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Alien Worlds and Androids Puts Cutting-Edge Science on Display


Real mom Fiona’s real RVA kid enjoying a robot-building station.
Real mom Fiona’s real RVA kid enjoys creating at a robot-building station.

Have you ever considered alien life? Do you think we are alone in the universe? Do you know the difference between a robot and an android? All these questions and more are yours to discover at The Science Museum of Virginia’s newest temporary exhibit, Alien Worlds and Androids. 

This exhibit about cutting-edge science, artificial intelligence and intelligent technology, designed by The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA, is an exploration of the solar system, alien life on earth, and robot space explorers. The exhibit opens with an interactive game, where guests can test their knowledge of different types of solar systems. Guests will learn interesting facts about popular robots in books and film, including C-3PO and R2-D2 from Star Wars, Iron Man, T-800 from The Terminator, and the monster from Alien. My kids, ages seven and nine, appreciated these popular icons, especially the robots from Star Wars.

Does this guy even require a caption? [SONY]
Several of the exhibits are hands-on, so guests can experience robotics first hand. My 9-year-old loved exploring how a robot arm works mechanically (the similarity to how the arm worked compared to a popular arcade game did not go unnoticed and my son made comparisons to improve skill and prize acquisition in the future). Guests can also learn how to close various circuits to enable an android, reminiscent of R2-D2 to power the android’s eyes and heart. My 7-year-old most appreciated building a model of NASA’s Rover.

The Alien monster might be disturbing for young kids.

Parallels between science, science fiction, and inspiration to create new ideas are emphasized throughout the exhibit. Discussion of industrial robots, robots for research, and even a nod to high school robotics teams sends the message to guests that the sky is the limit. One encouraging sign to exhibit goers and future scientists reads:“By imagining the not-yet-possible, YOU can invent the future.” Indeed.

Touch-screen games and other hands-on aspects of the exhibit kept my active boys engaged. Although guests of all ages will appreciate this exhibit, younger children may need some encouragement to enjoy this dimly lit exhibit. Do not be surprised if they side-step the monster from Alien as my 7-year-old did.

So head over to the Science Museum of Virginia to imagine the not-yet-possible and invent the future. The exhibit is open now through February 21, 2016. Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30-5 and Sunday 11:30-5. Tickets for Adults (exhibits only) are $11.00. Adults ages 60 and older and children between the ages of 4-12 receive a $1 discount off general admission prices. Children 3 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. Active military receive free admission to exhibits.

Fiona Bessey-Bushnell is an occupational therapist and writer who lives in the West End. She enjoys exploring all the exciting places Richmond has to offer with her husband and two sons.

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