Out & About: New Montshire Museum Exhibit Makes Learning Science a Breeze

  • Visitors interact with the "airways" activity in the "Air Works" exhibit at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. (Courtesy of Montshire Museum of Science)

  • Visitors interact with the "wind tube" activity in the "Air Works" exhibit at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. (Courtesy of Montshire Museum of Science)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Norwich — The new exhibit at the Montshire Museum of Science just might blow you away.

Well, maybe it won’t physically blow you away. But if the laughing and smiling children I observed exploring “Air Works” on Tuesday are to be believed (and it is my opinion that children are the utmost authorities on matters such as these), the exhibit is a huge success.

Visitors are first greeted by a 6-foot fan, the air from which can be felt yards before entering the exhibit space. Sherlock Terry, assistant director of exhibits at the museum, said this symbolizes “a lot of what this exhibition is about.” Simply, that’s the science of moving air. Visitors “feel it right at the start,” Terry said. They also can control the speed of the fan.

“Air Works” took about six months to plan and three weeks to set up. Like many of the Montshire’s exhibits, it offers hands-on ways to engage with science, Terry said. “They’re not passive. They’re very active.”

What does this mean? Every station offers the opportunity for an “inquiry based” activity. While there are scientific questions posed at each, visitors are encouraged to make their own hypotheses and test them.

For example, in the “Airways” activity, kids place different objects, such as brightly colored scarves, at different starting points in a maze of clear tubes. “Part of the fun is to predict where it will go,” Terry said. “Airways” clearly was a crowd favorite.

At the “Wind Tube” station, kids can assemble different objects using materials such as plastic baskets and felt shapes. A sign suggests challenges: make something that hovers in the air, make something that spins. The kids then put their creations in the bottom of a tall, clear plastic cylinder pointed at the ceiling.

The children I saw loved to watch the air flowing through the cylinder shoot the objects they made out the top.

“There’s a lot of surprise, curiosity and wonder,” Terry said.

“Air Works” introduces science into activities that most people already are familiar with, such as flying paper airplanes. Once the airplanes are made, they can be shot from an air-powered launcher. Visitors can track how far they go using a ruler painted on the floor. “Giving them a starting point makes it really accessible,” Terry said. “I really like the way it does give people a way to use something they already know about and investigate it in a scientific way.”

Children of all ages — and that includes adults — will find something to enjoy.

“At a different age, you get different things out of it,” Terry said. “It’s very much about providing experiments for people to engage and learn together.”

Trust the children. Check this exhibit out.

Editor’s note: “Air Works” will be on display until Labor Day weekend. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $12 for children and $15 for adults, with children under 2 free. (Summer rates are $14 for children and $17 for adults.) For more information, visit monshire.org or call 802-649-2200. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.