Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part 5 - Learn some Science...

We had a brisk walk towards the metro – we really didn’t know where it was but we just followed some signs and our map hopeful of discovering the next metro station. There was a park that we crossed where you had many people walking around with dogs; at least around 7 dogs to be seen along with their owners. The bridge across the water body was beautiful. It was around 1pm when we reached the Museum of Science; the museum would close at 4:45pm. The first hall we entered was about Models – models of real things. So there was a huge grasshopper model explaining why that model though proportionately built to a real grasshopper would not be able to fly. There were models of mountains, models of the pyramid which explored how the pyramids might have been built etc. There was a live session being conducted about Tornadoes just outside the hall. The next hall was about Race – yes, about the different human races. It explored the topic of skin color, why color varies, relationship between color and voice and many more posters exploring the topic. I found it amazing that they made an entire hall of exhibits based on the topic of Race. Further down we reached a door that had a sign board outside which read, “Theatre of electricity”. This was a live demonstration and there were two levels with the top level forming something like the balcony area in a theatre. There was a museum staff below who was explaining about positive and negative charges. There was a huge tower behind the lady which appeared to be a model of the Van de Graff machine. Probably just to add to the setting and not a real one. From simple demonstrations on a small model showing sparks and electricity, the lady started up the Van de Graff machine and demonstrated lightning (charging up the machine and then raising some metallic rods close to the dome and you could see the lightning).

Touching lightning

The most dramatic part of the show was when the lady stepped into a metal cage and raised herself up. Lightning flows when the circuit is complete. And one of the most popular misconceptions is that you are safe in your car during a lightning storm because the rubber tires act as insulators. Is it the insulator effect? But air itself is an insulator! So if lightning is able to cross miles of air, surely a few centimeters of rubber aren’t a big obstacle. So up she went in the metal cage which had no rubber base and charged up the machine. Lightning struck the metal bars of the cage but…she was safe. She went one step further by even touching the inside of the metal bars of the cage – even near the point where the lighting struck. It is the metal which kept her safe just like that in most cars. The skin effect – lightning is an alternating current at high frequency; such electricity will flow through the outer surface of the conductor. So only if you were to touch the outside would you get struck by the lightning – the same thing happens when you sit In your car; the electricity passes through the ‘skin’ of the car. But if you were to give a direct current to the cage, then even if you touch the inside you will get struck. She rounded up the show by creating a lightning storm inside the hall. The show was great and I think learning about Van de Graff in this way is a lot more fun that just reading about it.

Math is fun

The next section we walked into was the Computers section which didn't interest us much; maybe because we are living on computers daily! One exhibit was interesting – it was a system with a large screen having two digitally created images; if you ask a question orally from the list of preprogrammed questions, then the digital image robot would reply to you (speech recognition) – making computers understand our voice and respond. We next went to the Mathematica section. It covers a lot of things and again, it isn’t just about posters but interesting working models. I wondered why we didn't have such museums back home - we could surely create such models back home as well; was it cost? You would need a lot of visitors to break-even because maintenance cost a good deal of money. For explaining normal distribution, they had a model where little balls went through a random path and accumulated in glass tubes. As more balls came through, the typical bell shaped curve started forming. There were nice quotes hanging from the top that added to the atmosphere.


3 hours later we were out of the museum – you can easily spend more than 4 hours out here! We knew we couldn’t make it to the art museum since it was supposed to be large. So we thought of checking out the Harvard Museum of Natural History which was the 4th museum pass in our City Pass booklet. We took the metro to Harvard but there was one problem. The maps we had didn’t cover the Harvard area. There were a few Indian faces who appeared – a couple of girls, a guy and a couple of Westerners all splashed with multiple colors on their faces. It had to be Holi – and the way they were running around the place, they were probably students in Harvard. We walked and walked and at 4:30pm we realized there would be no point in going to the museum since we’d have hardly 20 minutes before they closed. Not having had lunch, we stepped into a Dunkin Donut. My friend ordered a combo – 2 donuts and coffee; the cashier asked, “Cream sugar.” Seeing that we didn’t understand she asked, “Coffee with cream and sugar?” After that she asked, “Which donut?” We never expected that question because we didn't expect there to be more than two types of donuts. But there were atleast 10 or 15 on the refrigerated display here! We picked one with chocolate and one plain. The coffee cup was huge and so I didn’t go for the combo – I opted to order a small coffee and one donut instead. My friend’s love affair with Dunkin Donuts began with that cup of coffee – half a litre of coffee is enough to fill your stomach!

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