Experience the force

Exploration Place hosts Star Wars traveling exhibit on science and technology

Story by Amy Bird

So the bad news is we're still a long way from a real-life lightsaber. The good news? In many ways, technology is bringing us closer to a science fiction reality every day. A visit to Exploration Place to see "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination," a traveling exhibit on display this summer, will show you just how close.

"It's such a great way to learn about engineering and technology, but in a fun way, to experience something that is tangible to people so they can understand better the different scientific theories behind it," says Christina Bluml, director of marketing at Exploration Place.

Peter Garland is the manager of temporary exhibits at the Museum of Science, Boston. He oversees the exhibit and helped bring it to life in conjunction with Lucasfilms Ltd. in 2006. Garland echoes Bluml, explaining that the Star Wars film franchise is a great launching pad for revealing the possibilities, and current limitations, of technology.

Everyday droids

Garland says the continuing development of robotic machinery and how it assists people is intriguing. After taking the exhibit to 16 cities over the past six years, he says he still gravitates to the robotic section of the exhibit that details Timber Jack, a subsidiary of John Deere, which has created a walking foresting machine, reminiscent of the AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transport) in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

"I will still stop at every venue and watch it wander along," Garland says of the video that shows the machine in action. "It walks through the woods, grabs a tree, cuts the tree, strips the branches and slices them at predetermined lengths so they can be shipped out. It's amazing what they have created."

Along with a model of the Timber Jack and video of how it works is the example of Troody, a two-legged robot similar to the "chicken walkers," or AT-STs (All Terrain Scout Transport), seen in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

The robotics section of the exhibit also offers interactive experiences with robot "vision," facial recognition technology and an engineering design lab where visitors can play with simple computer programs to design a robot to move, sense the world around it and adapt to various terrains. And, of course, no Star Wars exhibit would be complete without droids. Visitors also will get a close up look at two of the C-3PO and R2-D2 costumes used in the movies.

Space travel and beyond

In all, there are more than 80 Star Wars artifacts and technologies on display, including multiple costumes and props, space travel and real world flying cars. The exhibit pays homage to the flying crafts seen in all six movies with models and video interviews with Lucasfilm filmmakers, along with scientists and engineers.

Exhibit highlights include the chance to float in a hovercraft designed to replicate the sensation of Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and experiment with magnetic levitation in the MagLev Engineering Design Lab.

For those wanting to channel their inner Han Solo, the exhibit features flight simulation in a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon cockpit. For $3, visitors can experience virtual light speed during a 4-minute, multimedia presentation on what is known about our galaxy, narrated by Anthony Daniels (the voice of C-3PO).

Inspired science

In addition to the exhibit, which covers more than 8,000 square feet, Exploration Place will host live science shows about hovercrafts, cryogenics (the study of materials at very low temperatures), robots and more to complement the material on display.

The exhibit opened at Exploration Place May 26 and will end September 3. Fans and science enthusiasts will want to catch it this summer the exhibit is on the final leg of its six-year run. Bluml says she is excited that Exploration Place was able to get the exhibit slated before it's gone for good.

"It's great for younger children to learn about science, technology and engineering and for math to hit home with younger kids," Bluml contends. "Maybe it will be a spark or be the inspiration for them to pursue careers in science."

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