Field Trip Report: Marian Koshland Museum of the National Academy of Sciences

The Marian Koshland Museum of the National Academy of Sciences is a museum in Northwest Washington, D.C. It is named after Marian Koshland, who was an immunologist and molecular biologist who is known for her research on infectious diseases. There were three main exhibits we visited: Infectious Diseases, Global Warming, and Wonders of Science.

Infectious Diseases: Evolving Challenges to Human Health
The first gallery I visited was one on Infectious Diseases. This exhibit explored several of the deadly diseases that currently threaten human population around the world, including HIV, Malaria, and Cholera. One display in particular that I visited was one entitled "Global View". This exhibit was portrayed as a large map of the world on a computer screen. Using this map, you could choose between four diseases that could be portrayed: HIV, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and Cholera. After selecting one, the map would display how much of the population is infected by this disease by country. In the case of HIV, the numbers ranged from under 5 people per 10,000 in Mongolia to more than 1,000 in several African nations.

The second display in Infectious Diseases that I visited was called "Vector Control and Malaria". This display was also on an interactive screen. The screen offered several different Malarial prevention scenerios that you could simulate: giving the people no treatment, anti-malarial drugs, indoor spraying, and bed nets. You could also use several different options at once, so obviously the most effective method was to use all of them, and the least effective was using none of them. Suprisingly, using either bed nets or indoor spraying was much more effective than using anti-malarial drugs, which I would have expected to be the most effective.

I felt like the fact that both of these displays were interactive made them much more interesting, and as a result were much more effective at portraying the information, since I felt like more of a part of it. I feel like the display on Malaria was more effective, since it gave the audience a progression based on time of how high the malaria rates were, rather than just putting the information statically infront of you.

Global Warming: Facts & Our Future
The second gallery that I visited was entitled "Global Warming: Facts & Our Future". This gallery offered all sorts of information on global warming, which is becoming a highly publisized issue in our world. The first display I saw was an introduction to the effects of global warming. This display was called "It's A Global Issue", and it showed three pictures of South Cascade Glacier in Washington: one from 1928, another from 1979, and the last from 2003. These pictures presented some very disturbing images- South Cascade Glacier, which once dominated the whole picture in 1928, is now shrinking back into the landscape. The glacier that once covered the whole mountainside had receded noticabely into the background, leaving a small pool of melted water in the foreground.

One of the other displays I visited was called "Predicted Change". This was one of the more interesting and interactive displays at the museum. A whole wall was taken up by a line graph displaying both the temperature and CO2 predictions for the rest of the 21st Century. A huge sliding screen had been set up right infront of the graph, and you could slide the screen across the graph and see a map of the world that also displayed how much experts had predicted the climate to change. The map went from being mostly a light shade of yellow and even white in 2000 to being almost completely an ominous shade of dark red all over, meaning temperatures were predicted to rise atleast 5 degrees in the next 100 years. It was interesting to be able to slide the screen across and see just how much the climate is predicted to change.

A third display that I visited in this gallery was called "The Earth's Carbon Cycle". What was interesting to me about this was that there was a large, water filled glass bass in the middle of the display. You can visibly see tiny living things swimming around in the water. The astounding thing is that this sphere is completely sealed; no air, water, or nutrients enter or leave the sphere. The animals and plants inside are able to maintain a perfect balance of all these things, and as a result they are all able to survive on their own. I thought this was very neat, since it is a living display of how the earth can function so well if conditions are not fluctuated or disturbed.

While I definitely thought all three of these displays were very effective in putting forth their information, I felt that the best one was the Carbon Cylcle one, since it gave living evidence of exactly how the carbon cycle works, as well as how amazing the earth is in its ability to survive on its own and maintain life.

Wonders of Science
The last gallery I observed was Wonders of Science. The display I chose to look at was called "Lights at Night". This display was a computer screen that gave satellite imaging of all the lights on Earth, and you could choose what year you wanted the image to be from. It went from 1993-2007 in varying intervals, and showed how the Earth has actually gotten much darker in the last 15 years. Cities went from being bright red to a cool blue (red represented more light, while blue represented less light). This happened mostly because of more efficient energy use, as well as the increasing practice of energy conservation. I think this display would have been more effective if it had also offered the actual satellite pictures as well, instead of only the ones doctored with colors to represent light. Nevertheless, I still thought this exhibit was neat.

Overall, I thought this was a very interesting field trip. I really enjoyed how so many of the exhibits were interactive, which obviously is much more interesting than simply reading information about each topic. I feel that it's a lot easier to learn if you are learning interactively, which this museum definitely accomplished. A disadvantage to having so many interactive displays is the cost. The interactive displays definitely are more expensive than traditional displays, so the museum must charge patrons to enter. Another disadvantage is that the museum operators will eventually have to keep changing all of the interactive aspects to keep up with technology. Exhibits containing dinosaur bones will obviously not need to change much; they'll be the exact same in a hundred years. Part of the whole allure of this museum is its neat technology, so the museum will have to keep itself updated to maintain interst.

In order for a museum like Koshland to stay appealing to visitors, it must be constantly updated with new exhibits and information. People simply don't want to visit the same exact museum multiple times a year if it has the same exhibits over and over again; it needs to change in order to keep its patrons interested. Another idea is to charge dicounts to large groups, in order to attract large numbers of people to the musuem. If a large group of people thoroughly enjoys the museum, they will tell people about it, resulting in more people who want to come see the museum for themselves.