FiO/LS 2011 - The Tech

  I took some time off during the Wednesday sessions, as I was having information overload and need some time to recharge my brain for another few rounds of information dump. To chill out, I visited The Tech which is a science museum with an emphasis on technology and interactivity. It was very nicely done, and I had a good time - if I were a kid again you'd have a really tough time getting me out! I was only able to spend a couple of hours in the museum, but there's certainly enough there for a full day.

  One of the first exhibits I encountered on the top floor was this nifty robot arm. You could get your picture taken at a station nearby, and the arm would then draw your portrait.
  Another nearby robot would re-arrange wooden letter blocks until you asked it to spell your name, when it would kindly oblige.

  Around the top floor, they also had some nice exhibits on digital logic and programming microchips (we are in Silicon Valley after all). These consisted of a Mr. Potato Head whose clear head showed off his microchip brain, in a room with lights, fans, thermometers, etc. that you could control. By placing labeled blocks in slots you created a logic chain that would cause Mr. Potato Head to perform some action. For instance, the chain could read "Light is on" "and" "Mr. Potato Head is hot" then "Speak". You then sent these commands to the PIC brain, and he would execute them if the conditions were right. So if the light was on and the fan was off, the temperature would rise, and Mr. Potato Head would start talking.

  They also had nice DNA exhibit, the best part of which was a functioning wet lab. Of course, I had to test it out. I was quite impressed, they had the ingredients (e. coli? and gfp? plasmids) nicely laid out, a how-to video which you followed at your own pace, and included the proper safety procedures; goggles and gloves. They walked you through the entire process of getting the bacteria to uptake the genes by heat-shocking them. Since the bacteria need some time to grow, you incubate overnight and then can check back on them via their on-line interface.

My two bacterial colonies!

A double helix of books
The nerve center.
  Speaking of the online interface, it was well done; the events had barcode scanners that would scan your ticket, and you log in to their website using a number from your ticket. Once online you can check back on the exhibits, and items you may have 'collected'. Admittedly from a review point, I should probably have taken more advantage of this, but at the time I wasn't that interested, so I only scanned the bacteria station above. Those electronic looking racks to the left are the servers.

I think I'm in the monitor at the lower left...
  This was one of the best - it was a remote controlled submarine. They had three in a tank and had them returning video feeds, so you could see things through the sub camera you otherwise would not be able to see. A perfect demonstration of why this tech is used. The pic is an attempted self-portrait, but I was having difficulty keeping the sub stable with one hand.

  Also on the lower level was an awesome demonstration of NASA's Extravehicular Mobility Unit (powered space suit). A chair had several compressed air jets to levitate it, and then a few more for control. Excluding the minor friction I noticed (which may have had something to do with the fact that I'm about a hundred more pounds heavier than their target 7 year old), it was a good demonstration of what the astronauts have to deal with to maneuver in space.

Tracks of flights across the globe.
  The photo on the left is of another exhibit that I quite enjoyed. The globe shows the track of planes as they traverse the globe. It was part of a station that showed how we monitor global weather, of which planes play a part.

  Overall this was a fantastic museum: I was only able to spend a couple of hours here, but one could easily loose a day or two in these very interactive halls.

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