Experience Energy at St. Louis Science Center

The St. Louis Science Center is widely renowned for its family-friendly exhibits.  The massive marble roll in the main lobby catches everyone’s attention, and the life-size Tyrannosaurus rex intrigues kids both big and small.  The latest addition to the Science Center is the Experience Energy gallery.  This is a great place to explore and learn about the value and importance of energy in our world.

This highly-interactive gallery, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in partnership with the Missouri University of Science and Technology, offers attendees the chance to learn all about energy.  One of the first exhibits in the gallery shows how energy is used in a roller coaster, including a video from Six Flags St. Louis showing the energy in motion.  Visitors also have a chance to build their own roller coaster to experience first hand how potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy.

Another exhibit describes different measures of energy.  A joule (j l, joul) is the standard measure of energy used by scientists, and is compared to British Thermal Units (BTUs) for fossil fuels and calories for food.  Attendees can experience how much physical effort it takes to generate a joule of energy, and in another exhibit use pedal power to see what it takes to generate electricity.

Microgrid Solar donated a solar panel to complement the interactive solar exhibit.  You can see first-hand how much additional energy is produced at high-noon when light is focused directly on the solar cell, and compare that to the energy produced at 3 or 6 pm when the sun is lower in the sky.  A wind exhibit shows how wind energy is converted to mechanical energy that can pump water, grind grain, or make electricity.  Gallery guests can also see how a variety of blades on a turbine can produce different amounts of energy.  Finally Peabody Energy sponsored an exhibit to show the amount of energy produced by coal, which is used to produce 80% of the electricity on our grid.

Ameren provided an abundance of actual components of the electric grid they maintain to service their customers, including a utility pole, wiring, a large transformer, and a streetlight.  An interactive exhibit shows how energy travels through the grid, from the power station to substations, and on to homes and businesses.

Another set of exhibits shows how batteries work.  A see-through mockup of a battery is charged and discharged, showing how electrons flow out of and back into a battery.  A second exhibit shows how a human hand can be part of a battery!  This sounds shocking, but as you might expect, it’s quite painless.

One of my favorites, of course, is about electric vehicles.  This interactive display allows participants to switch out the components of a traditional car, including the internal combustion engine, transmission, and fuel tank, with the electric motor, battery, and charging equipment on an electric vehicle.  The exhibit shows how the two different approaches to powering a vehicle are both similar and different.

Finally, attendees get a chance to see the importance of energy efficiency, and how vintage appliances have changed over time.  Since the ENERGY STAR program was introduced in 1992, our appliances have been designed to use much less electricity.  The Wall of Appliances includes a television, refrigerator, dishwasher and washer/dryer, and compares the amount of energy used by a typical 1980 model appliance to a comparable 2010 model.  While most of the numbers are not surprising, one of these four appliances shows that we’re moving in the wrong direction.  You can probably guess which one that is!

I strongly encourage you to plan a visit to the St. Louis Science Center, and bring the kids along with the kid in you.  This is a great way to teach everyone in the family the value and importance of energy.  Hopefully the lessons learned will be a valuable catalyst for positive change!

This will be published in the Going Green section of the April 2013 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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