October 13, 2012

Creating big dreams with science of small

By: Tim O'Brien

Source: Times Union

Museum looks to give youngsters a glance at fast-growing nanotech

NORTH GREENBUSH — A museum in Rensselaer Technology Park is trying to give small fry a chance to understand the tiniest of technologies.

The Children's Museum of Science and Technology opened a new permanent exhibit on nanotechnology, hoping to help children grasp a concept far too small for them to see. The exhibit enables children to build a giant carbon nanotube and contains displays explaining in simple terms what nano is and how it can be found in their lives.

To celebrate, the museum held a "grand reopening" Saturday, though it was only closed a few weeks as it is every September.

The nano exhibit is sponsored by the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

"This exhibit is designed to introduce people to what nano is," said Laurie Miedema, CMOST's director of museum and guest relations. "It's really the science of the small. This whole room is to get students inspired by science."

The hope is that by getting children interested in nanotechnology early, they might grow up to enter the field and stay in the region.

A second, new permanent exhibit is the GE Junior Discovery Room, where small bins will contain hands-on science projects on a variety of subjects. Sponsored by General Electric, the room's name is a tribute to the nonprofit's original name, the Junior Museum.

The room has shelves of bins that will be full of hands-on experiments on topics ranging from dinosaurs to circuits to magnets, Miedema said.

"It gives parents a chance to come in and teach kids about topics that might not have a big exhibit," she said.

Once the bins are filled within the next two weeks, she said, the museum will use them for visits to area classrooms and elsewhere.

The museum also has an exhibit on loan from the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady called "Seeing." It explores perception and how vision can sometimes be tricked to see things that aren't there. One sign shows a red and green bird on each side with an empty cage in the middle. Stare at one of the birds long enough, then look at the cage, and a bird of the opposite color appears.

Parents attending the grand reopening with their children said they liked the new exhibits.

"It's a way to introduce kids to the wave of the future," said Pedro Roman of Schenectady, who brought his sons Ahmani, 12, and Nicholas, 19 months. "This really conceptualizes it for us. It's a great way to get the kids to think about abstract science concepts in a hands-on way."

Ahmani was impressed, too.

"I really like it," he said. "I like all the hands-on things."

Erik Sweet of Albany brought his two children, Nolan, 6, and Norah, 2. Sweet is an English teacher, and his wife works in environmental science.

"We love CMOST. Both of my kids attend camps here," he said. "We think it's fantastic. I like the fact they added a nanotech piece. I also like the children's education room. We built flying cars, which was fun."

Maura Byrd of Colonie is also a repeat visitor. She brought daughter Madeleine, 6, and son Miles, 4, and said she was pleased the museum kept their favorite exhibits while adding new ones.

"It's great. I learned a lot about nanotechnology today," she said. "I think it's great the kids can do a lot of hands-on learning. It makes it real for them."