Posted by: COSI | March 27, 2009

The Power of Real

When we were designing and building the Carnegie Science Center, we somewhat arrogantly thought of ourselves as creating the anti-museum. We were part of the larger Carnegie Institute which had the Carnegie Natural History Museum as a sister organization, but our interactions with the curators for the most part ended in frustration. Many of them were interested in their research, not in sharing it with the public, and displays were often an object explained through a didactic textbook like approach.

Too bad—as years later I realize that with better attitudes on each side we could have leveraged something I’ve come to respect a lot more after 22 years in this field—“The Power of Real.”

Whether it’s the real phenomena (as we utilize often here at COSI) or the real object as focused on at natural history and art museums, to name a few types, there is something special to the guest about “real.” It seems self-evident to me now, but it took me a long time to understand that power. Unfortunately, the scientific and curatorial staff at the various collecting museums that I’ve headed certainly had their frustrations with me as I moved slowly to the realization, but then I’ve had my frustrations with having them see that they had to present the “real” item in a way that was engaging and helped draw out that power of being a real artifact or object.

picture3-6So at COSI we’ve been adding more of the “power of real” to the array of experiences that we’ve been so good with. The current Frogs exhibit does just that—letting you see the real frogs that in many cases you’ve only read about.

I love going into the exhibit hall to watch kids with their noses pressed up close trying to find one of the hidden frogs, or in awe of the poison dart frogs. People seem so amazed at the natural beauty of many of these special creatures that they’ve taken some incredible photographs. This link will take you to the photos that our guests have posted after their visit to the Frogs exhibit. Like the photo with this blog, you’ll see we have some talented guests who have captured our frogs in some great pictures. Enjoy and think about coming down to see the “real thing” yourself.

Do you think we should be harnessing the “power of real” more in the experiences we provide at COSI?



  1. As a former COSI volunteer (1982-1986), I can vouch for the “power of real” (even if it is simulated, as it was in the coal mine exhibit). Simply telling visitors about the advances in robotics wouldn’t have had the same impact as seeing Cyro (robot arm) in action. Exhibits that allow visitors to see the actual thing (whatever that thing may be) or to phsically interact with it are so much more meaningful to the educational experience. Even the simulated coal mine exhibit contained actual mining equipment.

  2. Instead of harnessing that power, unleash it! COSI does such a wonderful job of letting the guests experience the exhibitions that I can hardly imagine what it would be like to be more fully immersed in the real!?!

  3. I love the energy of the comments. What are some ideas for us to consider in connecting or “unleashing” the power of real at COSI?

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