“Alien Worlds and Androids,” a new traveling exhibit at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, doesn’t exactly answer the question, “Are we alone in the universe?” but it certainly gives visitors more than enough information to form their own conclusions.
“Alien Worlds and Androids,” located on the second level of the museum, pulls visitors in immediately for the fun stuff — a life-sized model of comic book and movie hero Iron Man is visible from the entrance — and keeps them engaged throughout with science and learning.
The various displays contained in the exhibit elucidate areas of curiosity such as: what progress is being made in the area of space exploration? What innovations are coming out in robotics? And it asks questions that we may never have thought of before such as: what is the difference between a robot and an android? And why on earth are there alien species in my body, how did they get there and what are they up to?
“Alien Worlds and Androids” answers these questions and more.
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Where are the aliens?
A video simulation of the landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars was completely captivating as spectators live through the final harrowing seven minutes before it touched down on the planet’s surface and began its transmissions back to earth. Scientists have expanded their thinking about the possibility of life on what seem to be uninhabitable planets when they discover life on earth in locations previously considered too hot or too cold: hydrothermal vents or the Yellowstone Hot Springs or in methane-rich ice. Visitors learn that such discoveries have scientists rethinking the popular culture notice of little green men from Mars.
Visitors learn that every day the science of robotics and bionics bring us closer to the world of Steve Austin, the bionic man, who had an arm, a leg and an eye replaced with electronic parts in the 70s TV series, “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
Sci-fi fans and others learn that C-3PO from the movie “Star Wars” was actually an android because he was built in the shape of a human, while R2-D2, in spite of having human qualities, was considered a robot.
In the section of the exhibit called Microbiomes, visitors learn the rather unsettling fact that only 10 percent of the cells in our bodies are actually human; the rest are bacteria, viruses and fungi. Oh, joy. The human body has been colonized by aliens, as many as 5,000 different species, just like in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Fortunately, these internal alien colonies are in charge of helping humans digest food and fight off diseases.
As is the norm at the Children’s Museum, the exhibit is staffed with experts and role-playing characters. The experts answer visitor questions about science and technology. Expert Special Agent Mack provides visitors with a Mission Logbook, a folded pamphlet designed to work for groups or individuals, as they work they way around the room, hitting the main ideas of the exhibits. The book has activities for answering both the easy and the more challenging questions about alien life on earth, the difference between robots and cyborgs and where scientists should choose to look for alien life in space.The role-playing characters — in this case, two men from the M.B.I. (Museum Bureau of Investigation) dressed all in black (a la Agents K and J from the movie “Men in Black”) provide a bit of interactive fun with the younger visitors. The two explain that they are on a mission to locate an alien. After a bit of witty banter, the encounter ends with the two of them scanning visitors with a round electronic device that would beep in the presence of an alien.
The exhibit does a fantastic job of connecting science and science fiction to every day life. Visitors learn that the inspiration behind the development of the today’s cell phones came from the communicators used in the 1960s television series “Star Trek.”
But science isn’t the only feature of this exhibit. It delightfully includes art, as well. The entire exhibit is encircled by the futuristic and colorful artwork of Robert McCall. His paintings exude a ‘world of tomorrow’ atmosphere on the walls around the perimeter of the room.
Individual displays in the exhibit had a great way of drawing people in with connections to pop culture and using them as a springboard for new knowledge. For example, a placard on helping human microbes to become better weapons against invading bacteria was prefaced with a reference to the movie “Predator,” with an explanation of how the alien in that movie invaded earth and began creating mayhem.
One of the most fascinating displays is the gadget that E.T. (from the movie “E.T.”) created to phone home using an umbrella, a record player, a hanger, a buzz saw blade and a Speak n’ Spell.
In addition to some heavy duty science, “Aliens and Androids” has something for even the very young. The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is ever in the business of imagination and creativity. A wooden box of “Star Wars” costumes is on hand for dress-up play, as are Legos and other building sets for creating androids, space ships and other galactic equipment.
The museum also offers several entertaining and interactive programs throughout the day. A fictional Museum Bureau of Investigation recruits participants to help determine whether an object is a robot or not. Another fictional group, the Foundation for Paranormal Intrigue, seeks help in determining if aliens are a threat. A third program called Science Fact or Science Fiction is a training exercise to decide if thing are science fact of if they are a part of science fiction.
“Alien Worlds and Androids,” at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum until May 1, is a cornucopia of fun and facts, of new knowledge and things that make you go “Huh! I didn’t know that.” And the best takeaway of all is a renewed wonder at the world we live in and the universe beyond.