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The Marian Koshland Science Museum (In Washington, DC)


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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS.

Today we tell about a new effort to help the public understand science.

"New tools help us see deeper into the nature of things. New discoveries lie before us." These words help explain the purpose of the new Marian Koshland Science Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum is designed to help the public understand new scientific tools and discoveries.

The museum is small and different. It is created for people aged 13 and older. It uses modern technology to explain some complex science issues to the public. The exhibits explore the links between scientific research and everyday life.

The museum opened in April, 2004. It is part of the National Academy of Sciences, a private, non-profit organization. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a congressional charter making the National Academy of Sciences an independent adviser to the federal government. Today it is one of four organizations that advise the nation on issues of science, engineering and medicine. They publish more than 200 research studies each year for policy makers and citizens. The exhibits in the new science museum are based on these research reports.

The museum is named for a female scientist, Marian Koshland, who had been a member of the National Academy of Sciences for many years.

Erika Shugart (SHOE-gart) is deputy director of the Marian Koshland Science Museum. She says the idea of a new museum began with Daniel Koshland, a well-known biochemist. He wanted to honor his wife who died in 1997. Marian Koshland was molecular biologist and immunologist who had made important discoveries. She also was known for wanting to get young people interested in science. And she felt it was important to increase public understanding of science.

Ms. Shugart says that about six years ago, Mr. Koshland offered to give money to the National Academy of Sciences to support a project that would honor his wife. Many ideas were discussed. Mr. Koshland liked the idea of creating a new science museum. He and other members of the National Academy of Sciences looked at a number of science museums. They decided there was a need for a museum to present the latest scientific theories that are related to daily life.

Ms. Shugart says four goals were important in planning the Marian Koshland Science Museum. One was that the exhibits in the museum be based on research reports released by the National Academies. The museum creators also felt that any science issue being presented should be important now and for the future.

Another goal is that the subject of the exhibit be one that people disagree about in some way. And the museum planners wanted each exhibit to be based on scientific information that could be presented by modern technology in such a way that visitors have fun while learning.

So the new museum contains a lot of factual information presented in a bright, interactive way. There are films, games and video displays that are fun to use.

The museum space is divided into three areas. Visitors first see a film that explores the "Wonders of Science". It shows some of the research that scientists are doing to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The film shows scientists using telescopes to look deep in the universe beyond our world. They use microscopes to look deep into the smallest particles in our world. These tools helped scientists discover that the same rules that govern the structure and movements of atoms and plants also govern the structure and movements of stars and galaxies.

Nearby are areas where visitors can explore subjects in the film such as dark matter, dark energy and the shared properties of all things. Visitors can compare satellite images of the Earth's lights taken at night in 1993 and in 2000. Many areas of the world are more brightly lit in the more recent images because of an increase in economic activity and energy use. There is also a difference in lights at night in North Korea and South Korea. And the lights increase in an area of the world such as Ukraine whose economy grew in the seven years after the first images were taken.

The second exhibit area in the new science museum is "Global Warming Facts and Our Future." Visitors can find out facts about climate change including its natural and human causes. They also can see the possible future effects of global warming.

A large real-looking copy of a cow named Bessy is part of the exhibit. Cows eat a lot of grass and release a lot of methane gas. Scientists say methane is one of the biggest causes of the warming of the atmosphere. Nearby, a large wall display describes other causes of climate change. These include natural ones such as volcanoes and the activity of the sun. And there are human causes such as the burning of coal, gas and oil.

One part of the exhibit shows changes in temperature around the world during the last century. A large map lets visitors find out how the temperature changed in any area of the world. They can examine the tools scientists use to find recent and prehistoric changes in climate – including samples from trees, dirt, ice and coral.

Visitors can see how global warming affects different areas of the world. One possible result is a rise in sea levels because of melting ice. Scientists say it is possible that the sea level could rise from five centimeters to almost a meter in about 100 years. The exhibit shows possible effects of the resulting flooding on agriculture, animals and plants, water supply, human health and traditional cultures.

The third exhibit in the new Marian Koshland Science Museum is "Putting DNA to Work". It shows ways that DNA, the genetic material of organisms, is being used today. Computer devices let visitors investigate how diseases are identified. These programs show how DNA research is helping protect public health by letting scientists quickly identify the virus responsible for a new disease. In 2003, scientists used a new scientific tool called a microarray to identify the virus family to which SARS belongs. They identified the virus family in just 24 hours.

Visitors also can learn how DNA information is used in criminal cases. For example, law enforcement agents use a system named CODIS to solve crimes. CODIS is the Combined DNA Index System. It is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. CODIS is based on the series of DNA markers in 13 places in the human genome, the map of the gene system in humans. It is used to prove if a suspect in a crime is guilty or innocent.

A visitor to the museum exhibit can compare DNA from three suspects of a crime to a DNA sample found where the crime took place. For two of the suspects, some of the series of DNA markers are the same as in the DNA sample found at the crime. For one suspect, the guilty one, all the DNA series are the same. Scientists say it is almost impossible that two different people would have the same DNA series in all 13 places used in CODIS.

The deputy director of the museum, Erika Shugart, says that visitors seem to have a rich experience even though the museum space is small. Many visitors praise the efforts of the Marian Koshland Science Museum to make science exciting and to show how science is related to daily life.

The museum also offers a number of public programs. One popular program is a scientific wine tasting where a climate expert explains how climate affects the taste of different wines.

The museum offers special visits for school groups of older students. Material on the museum's Web site helps students prepare for their visit and to continue learning about the subjects in the exhibits.

People who cannot visit the real museum can experience it on the Internet. The museum's exhibits and links to other science Web sites can be found at koshlandscience.org. That is k-o-s-h-l-a-n-d-s-c-i-e-n-c-e dot o-r-g.This program was written by Marilyn Christiano and directed by Mario Ritter. I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I'm Steve Ember. Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


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