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ISSUE 121 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2008

Science Museum of Minnesota: The marvel of nature revealed

By Natalie Neal
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Science Museum of Minnesota offers sensory approaches to learning about the sciences that embarrasses stereotypical, dry textbooks. In 1999, the museum built a new center located on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. Their programs combine research and collection facilities, a public science education center, school outreach programs and an Imax-convertible dome omnitheater that caters to over 1 million people per year.

As part of Minnesota's K-12 education, many schools venture to the museum for field trips, visiting interactive exhibits that present an exciting learning experience. In a culture that learns best by watching and doing, this museum is on the cutting edge of exploring and implementing new technologies to educate its audience about science.

But is this museum only applicable to K-12 education, or can college students enjoy the excursion and still receive a high level of intellectual stimulation? To answer this question, I ventured to St. Paul to check out the current exhibits.

One of the exhibits offered now through April 27 is an animation exhibit that explores the science behind popular television shows, cartoons and movies. With the help of Cartoon Network characters, students travel through the brightly colored exhibit to interactive stations, looking at how animators create cartoons from conception to the finished product. Visitors learn how storytelling, character design, drawing techniques, movement, timing, filming and sound are all used to create our favorite Saturday morning cartoons.

The most popular stations were those that focused on visual effects. Kids and adults alike participated in stations such as Dexter's Lab exploring "bullet time," better known to us as the "Matrix" jump-kick effect. Cameras took pictures of visitors in quick succession, making it look like they were suspended in the air, depending on their timing for their jumps.

Another fun station offered a myriad of instruments and noisemakers that visitors used to accompany a short clip of a cartoon episode. This offered a behind-the-scenes look at what an animator does for a career. Also, one station looked at the art of phonetics and exposure sheets that allowed cartoon character's mouths to match what they were saying.

This exhibit is very fun, even for college students, but could have looked further into the historical development of animation. However, what the exhibit lacked in intellectual stimulation it made up for in entertainment.

Those seeking intellectual stimulation can travel next door to the Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race exhibit, which is more PG in its content. Developed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, this exhibit guides visitors through the application of the eugenics theory. This thought-provoking exhibition doesn't offer as much tactile experience as the animation exhibit, but does have objects, photographs, documents and historic film footage from European and American collections.

The exhibit starts with the creation of the theory of eugenics and how it gained popularity, especially in Germany, after World War I. One propaganda poster of the time declared, "Some people are born to be a burden on the rest."

The Nazi implemented racial hygiene measures. With the popularity of eugenics, many top scientists in the biomedical fields played a huge role in legitimizing the Nazi policies and participated in inhumane research supported by the regime.

At first, those who were categorized as feebleminded, schizophrenic, manic depressive, epileptic, blind, deaf, deformed or suffering from chronic alcoholism would be discouraged from marrying those of "good" blood. The Nazi regime then implemented forced sterilization methods to ensure that weaker humans couldn't defile the pure race. Over 400,000 Germans were sterilized in the name of guarding the population against these "biological threats."

The categories grew to include Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other minorities. Soon euthanasia (meaning "mercy death") programs were set in motion. Instead of keeping the weaker population from reproducing or regulating marriage laws, the most efficient solution seemed to be to eliminate them all together. Research centers were set up to reduce the burden on society. The regime targeted children: over several thousand children were ordered to be killed and their organs were used as research material.

The research was implemented in concentration camps and mass gassing methods, disguised as showers, were used to kill large numbers of Jews and other minorities.

Throughout the whole exhibit, quotations, biographies and research of scientists supporting of eugenics could be found. At the end of the exhibit, a wall entitled "Postwar Justice and Careers" listed what happened to the scientists after the atrocities of the war. It was surprising to see that many continued their careers as scientists and were not persecuted.

"Ultimately, Nazi racial hygiene policies culminated in the Holocaust," said exhibit curator Dr. Susan Bachrach. "Under cover of World War II, and using the war as a pretext, Nazi racial hygiene was radicalized & this exhibition should provoke us into thinking about questions today: the relationship between the needs and rights of individuals as weighed against the larger concerns of the society."

With the advances in technology today, there comes the possibility of exploring eugenics in a non-violent way by going directly to the genetic source. However, could eugenics take another destructive path? Research is being done that allows manipulation of genes to eliminate crippling diseases. Scientists have dreamed of perfecting human beings by changing the genetic makeup of an individual, but our recent history offers a cautionary note on eugenics and the abuses of medicine with the current advancements in technology.

The Deadly Medicine exhibit provoked questions that reflected on the dark past of eugenics and the ethics behind new eugenics capabilities. Both exhibits offered completely opposite experiences yet made for a bittersweet field trip from the Hill. The animation exhibit will be running through April 27, while the eugenics exhibit will be available until May 4.

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