The visitor looks through the lenses to see a portion of the monitor screen. Computer software generates binary moving images with the parallax necessary for them to be perceived in 3-D

(Table-Top or) Life Size "HOLOGRAM" using Mylar Spheroids

Mylar paraboloids or spheroids are fabricated by attaching a sheet of aluminized mylar to a large round hoop. The opposite side of the hoop is sealed and the space within is partially evacuated. Atmospheric pressure distorts the mylar into a concave shape. These mylar mirrors can be used to project a virtual image of an object in front of the viewer in a manner similar to the saucer-shaped table top display in which you place a small object that appears untouchable.


An overhead projector fitted with a rotating polarizing filter allows visitors to experiment with a variety of materials- polarizing film, birefringent crystals and plastics, Polaroid animation materials. Visitors can create an animated scene using the animated polarizing material.


"Scrambled Eggs"

Visitor stares at a rotating array of dots for a few minutes, then looks at the palm of his hand or other object. Object appears to squirm around .
NEW! Download a computer simulation of this exhibit! Right-click HERE and select "save link as."

Color Bars

Visitor stares at Black-and-green horizontal bars and black-and-red vertical bars for 10 minutes, alternating his gaze from one to the other. Visitor then looks at a black and white maze-like pattern of bars. Horizontal sections of maze appear black-and-red, while vertical sections appear black-and-green. See

Color Spiral

Visitor stares at rotating spirals, one black-and-green, the other black-and-red. One spiral is rotating so as to cause the spiral to seem to approach the visitor, the other is rotating so as to appear to recede. After a few minutes, the visitor looks at a stationary spiral which is alternately illuminated by red and green light. Depending on the color of the illumination, the stationary spiral appears to approach or recede.


A small hemispherical room contains a bright point light source at its center, which invites the creation of shadows on the wall. The idea behind this exhibit is to get young children to think about the path that light takes as it goes from source to object to eye. In doing so the idea of scale is introduced as shadows are created that grow in size as the object is brought toward the light source. Objects are on hand which make interesting shadows that illustrate geometrical concepts.

VARIATION: cut out large square mirrors and arrange in a checkerboard pattern - with squares and gaps. Support checkerboard from one edge so it hangs vertically. Have a screen to both the left and the right of the checkerboard. Probe checkerboard with point source light (maglight bulb on a wand). Reflections from square mirror sections will correspond to shadows of same on opposing screens. Try same setup with point source and wire grid.


A variation of the above, done with a point source or collimator, and a variety of things to look at, including a candle flame, a hot filament under water, etc. This is basically a Schlieren viewer.


SPEED OF SOUND (indoors using pipe)

A large coil of smooth plastic water pipe opens out into a funnel shape. The coil is sealed at the opposite end. Visitors stand in front of the funnel and shout or clap sound. An echo is heard from the funnel, as the sound travels through the pipe and is reflected from its far end. The visitor synchronizes her clapping with the echoes. The period between each clap is the time for the sound to make a round trip from the clapping hands to the far end of the coil. If she measures the time for, say, ten claps, then she can calculate the speed of sound by dividing twice the length of the pipe by 1/10th the time for the ten claps.


A large weather balloon is filled with carbon dioxide, a gas through which sound travels more slowly than through air. The slowing of the sound, combined with the spherical shape of the balloon causes the balloon to focus sound that passes through it. Visitors can carry on a conversation in whispers from opposite sides of the balloon. There is also a small transistor radio set up on one side of the balloon. Solo visitors can position themselves opposite from the radio to hear the amplified sound.


A set of pipes cut to different lengths is set up on a stand at ear level. The lengths of the pipes are calculated to produce sounds corresponding to the musical scale. The visitor listens through each pipe, and notices that each pipe acts as a filter, selecting sound from the random room noise that corresponds to its natural frequency. The visitor can "play" the pipes by rapidly shifting her ear from pipe to pipe!

ECHO Machine

A microphone connected to a guitar "echo box" is in turn connected to a pair of headphones. The visitor attempts to read aloud from a printed text, while listening to her delayed speech through the headphones. The visitor discovers that for a range of delay times, it is impossible to read the text due to the disconcerting echo.


A facility for the production and editing of sounds on magnetic tape comprises one 1/4 inch reel to reel tape recorder, and a number of playback units in a soundproof booth. Visitors assemble recordings of speech, musical sounds, and sound effects into loops, which are taken into the playback room. There they are played back in forward or reverse, at normal speed, fast or slow, in parallel with other loops playing back on the other machines. Visitors notice the effects of the combined sounds with different time periods in a never repeating pattern. The possibility that creative works of sound sculpture can be produced by visitors is exciting!


An array of 100 speakers is positioned approximately 50 feet from a control stand, where the visitor interacts with the exhibit. The speaker array is covered with a grille to prevent the visitor from seeing the speakers vibrate. An LED marks the location of each speaker. A single speaker is randomly selected by computer control, and a sound is played through this one speaker. The visitor tries to guess which location the sound is coming from. His guess is entered into the control panel and illuminates the LED at the chosen site. The computer then illuminates the LED at the correct position (or flashes the LED if the visitor has guessed correctly). The computer keeps score of correct guesses vs. type of sound. Mid frequency sounds are easier to localize than either high or low frequency sounds, due to the relationship between ear spacing and the speed of sound. Likewise, long tones are easier than short beeps!


The visitor's ability to visualize and navigate through a darkened environment using acoustic reflections of a helmet-mounted piezoelectric sounder is challenged by a maze of obstacles. Obstacles consist of padded walls and hanging punching bags (stuffed army surplus duffel bags).


The visitor is given a special set of headphones to wear. On these headphones there are IR photodiodes, one over each ear. These are connected to amplifiers and to the speakers in the headphones. The visitor enters the cave, and is directed about by IR transmitting LEDs which are fed verbal signals, for example, when the visitor steps on a pressure-sensitive mat.


An electronic keyboard musical instrument and a microphone are connected to an oscilloscope. The visitor can listen to a sound while observing its waveform on the oscilloscope. The idea of frequency vs. pitch is discovered as the visitor plays high and low notes. The relationship between the timbre of a sound and its waveform are noticed as the visitor selects different instruments from the keyboard's control.


Mylar spheroids (see above) can be used to make giant (8 ft. dia.) dishes suitable for collimating sound, enabling a conversation to be carried out in whispers across the room. (NOTE: 8ft dia sphere w/8 foot focal length has a saggital height of 6 in.


Metal disks with long wires fastened to their centers. Wires are "strummed" by the wind, producing long tones. Exhibit like this is/was at Exploratorium in S.F.


3 foot loudspeaker is set up at one end of the room. It is driven by a low-frequency oscillator- maybe even by a mechanical device: a motor driven crank. Demonstrates sound generation by the pushing of air.


100 STROBE Lights

A 10 by 10 array of xenon strobe lights mounted in a square frame on a tall stand flashes in a random pattern reminiscent of (and inspired by) the strobes on police cars. This, however, is much more impressive. The display operates outside the museum during business hours.

3-D Zoetrope

A rotating carousel with eight to 12 "stations" at which are placed sculpted figures and objects in progressive poses, creating a repeating cycle of animation. A triggered xenon strobe flashes when the carousel is in the correct position to give the illusion of motion.


A darkened room has the inside wall coated with luminescent paint. A ball, approximately 18 inches in diameter, is mounted on a stand in the center of the room, and is similarly coated. Low intensity ultraviolet lights illuminate the ball and selected regions of the wall. The visitor can create shadow impressions on the ball or on the wall by placing her hand on either. These shadows fade slowly when the hand is removed. Other lights project slowly moving pencil beams of UV onto the dome, creating comet tail effects. A third type of projector projects a rapidly moving beam onto the wall, creating glowing Lissajous figures. The visitor can manipulate the controls of this projector to change the pattern.


Just a thought- maybe it would be fun if the floor has a phosphorescent coating, and there are light sources as described above, to create a TRON-like environment.


A vertical column of LEDs is addressed by computer to spell out words and to draw pictures- except these words and pictures are invisible unless the vertical column is scanned horizontally. The visitor can accomplish this in three ways: by rapidly changing his gaze to the left and right of the LED column, by twisting a hand-held mirror back and forth while viewing the reflection of the LED column, or by looking at the reflection of the column in a centrally-located rotating polygon mirror

Alternate: A TELEVISION SET has the vertical deflection disabled. Stand the TV on its side so picture on tube is a vertical line. Arrange a rotating polygon mirror next to the TV. Feed the TV video from a camera also on its side (so the image on the TV will be erect). Point camera toward visitor. Light visitor with spot.


A large shallow pond of water is built approximately 4 by 8 feet. The pond is elevated so that it is at a comfortable height for visitors. A strong point source of light, such as a halogen security light, is aimed at the pond, and a reflection of the pond is projected onto a suspended screen. The visitor can create ripples in the water through the use of a variety of objects built into the pond: rods for creating expanding ripples in the center, a bar along the edge that creates a plane wavefront, a dual rod (Y-shaped) that can create two disturbances, and a multi-pointed rod (comb-shaped) that can simulate a phased array of antennas. Wave motion, reflection, and interference effects can be explored in an artful and playful way!


A table shaped like a large 6 inch deep tray has in its central area a fog source- either evaporating dry ice, water vapor from an ultrasonic vaporizer, or theatrical smoke. The sides of the tray house helium-neon or visible diode lasers and cylindrical reflectors that create fan-shaped slices of laser light that cut horizontally through the fog. Looking down at the fog, the visitor sees a cross section of the clouds, which are fascinating, chaotic vortices that constantly change. The visitor's controls can aim the fan of light horizontally to different areas of the table.


Major areas of the museum space are labeled using dye-filled transparent plastic tubing illuminated from the ends to simulate neon.


A computer-controlled projector is fitted with a computer controlled diffraction grating and slit so that it projects a circular beam of solid, very pure color, or a continuous spectrum of color. The computer is programmed to switch slowly between these two modes of operation and to change colors. This is a very eye-catching display!


An electronic circuit has been developed that flashes an LED at a certain rate determined by the random tolerances of the circuit elements. The circuit contains four photo transistors that look to the four sides, and provide feedback to the circuit. An array of these circuits exhibits behavior similar to some types of firefly, in that the random flashes become synchronized in a darkened room. Blocking off one of these "electronic fireflies" from its neighbors lets it go back to an individual flashing pattern. Large arrays (16 or more circuits) exhibit interesting communication-like sweeps and nodes of flashing .


A large quantity of small motorized "bugs" are powered by bright sunlight. A mobile of flat horizontal opaque plates moves randomly, covering and uncovering the bugs. As they are uncovered, they skitter away, and come to rest under another horizontal plate. Very lifelike!



A large air table similar to an air hockey game is exhibited. The air table is equipped with pucks of differing masses, and launchers that enable the visitor to set up collisions between the pucks. The visitor learns about inertia, friction and collisions through interactive play with the exhibit.


A system of ramps and lifts creates multiple pathways for a collection of billiard balls to travel. Possibly allow for visitor interaction through the use of tracks that can be switched. Display will be enclosed in a large Plexiglas display case.


Not an exhibit, but a game that can be played with large groups of visitors. A heavy ball is placed in the center of a circle of participants, and they fire soft "nerf" balls in an attempt to drive the heavy ball to the far side of the circle. A participant who is touched by the heavy ball is eliminated from the circle, until a winner is found. The participants learn about inertia, mass and collisions. The idea of Brownian motion can also be explored- especially if there is no clear winner!


Xenon strobe illuminates a small water fountain. The strobe can be adjusted to freeze the motion of the droplets for examination.


A rate gyro is set up on a gimbal. The visitor controls the power switch to the gyro. The visitor notices that the gyro moves freely in the gimbal when turned off, but when powered resists changes to its orientation. Hooks for weights allow the visitor to apply force in an orderly manner to observe precession. There are many other types of gyroscope exhibit, including a gyro attached to a chair on a lazy-Susan turntable. The visitor sits in the chair and attempts to turn the gyro. The reaction force whips the chair around in a dramatic fashion!



A mixture of powdered iron and corn oil exhibits a curious phenomenon when exposed to a magnetic field. It solidifies. Samples of this material enclosed in clear plastic enclosures, along with a selection of strong magnets allows visitors to experiment with this substance. A magnetic brake mechanism that uses electromagnets to solidify the fluid surrounding a disk connected to an external crank handle is also exhibited.



The visitor uses a low power microscope to view a mixture of radium (from an antique watch dial) and phosphorescent zinc sulfide in total darkness. When the visitor's eyes become dark-adapted, she can see the scintillations from the zinc sulfide, every time a high speed alpha particle from the decaying radium atoms collides with the phosphor.


A cloud chamber is used to observe the path of cosmic "rays" and other subatomic particles. The cloud chamber operates using dry ice to supercool alcohol vapor. When a subatomic particle passes through the chamber it ionizes air molecules in its path. These positively charged air molecules then serve as nucleation sites for the alcohol vapor, allowing it to condense along the path of the particle.


A series of grating spectroscopes are set up to view various gas discharge lamps: sodium vapor, neon, helium, etc. The differences in the spectra are attributed to the electronic structure of each type of atom!



Large electrolytic capacitors with up to a Farad of capacitance are now available. These capacitors store moderate amounts of electricity and can be used to visualize electronic processes that happen too quickly otherwise. For example, an oscillator circuit made with this type of capacitor can have a period of a few seconds- plenty of time to look at meters and indicators of charge and current (such as lamps or LEDs) to follow the progress of the oscillation. Several museum exhibits use this technique to demonstrate charge and flow of electricity.


A series of electromagnets vertically mounted around a rail are switched manually by the visitor in an attempt to get an iron projectile to travel up the rail to a maximum height. The visitor can also choose to let the rail gun operate automatically, wherein the projectile soars to a great height. The rail is tall enough so that the projectile never leaves it.


A mag-lev train is set up for visitors' experimentation. It would be small scale- perhaps H-O.


A Jacob's ladder powered by a neon sign transformer displays an electric spark that climbs the space between two rods arranged in a "V". The spark climbs because the hot ionized air through which the spark passes is pushed upward by cooler, heavier air. Eventually the spark is too long to sustain itself, and a new spark forms again at the narrow portion of the V.


The Tesla coil generates very high frequency, high voltage electricity, which emanates from the top of the coil in lightning streamers and lights fluorescent tubes some distance away. Due to the broad-spectrum radio energy this creates, operation of the coil is restricted to a schedule of brief demonstrations.

RADAR RECEIVER (airport location)

A simple loop antenna connected to a germanium diode and to an audio amplifier allows the visitor to hear the modulated signal from the airport radar. the visitor can watch the antenna of the radar turn, and as it is directed towards the visitor, a buzzing noise is heard.


A computer equipped with a satellite receiver displays weather maps from the NOAA satellites.


An oversized Van de Graaf or Wimshurst electrostatic generator is in continuous operation within the museum. On a daily schedule, electricity demonstrations are given using this equipment.



Visitors will operate a robot arm in real time and by programming it to perform pick-and-place tasks.


A mobile turtle-like robot capable of being programmed via the LOGO language (a language developed by Seymour Papert which is used in many classrooms to give students a free-form way to investigate mathematics) will be available.



Build a display that reproduces a small graphing device on a giant screen. Perhaps use electroluminescent panels for this, or a computer with a large-screen display. Build a giant "BATTLESHIP" GAME to involve visitors with coordinate systems. Or a simulated radar game to teach polar coordinates. Build giant 3-D graphs of common functions. Allow visitors to explore things like GRADIENT, DOMAIN, RANGE physically using these 3-D graphs.


An array of rods mounted between two vertically placed plastic windows impedes the downward descent of a large number of plastic balls. Even though each ball is released at the same location at the top of the display, each takes a random path through the array. However, there are a series of "buckets" at the bottom of the display that catch the balls and stack them up histogram-style. It can be seen after a large number of these balls descend that there is a Gaussian distribution in the histogram. The balls are then dumped out the bottom, and it starts over again. Or, the balls are taken from the bottom one layer at a time, so that the histogram retains its shape.



A roof mounted heliostat relays an image of the sun to a horizontal table/screen. Visitors can observe the sun's surface, and any sunspots present.



An enclosure houses a system of water jets, water wheels, floating devices (boats, barges) that allows for interactive play.


Use a PIR intrusion sensor and a set of scanning mirrors to create a thermal imager that scans people as they enter the museum. Output to an oscilloscope display- potentiometers on the mirrors control the vertical (line) position; a scanning dot in sync with a polygon scanner controls dot position L-R, and the signal modulates the brightness of the trace.



An array of small mirrors can be individually manipulated to concentrate the sun's energy onto the hot end of a Stirling Cycle engine (or other device). The rate the engine turns indicates how much energy is being collected.

LASER ART (night time)

A laser projector creates images on a large screen or outside wall of the museum. This laser projector operates during the museum's evening hours.!

COPYRIGHT © 1996-2018 Brian W. Rich. Updated 10 September 2018.
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