Mom's Museum Review: The Franklin Institute's Karabots Pavilion
New Franklin Institute exhibits
Your Brain face fun
This past weekend, the Franklin Institute debuted four new exhibits in its brand-new Karabots Pavilion. We took you behind the scenes here. MomSpeaker EJ Curran took her kids and offers their perspective on the fresh science fun below.
This past Saturday, the Franklin Institute unveiled the largest expansion in the kid-friendly science museum's history, the 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion and four new exhibits: Your Brain, Circus! Science Under the Big Top, 101 Inventions That Changed the World and National Geographic's Ocean Soul.
Earlier this week, the monsters and I met with Jayatri Das, chief bioscientist and lead developer of the Your Brain exhibit. With her guidance, the kids and I explored, climbed and interacted with the entire exhibit prior to this weekend's grand opening. Right from the start, we were taken by surprise by the superinnovative and exciting interactive experiences offered by Your Brain.
Upon entering Your Brain, our silhouettes were captured on a huge video screen, where scaled images of our brains and nervous systems were superimposed over our "shadows." As the kids moved and danced, their brains and nervous systems moved along with those shadows. Then we were confronted with a real human brain to view from every angle — in a case, don't worry! Then we got to feel a pretend brain, to get a sense of what a real brain might feel like.
We could have spent hours in the Neural Climb, a brilliant and towering playroom for the kids — and adults who care to brave the height of the 18-foot-tall structure. The kids climbed the neural network maze while lights and sounds were triggered from below as we stepped on floor panels. Bursts of light and real sounds of neurons firing represented electrical and chemical signals in the brain. When a neuron fired, my middle daughter screamed from somewhere in the maze, followed by a ton of laughter, of course.
The maze itself consists of 45 climbing discs and 45,000 feet of cable. Standing at 18 feet tall, the all-glass maze features 112 light fixtures and 16 speakers. It's the people's movement and energy throughout this room that triggers sounds and lights — representing the inner workings of the brain.
Further sections included the Build a Network table, where my oldest son immersed himself in the touch-screen tabletop, manipulating and rotating different images of neurons to build connections in the brain. On the other side of that particular room, two of my kids busied themselves spinning and firing off a model neuron, blasting out ping pong ball neurotransmitters. Much of the exhibit is superkid-friendly — as in, just plain fun — while demonstrating important information about the brain, how it works and how we perceive the world using our brains.
The kids learned how the brain can "construct" faces pretty much out of anything. They practiced building faces out of totally random inanimate objects on a Velcro wall, tested their level of fear, engaged in experiences that confused their vision — prepare to get a little dizzy if you dare — confused their touch and their sensitivity. I played a game of virtual tennis, drove a virtual car, both experiences demonstrating facets of attention. The activities available literally went on and on.
Circus! Science Under the Big Top was a whirlwind of color, sights, sounds and fun. The monsters ran off in all different directions, drawn too by the authentic scent of cotton candy and popcorn at a make-believe (but very convincing) circus food cart. My daughter practiced balancing on a wire while holding a real high wire balancing pole. My son roared back at a painted lion. We examined all kinds of circus animal feces and took turns guessing what animal each pile belonged to. Nice, right?
Of course, no visit to the Franklin Institute would be complete without charging through the Giant Heart a few dozen times. We totally did that. The best moment of all, however, was when my 6-year-old, who loves all things space and astronomy, declared in the opening moments of his very first Planetarium visit: "This is better than Cosmos!" Sorry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, we do love you. In fact, he walked around most of the astronomy and space exhibit with his mouth agape. "It's beautiful!" he cried adoringly to the USA spacesuit.
The Franklin Institute makes science accessible at the kid level and beyond. It's an amazingly fun immersion in science of all kinds and absolutely can't be missed.
EJ Curran is a Delaware mom. This post is adapted from her blog, Four Little Monsters, at FourLittleMonsters.com.