On April 16-17, 2016, the 4thUSA Science & Engineering Festival was held in Washington, DC. This national event is the largest science festival in the country, with over 3000 exhibitors, a speaker program, and hundreds of hands-on activities for attendees to participate in. Free admission helps the festival to draw an annual attendance of over 350,000 visitors, which range from school groups and educators—to curious adults (and at least one tech-obsessed curator). Much like The Henry Ford’s own Maker Faire Detroit, the exhibits buzzed with possibility and discovery for all things technological and experimental. The enthusiasm in the exhibit halls was contagious among young and adult audiences alike, as mixture of independent startups, educational collectives, government organizations, and commercial investors collided under one roof, under one common goal: to engage young audiences by providing formative and positive interactions with the STEM fields—and to suggest the future possibilities of the weight of technology within our everyday lives. Here are a few favorite moments from the festival.
SketchUp, a computer program for 3D modeling, showed a multi-dimensional range of abilities with projects that fell into the entertainment-based arena (a DIY foosball table or mechanical dinosaur)—to more educational applications such as an interactive, light-up plan of Washington, DC. Thanks to SketchUp’s open source model, with access to a 3D printer, you could theoretically create your own model of the city of Detroit or even of The Henry Ford museum by using ready-made SketchUp plans, available for free online. As SketchUp’s demonstrators noted, once the models are printed and a simple LED-light structure is put into place, these models “can be great for learning about an existing area of the world, re-imagining one, or coming up with your own world altogether.”
The robotics company, Festo, was onsite to demonstrate examples of their beautiful and uncanny biomimetic designs. A tank full of their AquaJelly devices perfectly mimed the swarming behavior of real-world jellyfish. Similarly, the company has created autonomous “AirPenguins,” butterflies, and bionical ants that “collaborate” through machine-based learning processes. While the visual presence of swimming robotic jellyfish is hypnotic to be sure, the company’s goals go much deeper than pure flash and fodder. Festo’s mission is to improve modern manufacturing by recreating the patterns of collaboration, control, and innovation already found within the wonders and orders of nature.
The National Security Agency and National Cryptologic Museum were also present. A hands-on display allowed guests to press keys on a working Enigma machine, well-known for its role in WWII-era communication. Machines like this were famously used by the German military to encrypt messages, while the secretive work happening at Bletchley Park in England was working to crack the Enigma’s codes. Activities at the NSA’s booth introduced young audiences to the historical world of cryptology and codebreaking via cipher disks, but also demonstrated how the same concepts could be used in contemporary cybersecurity. The Agency not only showed youth how to create a strong password, but also provided “cybersmart” awareness training in the privacy and use of social media.
Several large pavilions encouraging careers in space science and education formed an undeniably strong presence at the festival. NASA, Lockheed-Martin, and a few others created welcoming zones jam-packed with hands-on activities. At the NASA exhibit, younger audiences could rub shoulders with working NASA scientists, see models of Mars rovers, learn about modern-day space exploration, and a glimpse into the scientific principles behind it all. Lockheed-Martin’s pavilion was taken over with a speculative display of Mars-related technology—although, as the banners posted throughout the experience cleverly reminded visitors: “This Science Isn’t Fiction.” As I stared, admittedly mystified, at the impressively fast and fluid industrial 3D printer in front of me (that seemed a bit like it had jumped straight out of a sci-fi movie about sentient technology), a Lockheed-Martin expert patiently explained the process unfolding before us. While the MRAC (Multi-Robotic Additive Cluster), was set up to print with plastic at the festival, this machine is primarily used to print flight-ready parts for satellites with titanium, aluminum, and Inconel. It can produce rapid-fire prototypes, but also polished parts, cutting the time to, for example, create a satellite fuel tank from 18 months—down to 2 weeks. Lockheed-Martin has worked closely with NASA on every mission flown to Mars, pooling knowledge and manufacturing resources on aspects of orbiters, landers, and rovers. As the expert on hand explained, “we have to collaborate—no one can do everything, all by themselves.”
As part of the Saturday speaker series, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams was livestreamed from the International Space Station onto the festival’s stage. Young audience members were given the opportunity to ask him questions like “What does it smell like in space?” and “What happens to your body when you live in space?” Life in space is something that Williams knows well, having spent 534 cumulative days in space. And as it turns out, Williams, space travel, and the modern media age are old friends—in 2009, he formed part of the first NASA team to hold a live Twitter event in space.
Giants of calculator history, Texas Instruments, demonstrated a new line of STEM-friendly educational calculators. Their new TI-Innovator System allows students to learn the basics of computer coding (in BASIC language, no less) on their calculators, building skills bit-by-bit in a series of “10 Minutes of Code” lesson plans. Sympathetic to the idea that STEM concepts are best enacted in some kind of physical reality, beyond the calculator’s screen, the company has created the TI-Innovator Hub (the clear box depicted lower center). The Hub, linked up to a calculator, can activate a variety of functions: LED lights, speakers, optical sensors, and ports that allow it to communicate with external breadboards, computers, and other controllers. In this image, the Hub has been programmed to raise and lower a spool of string, meant to mimic the mathematical problem of how low to lower a fishing boat anchor.
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
Even in the dead of winter, it’s never a long wait around here for the next car show. Soon after the North American International Auto Show closes its doors, we look forward to the Detroit Autorama, the annual show featuring the best in custom cars and hot rods. The 2016 show, held February 26-28, did not disappoint with some 800 vehicles spread over 750,000 square feet in Cobo Center.
It's that time of year again when the eyes of the automotive world turn to Detroit. The North American International Auto Show attracts automakers, suppliers, press and enthusiasts from around the globe to the Motor City to revel in the industry's latest technologies and trends.
If you're a racing fan, the fun starts the moment you enter Cobo Center's lobby. Ford Performance has set up shop with four significant Blue Oval racers. The headliner is the new GT that will return Ford to Le Mans in June, in celebration of its historic 1-2-3 finish over Ferrari 50 years ago. But visitors will also enjoy the 2017 NASCAR Fusion, the first-built 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, and - my unabashed favorite - the 1967 Mark IV that Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove to an all-American victory at that year's Le Mans 24-Hour. (The latter, of course, is a part of The Henry Ford's collection.) Once you get inside the exhibition hall proper, don't miss Juan Pablo Montoya's winning car from the 2015 Indianapolis 500, displayed prominently with the Borg-Warner Trophy.
According to the 2010 Census, more than 56 million Americans, or over 20% of the U.S. population, have some type of disability. These numbers are likely to grow in the years ahead, as the U.S. population ages and as developmental disorders and diseases, such as autism and Alzheimer’s, affect an increasing number of people. When family members and companions of people with disabilities are included in these numbers, this becomes a significant audience – one that may have the desire and means to visit museums, but may not have their needs addressed sufficiently.
While the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provided guidelines for museums to become more physically accessible, there has been a growing trend in museums across the country recently to go beyond the legal obligations of ADA. This has led to an increasing variety of innovative new opportunities and programs for people with different physical, developmental and cognitive abilities.
When I told some of my teacher colleagues that I was planning a field trip to The Henry Ford's Greenfield Village for my world history classes, many reacted with surprise. They asked, “What does Greenfield Village have to do with world history?” At face value, their reaction seems justified. What does the Model T or the Wright Brothers have to do with the development of writing and agriculture? Well, Greenfield Village has the ability to make both ancient and modern history come alive.
With a little creative planning, the buildings and artifacts on display in Greenfield Village were the ideal companion to my current world history unit. I’m teaching about the Neolithic Era of world history, which is from approximately the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago) until about 3,000 BC. The Agricultural Revolution began around 5,000 BC. It is when humanity moved away from hunting and gathering, instead domesticating animals and beginning to plant crops. They also developed tools like the plow and used canals to irrigate crops and fields.
My students do not have a very concrete understanding of agriculture, as they come from an urban/suburban area. They have seen farms on television and in movies. But they have not had the personal experiences that would bring the agricultural revolution to life.
Fortunately Greenfield Village allowed my students to experience in person a farm that employs principles of the agricultural revolution, like using domesticated animals as a source of power. Using Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, my colleagues and I constructed a “farm-focused” field trip as a component of our world history course.
The people, animals, and artifacts at Firestone Farm made our world history unit come alive. The employees and volunteers were happy to explain how and why farmers have used and interacted with domesticated animals. The students were excited to see the Merino sheep, draft horses, pigs, and chickens in and around the barnyard at Firestone. They gained a greater understanding of the tools and technology created during the agricultural revolution by examining the plows, seed drills, and other pieces of equipment in the Firestone Barn. Reading about a barn, or seeing one on TV doesn’t compare to actually stepping foot in one. Holding the tools, watching the animals, and smelling the barn did far more to impress upon my students the rigors of farming more than any textbook could.
The Henry Ford is, and should be, a favorite destination for American history field trips. But with the help of The Henry Ford, creative teachers can also make textbooks come alive for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), art, economics, civics, world history, and English language arts.
Matthew Mutschler is a veteran teacher currently teaching middle school in the Warren Consolidated School District. He has been involved with The Henry Ford for a number of years, and is an alumnus of both The Henry Ford Teacher Fellow Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.
This #GivingTuesday consider helping us bring more teachers and students on field trips to The Henry Ford by giving a gift of at least $8.
Back in the late 1990s when The Henry Ford offered the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Story of Ichabod Crane program in Greenfield Village, there was a need to flesh out some areas with unique, yet iconic “set dressing” that would augment the rural and spooky flavor of the story we were trying to tell. Scarecrows were ubiquitous fixtures of kitchen gardens and some field crops over the years to deter birds and other such creatures from unintentional feasting. “Scarecrows” are still used today although a variety of designs, materials and articulations are very few of which take on a human form or shape - a far cry from the days of old.
It didn't take long until our team was challenged with the premise that we needed something large enough to make a visual impact and yet manageable and nimble enough to be used as temporary structure. Inspiration began to pour in from various imagery, films and shows, and descriptive language from literature, along with my own imagination, I created a 16-foot tall scarecrow affectionately named Mr. Irving after author George Washington Irving. Since those autumn nights more than 15 years ago and still today, Mr. Irving has been a part of the Greenfield Village’s fall and Hallowe’en programming. He has been photographed by thousands of guests and his inspiration lives on with many Mr. Irving lookalikes popping up in yards all over southeastern Michigan.
Over the weekend of September 26-27, 2015, the 6th annual World Maker Faire was hosted at the New York Hall of Science. Much like Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford, New York’s Faire benefited from an added sense of shared history that comes from producing such an event on the grounds of a museum. Maker demonstrations, workshops, and displays were set up outdoors, on the former grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair—an event that was full of technological spectacle. And inside the Hall of Science, modern-day Makers found communal space alongside the museum’s interactive demonstrations about space exploration, biology, mathematics, and much more. The continuum of the importance of the technology of the past—in tandem with the anticipative futures of the Maker Movement—was substantial and exciting to witness.
The Douglas DC-3 ranks with the Model T Ford and the Volkswagen Beetle as one of the great engineering designs of the twentieth century. The aircraft was safe, reliable, economical, and did more than any other single airplane to make commercial aviation a viable industry.
Ironically, the story of the DC-3 began with a famous airline crash. In 1931, a Fokker tri-motor operated by Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) went down, killing all seven people on board, including famed University of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. When an investigation of the crash revealed that the wood wing of the Fokker was weakened by rot, airlines began scrambling to replace wood-framed planes with all-metal ones. TWA asked several manufacturers for proposals for a new, all metal airplane, with two or three engines, weighing no more than 14,200 pounds, able to carry at least 12 passengers at 150 miles per hour, with a range of 1,080 miles. Douglas Aircraft, which had previously concentrated on military planes, proposed a twin-engine aircraft that they called the Douglas Commercial Number 1, or simply DC-1. TWA chose the Douglas design, but before it went into production an improved version was developed, called the DC-2.
Another car show season drew to a close with our Old Car Festival on September 12-13. It’s always disheartening for car fans – and warm weather fans – to see summer go, but the festival makes for a great climax. This year we had more than 900 cars, bicycles and commercial vehicles registered for the event. Every one of them dated from the 1890s to 1932, a time of innovation, evolution and variety. Visitors to Greenfield Village saw everything from the ubiquitous Ford Model T to the downright obscure Havers (only a handful of these cars, built in Port Huron, Michigan, from 1911-1914, are thought to survive).
For car fans, there is no more prestigious show than the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Each August, some 200 automobiles and 15,000 people gather on the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links to honor the most beautiful automobiles ever built. We were honored to be among them, with our 1929 Packard Model 626 Speedster, on August 16.
Specific makes and models are honored each year, and 2015 had the spotlight focused on Pope, duPont, Ferrari (in particular, Ferraris that competed in the Pebble Beach road races of the 1950s), Lincoln Continental (celebrating its 75th anniversary) and Mercury custom cars, among others. It was a somewhat eclectic group of featured cars that suggests Pebble’s widening circle of interests.