News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 12, 2013

Demonstrations at NASA exhibit show how physics rules the world around us

MARSHALL, Ill. — Jamie Poorman on Thursday held a small hand generator. With her right hand, she cranked the handle at a fast-enough pace for the attached light bulb to light up.

This demonstration of one of the wonders of science is part of a traveling NASA exhibit that has landed in one Wabash Valley city.

The Marshall Public Library in Marshall, Ill., is one of only 30 sites in the country selected to host a NASA-supported exhibition called “Here, There, and Everywhere: Science Through Analogy, Near and Far.” The exhibit — free and open to the public during library hours — started on Dec. 3 and ends on Dec. 30.

The exhibition is from NASA, but it is not just about space, said Poorman, the library’s head clerk.

“It takes physics principles and shows how they apply to everyday life,” she said.

According to the exhibit’s website, “Here, There, and Everywhere (HTE) consists of a series of exhibitions, posters, and supporting hands-on activities that utilize analogies in the teaching of science, engineering, and technology (STEM).”

“The purpose of the program is to connect cross-cutting science content (in Earth and planetary sciences and astrophysics) with everyday phenomena, helping to demonstrate the universality of physical laws and the connection between our everyday world and the universe as a whole to non-experts.”

At the library, there were large image-based panels that tell the viewer (in English and Spanish) about shadows, wind, colliding atoms, bow waves and electrical discharge. The exhibit is divided into three sections: electricity, mother nature and space, Poorman said.

But another important aspect of the exhibition is the hands-on activities that come with each topic.

The hands-on demonstrations by library employees such as Poorman and other library volunteers “make the biggest difference” to the exhibit, said Library Director Nancy Claypool.

“It brings it to life,” she said.

Claypool said the exhibition “is designed for people who are not necessarily interested in science” and the goal is to get them interested in it.

“Anyone can understand and enjoy science,” she said.

The exhibit tells the visitor, through familiar everyday-life examples and basic science principles that science is “Here, There, Everywhere.”

And it was a welcome addition to Marshall.

“Marshall being rural, small and low income makes us the perfect place to have something like this,” Claypool said. She said many people in the area do not get to travel to science museums or even go to college to learn about these science concepts.

“So it’s a great opportunity,” Claypool said, “to bring it to the people.”

It is also an opportunity to get students interested in STEM.

“You never know what can spark somebody’s interest and carry on with that interest,” Claypool said.

Constantly in search of various opportunities to bring to the library, Claypool submitted the application for the library to be one of the venues for the exhibit in June 2012. She was notified of the decision in Aug. 2012.

“That is really big. It’s an honor,” she said.

“It’s good that we did get it” because there is currently no “big push on science” in the Marshall area. It has seen many programs on history, culture, arts, but not on science, she said.

And various school and community groups have already visited the exhibit.

“I think our job is to interpret the science and make it fun for them,” Poorman said of helping students tour the exhibit.

She hopes to “help them walk away with something they will remember.”

The exhibit, which takes about 40 minutes for groups to tour, was developed by the Chandra X-ray Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The Chandra Center is NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy.

Also displayed with the NASA exhibit is the private memorabilia collection of one Wabash Valley space enthusiast.

A space camp suit (acquired from a trip to the US Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala), space camp Barbie, books and other memorabilia owned by Jeff Parkinson of Paris, Ill.  can be viewed alongside the NASA exhibit. He has been collecting NASA/space memorabilia for about 20 years.

Through his collection, he hopes to share information about space and NASA with the community, Parkinson said.

When Parkinson approached the library with his collection, Claypool was “thrilled.”

“Because we really wanted something ... that would go along with the exhibit,” she said.

An exhibit that makes sense of science.

In the exhibit evaluation, one visiting cub scout, Poorman said, gave an interesting answer to the question: “What is something you learned ... from ... the exhibit?

The answer: “Science is fun.”

“And that is really what it’s all about,” Poorman said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299.

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