Six museum pieces made by high school students stood in the company of work by professionals at the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation when a new exhibit was opened Friday morning.
The exhibit’s launch marks the public debut of a partnership between MOXI and the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, where students put their scientific knowledge to the test by collaborating to build interactive exhibits for public display.
Engineering Academy director Amir Abo-Shaeer told the News-Press that having the students not just building the exhibits, but showing them at MOXI, embodies the program’s vision of “authenticity.”
Whereas much of high school consists of memorizing and regurgitating information for a test, Mr. Abo-Shaeer said, the academy is meant to “validate and appreciate the value of our student’s time with us and provide them with opportunities to do something authentic that goes out into the real world.”
Shortly before the museum opened to the public, the News-Press caught an early glimpse of the students’ exhibit pieces. To the right at the exhibit entrance was the Sand Table, a circular bed of sand in which a silver ball moves through the sand to create shapes from triangles to hexagons.
Across from the Sand Table stands the Spring-Mass Wave, a large glass case in which springs attached to weights of differing mass are dropped and oscillate at different rates. Dos Pueblos graduate and current UCSB student Michaela Bostwick designed and built the piece after inheriting a prototype from two students who were previously in the program.
Ms. Bostwick said their initial vision for the piece was to show the public physics in an accessible fashion.
“They were thinking of a way that they could create an art piece that would display physics and get the public interested in science without completely confusing them,” she said.
Art is a large part of the Engineering Academy’s philosophy, which aims to meld design with the harder disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.
As opposed to a STEM program, Mr. Abo-Shaer described it as a STEAM program.
“We’re adding ‘A,’ art, but we’re adding it in a design realm, so you can see all these things are designed to be aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “The idea is, like, you know, how do we incorporate all these subjects and integrate them together?
The students’ additions to the MOXI catalogue are meant not only for public display, but interactivity as well.
In the middle of the exhibit stands the Bernoulli Blower. Named after a famous physicist, with this piece’s joystick players can guide a golf ball levitated with blowing air through a course of hoops and other obstacles.
At the back of the room is a project under the working title “Ball Wall,” a metal wall where visitors can assemble various magnetic pieces to construct their own course for a silver ball to travel down. Dos Puelbos senior and project co-designer McKenna Grant said the project was inspired by a Rube Goldberg machine, a mobile structure that uses marbles to run different courses.
“They’re very captivating to look at. You can look at them for hours,” she said.
Co-designer Tori Fay said the Ball Wall will likely be a hit with the kids.
“I think this is a good way for kids, and actually people of all ages to just express their creativity because there are so many different patterns that you can make, and we will start actually making a ton of new parts that will be here so we can view how kids and everyone can interact with them,” she said.
A Newton’s cradle can also be found in the exhibit behind a glass case with a user interface attached to control the movements of the five metal balls. Dos Pueblos senior Nathan Wachholz told the News-Press he made the project’s first UI more intuitive, requiring the user to just tap and swipe the on-screen image of the cradle’s metal balls. Metal plates are then deployed from below the cradle, pull back on the balls chosen on the UI, then release them.
If one looks into the circular “Infinity Mirror,” one will see a smattering of lights that can change color, seemingly going all the way into an endless abyss. This optical illusion is created with lights and two mirrors, which the user can move with a controller.
According to Dos Pueblos senior Janice Tsai, the wall around the the first Infinity Mirror was opaque, but was then changed so viewers could see how its mechanics operate. Graduate and co-designer David Gonzalez-Cruz added, “When this was black, people thought there was just like a tablet screen making the illusion, they didn’t think that it was mechanical.”
These new additions to the museum received much praise from MOXI staff, who were excited that they are the products of such young talent.
Director of exhibits Sean O’Brien said his experience working with the high school students to install their pieces has been impressive.
“What was just really kind of mind-blowing to me is how parallel what they’re doing is, it’s so parallel to the professional experience I’ve had with other designers,” he said.
Museum CEO Robin Gose was pleased that the partnership between MOXI and Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy has produced such a unique opportunity for local high schoolers.
“These are high school students just down the road and they’re really getting to showcase this in a museum that’s seeing 150,000 visitors a year. This is so much bigger than just showing at the science fair or showing at their local school,” she said.