Sunday, January 3, 2016

Trips to the Museum: A Slice of Nostalgia

Happy New Year, everyone!I hope that you all had a wonderful end to 2015, and we start with 2016 on a fresh note.

On a Sunday in the fall, a Miami institution closed its old building. A new building for the Miami Museum of Science has been undergoing construction downtown, taking place as a giant dome and a large aquarium. The Wildlife Center is still going to rescue injured birds, an important necessity, but we who live about thirty minutes away will not be able to visit the large white buildings next to Vizcaya except for "pop-up events". We're not sure if we can park in the huge lot either.

Image source:

I have many fond memories of the Museum of Science. As a kid I attended the summer camp for several years, trying out many activities; at the camp I discovered that I loved the stage and performing, and that sailing is a nightmare for someone like me that fears boats capsizing. Before I went to camp there, my elementary school class went on a field trip, complete with a terrifying demonstration of electricity and how a current can pass through the human body.

The exhibits were also quite memorable: one year the main corridor had animatronic dinosaurs, which included a bunch of carnivorous dinosaurs feeding on a live herbivore, and another year they had live snapping turtles that showed off their beaks if you wiggled your fingers. One show featured a giant animatronic sloth behind a curtain, and a time machine; another displayed stage magic and great escapes. You could see videos of boys receiving heart surgery, climb a plastic rock wall that was relatively easy, and go head-to-head with a VR basketball player and try to break the record of baskets shot. Often a lot of kids would stand in line for the last one and don the glove; I enjoyed that exhibit a lot.

These weren't the same turtles, but you still don't want to put your fingers near your mouths.
 The summer camps also helped me to refine what I liked and didn't like. As mentioned before, sailing sessions were a nightmare for someone that prefers for a boat to not go vertical and has a phobia of drowning, but writing film scripts and seeing your words acted out brought a wonderful story. Criminology showed us how to dust for fingerprints with talcum powder, long before talcum powder was determined a health hazard, and photography involved hours in a darkroom showing how precisely one could render images in black and white, including dead fish. We also took long walks around the neighborhood to nearby Alice Wainwright Park, where we learned how to identify poison oak and various banyans.

The Museum was also the last place where I did singing and dancing on stage on a regular basis, as well as stage magic. One of the benefits of summer camp was that if you signed up for musical theater one week, you couldn't be cut out of the show; you got a part, even if you were a stage extra, and you had fun with it. When I entered middle and high school, however, I learned the hard way that if you wanted to earn a part onstage, you had to be taking drama classes and attend auditions regularly. You couldn't participate in a play for the fun of it, or to get better. That was sobering, though I still adore musical theater and kept up choir for the next seven years. At the same time, I kept writing, and attended screenwriting classes in undergrad, which gave me lots of practice with the cinema.

 The museum also emphasizes another important point, both in the camps and in the exhibits: science can be fun. More importantly, nature can be fun if you learn how to find the adventure in it. My parents still recall that I knew more animal facts than most kids my age. These days, I know more about author's lives and writing techniques, but at the time dogs, elephants and endangered species were my passion.

The older I got, the less I remembered how fun science could be. I forgot how fun science could be when studying it academically, given that you have to memorize facts and processes,compete to get proper college credit, and survive numerous exams. It got to the point where I switched my major twice in college because the environmental science and biology programs didn't suit my interests and I had no idea what I would do with the degree. Rewatching shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy and Magic Schoolbus briefly reminded me of that potential path, but I think I prefer the museum approach in learning for the sake of learning.

When I was younger I had a phobia of snakes. These days I find the knowledge fascinating.

We last went to the museum about a year ago, in the spring of 2015. Plenty of new exhibits replaced the old ones: there were displays on Hurricane Andrew and how storm chasers go after natural disasters to measure them, a functional beehive that connected to a garden near the Raptor Rescue, and a three-dimensional printer in the museum's computer lab. A larger archaeological exhibit replaced the medical videos and the VR game with basketball players. The only things that remained the same were the Raptor Rescue, with the various owls that have been loaned for Carl Hiaasen movies and the planetarium, with a show about the myth of Perseus. The show revealed that, far from putting the adults to sleep, that it could show humor through animation of a hero armed with a sword and a tennis racket.

When we got to the Museum next time, it will be downtown, in a larger facility. We passed by the construction site and saw the planetarium and globe structures. The commute will be longer, and the parking possibly more difficult, but the facilities will be updated and the aquarium will have more space. Science will still be fun there, for me and for a new generation.

My first 3D printer up close.

Farewell, old Miami Museum of Science. I wish you well in your new home, though I hope that I don't lose memories of the good, fun, and wild times.

No comments: