Making Science Hands-On
Over spring break at the Village School of North Bennington (VSNB), Bennington students transformed the gymnasium into a hands-on science museum.
Developed by Shana Crawford ’18, Scientificus is a pop-up science and math museum designed for all experience levels, a place for both children and adults to learn and explore. The concept for Scientificus had been in Crawford’s mind ever since she attended a game night in 2016 hosted by science students Mieke Vrijmoet ’16, Sam Lawson ’16, and Roi Karlinsky ’17.
“The seniors turned their research into games that were accessible to non-science students,” Crawford said. “I thought it was super fun.”
Science for All
Inspired by the project, Crawford decided to develop her own display for interactive research. Scientificus, which takes its name from the Latin “scientia” (knowledge) and “ficus” (making), was the result.
“Everyone at Bennington studies different things, so I asked other juniors and seniors to make this playable museum with me,” Crawford said.
We wanted to take the cool research we’re doing in our own studies and share that information and excitement with people who don’t have the same background or training.
Shana Crawford '18
Amanda Bacon ’19, Josie Bunnell ’19, Kevin Ducey ’18, Nate Guevin ’18, Linh Hoang ’18, Griffin Manos ’18, Dylan O’Hara ’18, Sophie Nevin ’18, Madeline Peterson ’19, Emma Salazar ’19, and Joana Santos ’18 all collaborated with Crawford on the exhibition.
Over Field Work Term (FWT), Crawford went on a cross-country adventure to 23 different science museums to conduct site-based research and refine her ideas for Scientificus. Her travels spanned big museums like the Museum of Science in Boston and Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul to strange, obscure institutes like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles and the Museum of Kinetic Art in Tucson.
“In this wide range, I thought about what was the same across them all, how they communicated science, and what I thought would be the best way for Scientificus to take it on,” Crawford said.
Intent on creating a public, multi-day event, Crawford searched for a place in the broader Bennington community to host Scientificus. After contacting the Vermont Arts Exchange for recommendations, Crawford was referred to VSNB, where spring break overlapped with the timeline for Scientificus.
“I met with Tim Newbold, the head of school, who also has a background in zoology,” Crawford said. “He was excited about the chance to present science in different ways. He was great and let us take over the school for the week.”
In addition to VSNB, a variety of local organizations partnered with Scientificus to make the museum a community-driven event. Southern Vermont Natural History Museum lent a taxidermy exhibit and Assistant Director Michael Clough led a special Raptor Talk, and Harvest Brewing hosted a workshop on beer science and fermentation.
Music technology student Kevin Ducey agreed that incorporating the broader Bennington community was a critical part of the museum’s appeal.
“I think it was cool that Shana put this together and wanted to extend it from campus to include the North Bennington community,” Ducey said. “That inclusion was my favorite part of it.”
Ducey’s own display introduced visitors to the psychoacoustic phenomenon of combination tones: an additional tone that can be perceived when two tones are played simultaneously.
“I was sad to see Scientificus end,” Emma Salazar said. “I’m hoping someone could do it again next year; it’s too good of a thing to just end here. Shana has paved a solid foundation with contacts in the community for it to continue.”
Salazar studies geology and developed an exhibit that challenged visitors to a guessing game that matched a display of minerals to the common household products that contained them.
The experience presenting at Scientificus gave Salazar a sense of what teaching geology might be like.
“I was surprised watching people guess,” Salazar said. “I had sparkly toothpaste out, and people were correlating that with garnet and quartz. I wouldn’t want to brush my teeth with those, but I understand where they were coming from with the sparkles!”
Sharing with Peers
In addition to providing an all-ages opportunity to explore science and math, Scientificus also gave students the chance to appreciate and learn from the work of their peers.
“My proudest moment was the day we finally set up everyone’s projects and opened for the first time,” Linh Hoang said. “Even though Bennington is a small liberal arts college, students here are doing really great work in science, making it fun and accessible to people.”
Hoang, who studies computer science and animation, based their Scientificus project off of their senior advanced work that explores neural networks, which are artificial intelligence systems modeled on the human brain.
“My project processes images through a neural network as a means of generating new artwork,” Hoang said. “A lot of people at Scientificus were interested in learning about neural networks. People don’t normally talk about them, but neural networks are in a lot of the tech that we use, so it was interesting to share what they do.”
Connecting with Community
Sophie Nevin studies dance and neuroscience, and she enjoyed the chance to meet others who shared her passion for science. Her project compared dance and non-dance students and assessed their ability to visually flip and rotate 2D objects.
“There was one parent who forced his two kids to stay at my exhibit because he wanted to talk to me more,” Nevin said. “It was fun to talk to someone whom I didn’t know at all and find this intellectual connection. We were both excited about the brain and had a twenty minute conversation.”
For her Scientificus project, Amanda Bacon repaired the Wilson cloud chamber that Joan Hinton ’42 built during her third and final year at Bennington. Hinton, who went on to work on the Manhattan Project during World War II, later defected to China after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Repairing the chamber not only deepened Bacon’s own understanding of particle physics, but also gave her a window into Hinton’s experience.
“My goal was to get it working by myself because Joan built it by herself,” Bacon said. “It was a long process and frustrating at times. I don’t have much building experience and sometimes there would be leaks while testing it, but the fact that I could get it to this point and get it working makes me proud.”
Science and Art
As an astronomy and printmaking student, Josie Bunnell is “always interested in the intersection between science and art.” She created a pinhole camera for Scientificus so participants could learn more about how light travels and how modern cameras are built around those principles.
“My most surprising moment researching for this project was when I found that pinhole technology is being used on a spacecraft right now to produce X-ray images of the Northern Lights,” Bunnell said. “That’s cool to me because pinhole cameras have been added onto over time to make modern digital cameras, but it’s still a useful basic technology for this project.”
New Ways of Educating
Twelve-faced rhombic dodecahedra are one of the few shapes that tessellate perfectly, which means they can be placed in a variety of interlocking patterns without gaps.
To demonstrate this concept, Nate Guevin, who studies computer science, education, and visual arts, 3D printed rhombic dodecahedra, which Scientificus visitors could use to explore tessellation hands on.
“The project provided new ways of thinking about how to educate people about tricky, hard-to-learn concepts,” Guevin said. “These things are generally not taught early on because they involve technical language, but Scientificus explored how we could move away from that.”
For more information about Scientificus, see coverage in the Bennington Banner.
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer