A Firsthand Look at “Going Places,” The Newest Exhibition at the Science Museum of Virginia

Recently, we had the chance to stop by for a sneak peek at Going Places, the newest exhibition at the Science Museum of Virginia, which opened to the public on February 16. The Science Museum of Virginia’s mission is to make learning about science and technology fun and engaging – and Going Places does not disappoint. This interactive exhibition takes visitors on an immersive ride through the world of transportation, digging deep into the science and technology that makes various modes of travel possible, but presenting it in a way that sparks curiosity and offers a hands-on approach to learning.

Transportation is something that many of us take for granted. Whether we’re walking, riding a bike, driving a car, or flying in a plane, we tend to focus more on where we’re going than how we get there. Going Places brings us back to the reality of what is actually involved in the process. But instead of just presenting dry scientific facts or stagnant displays, Going Places provides an opportunity to experience movement for ourselves. From riding an actual hovercraft to testing a flight simulator to flying a miniature airship, Going Places allows you to learn by doing.

Sit in an old-fashioned by-plane model while testing out a modern-day flight simulator screen.

So why transportation? This is the exact question we asked Chuck English, the Director of Playful Learning and Inquiry at the museum. “It’s really important for us to create experiences that are relevant for kids,” English explained. When choosing a direction for the exhibit, English told us that transportation was a logical choice as it provided an easy way for kids to transfer knowledge of the science and math that they are learning every day in school into something that they do every day, i.e, riding in a car, riding a bike, or even traveling by train, bus, or plane.

English went on to say, “It’s important for kids to be able to experience this with their family. There is a lot of fun stuff to do here for all ages, and they can do it together. And if the kids get enthusiastic about it, the parents can support that enthusiasm.”

And there is a LOT to get enthusiastic about. From the moment you enter the exhibition, you’re surrounded by stations that simply beg exploration. Shine lights onto the solar panels of a small plane suspended above your head and make it fly. Hover over the floor in a single-seat “hoverdisk.” Enter a virtual road bike race, challenging an opponent on a conventional bike, while you pedal a recumbent bike (or vice-versa)—all the while seeing a real-time display of who is expending more energy to reach the finish line. And that’s just a sampling of all that this exhibition offers.

Race opponents to the finish line on a recumbent or conventional bike – and see who uses the most energy.

Going Places, which is actually a traveling exhibition on lease to the museum through mid-August, offers 17 interactive stations and eight information kiosks. Other favorites of ours included the old-fashioned bi-plane model that features a modern day flight simulation screen; the miniature cargo ship that you can load with blocks of “cargo” as a way to better understand weights and balances; and the “Vehicle Jigsaw,” a computer program that lets you design two cars then run them in a virtual race to compare mileage, safety, cost, and pollution. Then, of course, there was the trunk of a car with actual luggage that can be loaded. We strongly recommend that you make your kids try this a time or two and maybe they’ll be more sympathetic next time you have to take a road trip!

Let the kids pack the trunk for a change and see if they can figure out how to fit everything in.

While many of the displays address modes of transportation that we are familiar with on a daily basis, such as cars, bikes, or planes, Going Places also shows kids (and adults) just how broad and far-reaching transportation really is. One of the highlights of the exhibit is the airship display. Contained in a large netted area (not unlike a batting cage), two miniature airships float. Remote control stations are housed on either end of the enclosure, allowing you to fly (on in my case, attempt to fly) the ship through a suspended ring in the middle of the enclosure. Trust me when I say it’s harder than it looks. But that’s the point. By actually experiencing the nuances of the science itself, you’re forced to think about what lies behind our everyday experiences in transportation. This personal experience is paired with interactive display screens at each station that allow you to scroll through various snippets of history, science, technology, and video footage, providing you with a chance to understand, from a scientific perspective, the very thing that you just experienced physically.

Remote control your airship through the hoop…if you can!

In a world that is becoming more and more technological, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) has become the backbone of many science programs in local schools. Going Places perfectly incorporates all aspects of STEM in a way that kids can not only understand, but that they can see, touch, and interact with personally. The end result is a better understanding of how these principles apply to their daily lives.

Going Places runs from now until August 19, so if you haven’t had the chance to experience it for yourself, then add it to your calendar. You won’t be sorry. With dozens of ways to interact, learn, and explore, Going Places is just one more way in which the Science Museum of Virginia provides access to scientific exploration in a way that will stimulate, inspire, engage, and entertain visitors of all ages.

To learn more about Going Places and all of the amazing exhibits, displays, and events happening at the Science Museum of Virginia, visit them online at www.smv.org.