I’m doing science…

5 minute read

March 30, 2017, 8:35 PM

This past Tuesday, March 29, Elyse and I headed down to Richmond for the day.  The idea was that we wanted to go somewhere, but it was going to rain, and so we needed a good indoor venue.  So we decided to go to the Science Museum of Virginia.  I had not been in a very long time (15 years!), it was indoors, and Elyse liked it a lot when she went a few months ago.

I was surprised to find out that all of the exhibits were different compared to previous visits.  The exhibits had changed gradually over several visits in the nineties, but this change was a bit more dramatic, with all new exhibits, as well as the removal of a mezzanine level that previously existed in the main hall.  The new exhibits seemed more child-focused, which is something that I don’t remember from my last visit in 2002.  They had a hurricane simulator, where you could experience gale-force winds, tropical storm-force winds, and hurricane-force winds.  They also had a track that challenged you to outrun different kinds of animals (turns out that I can run faster than a rat, or at least keep up).

There was also a demonstration of robotics that used an air hockey table.  There, you had to beat the robot at air hockey.  All went well at first, but this was more exciting than most.

Yes, the puck got stuck.  There was a spot on the robot’s side of the table where the puck was prone to getting stuck, and since it was on the robot’s side (and thus protected by plexiglass), we couldn’t get it loose.  The robot was set up to shoot a puff of air when the puck got stuck, but it couldn’t make it move.

We ended up getting the puck moving again by cannibalizing a piece of plastic tubing from a nearby exhibit about RPMs.  We made a loop in the tubing, and went under the plexiglass to push the puck off of the problem spot.  It worked, and the game resumed.

The puck got stuck in the same spot again, and so we had to use the technique again to get the puck out of the problem area.  I ended up catching it like a lasso and pulling it back onto our side.  Once the puck was going again, the game resumed.  An employee later showed us a stick that they keep nearby to get the puck moving again when that happens.

Elyse plays a full game without the puck’s getting stuck in the problem area.  Unfortunately, she lost to the robot, 1 to 0.  I didn’t do any better, though.

Then after this, we took a look at the historic Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad cars:

Passenger coach on display

Passenger coach on display

Caboose on display

Elyse poses with the caboose on display

Then, going back inside, we tried out a tightrope exhibit, challenging participants to cross the tightrope a few inches above the floor.  I tried it, and I nearly fell over.

Elyse did better:

By the way, the astute listener will recognize the tune that I’m doing as the jazzed up version of “Pop Goes the Weasel” from Today’s Special.

Then near the Dome, we found the one exhibit remaining from my previous visits:

Bernoulli exhibit, near the Dome in 2016  Same Bernoulli exhibit, in the main hall in 2002
This exhibit is an air blower that demonstrates the Bernoulli effect, holding a beach ball in a column of air.  We found it by the Dome on Tuesday, pictured at left in that location.  In 2002, pictured at right, it was in the main exhibit hall.  Note the now-demolished mezzanine level in the background of the 2002 photo.

The saddest thing about the museum was the treatment of the Dome, formerly the IMAX Dome (and Omnimax before that).  The museum had done a lot of upgrades to the theater in recent years, including a complete replacement of the IMAX projection equipment with digital equipment – thus why the IMAX Dome is just the Dome now, because it’s no longer IMAX.  Previously, the projection room for the theater was an exhibit in and of itself, seen here in 2002:

Reels of IMAX film, in 2002

Part of the IMAX film projection system, in 2002

Equipment on the right side wall, in 2002

Upper part of the projection system, in 2002

Now, in 2017, the room is mostly empty:

Former IMAX projection room, now empty

Former IMAX projection room, now empty

A shame, because I always enjoyed seeing what makes the theater run.  Of course, with the conversion to digital, I suppose that you don’t need as much space for the equipment.  And watching computers run digital things is nowhere near as interesting as watching mechanical things work, so I suppose that there’s nothing to show anymore.


Near the Dome, however, was an historic switchboard from when the building was a railroad terminal:

RF&P terminal switchboard

I was amazed about how little has changed with these things over the years.  I’ve seen plenty of these at the terminals and the yards at work, and they still look a lot like this.

Then we also took a look at the pendulum in the mezzanine, and got to watch it knock a peg down:

The pendulum knocks a peg over

As I understand it, this is called a Foucault pendulum, and it changes orientation according to the rotation of the Earth.  Thus the pegs.  The change in orientation is demonstrated as it knocks down the pegs throughout the day.  This one is set up to knock down a peg approximately every 15 minutes.

And then finally, we saw one of these in the gift shop:

Yes, the old soda bottle tornado. Always a classic.
Yes, the old soda bottle tornado.  Always a classic.

Overall, I felt like the museum was more geared towards kids than it used to be.  I admit that it had been a while since I was last there, but I felt like it was more accessible to all ages back then, and that the museum had more things that adults and kids alike could have fun with.  Now, it seems like a museum specifically designed for kids.  A shame, but considering that it’s a popular destination for school groups, I suppose that they’re catering to their market.

Otherwise, I have more photos from our day in Richmond, but since they’re on a different topic, I’ll post those separately.  Talk with you again soon.

Categories: Elyse, Richmond