Posted by: COSI | August 16, 2010

Can Material Science Be Cool? Can COSI Use Special Activities As Change Tools?

The challenge to helping people see science as interesting and decipherable is to make it relevant and approachable. COSI has been tackling this through our special monthly Science Days, but I wondered how we were going to take the topic of material science and bridge the gap.

Watching the day unfold, though, assured me that we’re more and more finding the partners who can help this happen. Honda was there with an entire car frame and many hands on examples of how different materials are being used in automobiles to help with safety and fuel savings. GE engines were represented with fascinating pieces from a jet engine showing the way in which composites and different alloys are supporting improved engine efficiencies and safety. Ohio State University’s Center for Advanced Materials Research had a host of activities staffed by undergraduate, graduate, and even post-doctoral students eager and skilled at sharing some of their work.

I was just as fascinated as our guests to see a table top scanning electron microscope probe the wing of a butterfly as the efforts to tap biomimicry becomes a hot new realm of research. (Think about millions of years of experimentation that nature has gone through in developing the incredible characteristics of creatures, plants and organisms large and small. Think the “shark skin” swimsuits of the Olympic swimmers that were so good as to now be banned. Think how burrs sticking on your clothes or dog’s fur inspired the ubiquitous Velcro).

Simple demonstrations of levitating transportation possibilities (using super cooled magnets) offered compelling discussions around a science cart. And then our regular sponsor Time Warner and their nationwide commitment to science and math learning, partnering with science centers around the country, seems always to offer a popular table with the hands on components they bring.

There is a lot of discussion at COSI and among science center colleagues about how to facilitate engaging change for our guests in compelling ways. Changing an exhibit hall or bringing in a major temporary traveling exhibition like Titanic are very costly.

Do you engage with our cart and guest experiences when you come to COSI? Does having the chance to talk with and learn from a researcher, chemist, engineer, or enthusiastic volunteer add to your experience at COSI such as during our Material Science Day? As we put more effort into providing a bridge between industry and research and our guests, Science Days are a potential important tool. Let me know how well it’s working for you.



  1. I do! Well, I encourage my 4 year old to. I am often limited in both science and how to explain it so I enjoy that demonstrations she has taken part in. Sometimes I wonder how much she is getting and some of the young demonstrators aren’t comfortable with some simple explanation towards the young kids but overall it’s been very valuable!

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