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“Wow, I really don’t know how sails work,” I said to myself at the Land Yacht table at the Science Museum of Virginia’s new exhibit, Going Places.
My two daughters, their friend, and I had each just grabbed a miniature land yacht (picture a sail boat on wheels) and prepared to race them using a large fan to provide the wind energy we’d need to propel our land craft across the table. When everyone let go, the girls’ yachts proceeded rapidly across the table, while mine stayed completed still. Apparently, unlike the children in my care, I had missed the picture on the table that clearly showed how to position your sail to travel upwind.
Going Places promises “an interactive exhibition that explores the technology behind travel,” and it delivers that. Besides racing land yachts, we piloted remote-control blimps, rode on a miniature hovercraft, and ran simulations between different types of cars to learn about fuel efficiency. A favorite was a section with two stationary bikes, one standard and one recumbent, hooked up to a screen like a video game. Everyone took turns seeing which style of cycle required the least amount of energy to get to the finish line before the other person.
Entering the exhibit, you’re greeted with a metal detector and a conveyor belt with luggage to scan. The metal detector is functional and my 7-year-old had fun walking through many times with and without my iPhone to see what happened. The luggage scanner, thankfully, was fake, as I saw several children sticking their heads inside to un-stick stuck bags. I’m glad that admission to the exhibit does not come with free, unsafe exposure to x-rays. One caution about the exhibit entrance though: Without much warning, you’re exposed to a lot of light, noise, and movement. Humans who need to be more mindful of sensory experiences should prepare themselves ahead of time.
A few of the exhibit components had me pleasantly surprised at how much my kids enjoyed them. One was simply a station with paper and pens and prompts to design your city or car of the future. This occupied the children for at least fifteen minutes as they used their imaginations to come up with great drawings (This dad appreciated that the sign specifically gave as an example “The Homer,” a ridiculous bubble-domed car from an episode of The Simpsons.
Another part of the exhibit was a life-sized trunk of an automobile and a bunch of luggage to try and fit in it. It occurred to me that my kids rarely get this opportunity on family trips, and they really embraced the novelty of it. The kids enjoyed working together to solve this spatial puzzle while I stood to the side humming the Tetris music to myself.
My older daughter really took in the environmental lessons of the exhibit. We both calculated our carbon footprint and came in as “Eco-Warriors” (it’s amazing what being a regular bus rider can do for you). Then, using a simulator to model a more environmentally friendly automobile, my 11-year-old was affronted that she couldn’t get the pollution down to zero. She exclaimed, “I have to have tires and all tires pollute. I didn’t know that!”
Going Places is an enjoyable start to an afternoon at the museum. We spent about an hour there before exploring other exhibits, which is a pretty long time for my kids. The girls had fun, learned something, and were very glad we went.
The exhibit is free with general admission at the Science Museum of Virginia and runs through August 19. Go here for details.