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MiSci exhibit looks at process of progress

Tuesday, April 16, 2013
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Tech Valley High School students Gary Peck, 15, of Cobleskill, left, and Grace White, 18, of Schenectady, talk about the new hands on display at MiSci in Schenectady Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Tech Valley High School students Gary Peck, 15, of Cobleskill, left, and Grace White, 18, of Schenectady, talk about the new hands on display at MiSci in Schenectady Tuesday.

— Grace White tapped a finger on a giant screen and brought up two maps — one that documented the residences of people who came down with cholera during the 1854 outbreak and another that pinpointed where calls for help originated from during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

“This is my favorite,” the Tech Valley High School senior told a group of spectators Tuesday afternoon as she leafed through the digital pages of the exhibit, bringing up colorful images of research tools ranging from a Sumerian clay tablet from 2350 B.C. to an electronic Excel spreadsheet. All of them have been used to promote progress in the world, she explained.

The 7-foot-high screen White was exploring is one of 12 that make up the “THINK created by IBM” exhibit that opened Tuesday at miSci, formerly known as the Schenectady Museum. The 1,500-square-foot, interactive, hands-on exhibit will be on display through Oct. 14.

Brought to miSci with the help of Neil Golub, Price Chopper Supermarkets’ executive chairman of the board, the exhibit’s aim is to walk visitors through the process of innovation and show them how technology can help to make the world a better place.

MiSci is the first museum in the world to display THINK, Golub noted, adding that a new exhibit will be displayed at miSci every year for the next four years.

IBM industrial engineer Bill Grady explained how the THINK exhibit came about: “We wanted to explore how to make the world work better and we began by interviewing people that had had this amazing impact, and we saw there was a common methodology when we interviewed them.”

That methodology involved five actions: seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting. The THINK exhibit was built around those actions, and a separate giant screen is devoted to each one.

A team of 100 IBM employees worked for several years on the exhibit, Grady noted.

“Our overriding goal of the exhibit is to make people think,” he said.

The exhibit’s “Understanding” screen invites visitors to investigate how data and technology are used to predict behavior. Answers to questions like “Where should we drill for oil?” and “How does disease spread?” are explored, and timelines compare historical research examples with more recent efforts.

The “Believing” screen shows two-minute interviews with people credited with changing the world by doing things like developing a novel treatment for leukemia or discovering a way to fight crime with data.

John Kelly III, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM research, predicted that the hi-tech exhibit will be captivating for students.

“We wanted to get them thinking about where technology can be used in the future, whether it’s solving medical problems or traffic jams or whatever,” he said.

Tech Valley High student White, who will attend RIT in the fall and aspires to open a school in a developing country, said THINK inspired her to do just that.

“I think this exhibit shows just how much you can get done and that it is possible,” she said.

Gary Peck, a freshman at Tech Valley High, thought the same thing.

“Just seeing the real-world problems getting solved … says that one person can solve anything that they put their mind to, and that’s pretty cool,” he said.

The exhibit is designed to reach well beyond the museum’s doors, noted William “Mac” Sudduth, miSci’s executive director.

A free “THINK created by IBM” companion app can be downloaded to iPads and Android tablets from iTunes.

IBM, in conjunction with the New York Hall of Science, also has developed lesson plans for middle- and high-school science teachers to help students understand the process of innovation. The free lessons are featured on the Teachers Try Science website, www.teacherstryscience.org.

 
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