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Partner Highlight: Cincinnati Museum Center and Liberty Science Center

It’s always fun and inspiring to hear how partners modify NISE Net programs as they present them during NanoDays and beyond. This month, the Cincinnati Museum Center and Liberty Science Center, both partners in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Hub, share some of their favorite “hacks.”

The Cincinnati Museum Center has a new space called the LITE Lab (Learning, Innovation, Technology, and Education) that is designed to engage creative thinking and problem-solving skills primarily through self-guided challenges.  Regina Hall and Brian Pollock have adapted many of the NISE Net demos for this space so that visitors can experiment with nanoscale phenomena without staff facilitation. For example, they attached three different thermal sensing liquid crystal sheets with different temperature ranges to a display board.  Visitors are challenged to determine the temperature ranges of the liquid crystals by watching how they react to body heat.  Visitors have an opportunity to interact with a nanomaterial in a safe way, without staff directing the experience, and the materials only need to be replaced occasionally.

Large-scale festival events are also popular at the Cincinnati Museum Center, and it’s become a tradition for visitors to snack on some science-related food – whether it’s eating bat-pollinated fruits for “Bat Fest” or insects for “Bugfest.”  For NanoDays, Brian and Regina took the “Exploring Fabrication – Gummy Capsules” activity one step further and used sodium alginate to encapsulate fruit juices in order to provide their visitors with an edible experience of the nano world.

At Liberty Science Center, staff had the opportunity to learn the “Nanosilver: Breakthrough or Biohazard?” program at the NISE Net Programs Workshop in 2011.  Bringing it back to their institution, Harold Clark, Urmila Malvadkar, Susan Chasmer, and Katie Sitnik considered three challenges in implementing it for their audience.  They wanted to make it more interactive with audience participation and use of volunteers, make it more engaging for a younger audience, and create a stronger tie to the infectious disease theme of their Infection Connection exhibition, where the program would be presented.

To accomplish these goals, they kept the core of the presentation, but have created a new introduction exploring what audiences know about bacteria. A simple series of “True or False” questions, with guests giving thumbs up or thumbs down, provides immediate audience participation and an opportunity for the presenter to gauge prior knowledge. 
As more on-stage opportunities for volunteers, they made physical models of the two sets of building block cubes with the orange dots signifying reaction surfaces, and have a volunteer to manipulate the blocks and determine the number of active sites.   They also ask a volunteer to do the “Diet Coke Fountain” (although the constraints of their carpeted floor calls for diet Mountain Dew!).

These are great examples of how partners are able to build nanoscience into their everyday programs by integrating it with the type of experiences that their visitors expect.  How do you do this at your institution?  Look for opportunities to share your favorite “hacks” at upcoming NISE Net meetings!