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A San Jose museum for the 21st century

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Ashley Greer and Sawyer Urbatsch using an interactive station at the Tech Museum.


POSTED March 9, 2012 8:55 p.m.

SAN JOSE - The Tech Museum of San Jose draws a wide array of reactions from adults.

Some think it is designed just for kids and the technologically-challenged who are still trying to figure out how to program VCR players to those who believe it is a captivating way to spend a few hours.

So the best way to put it to the test was to visit it with a pair of 19-year-olds who have never known life without cell phones, the Internet, or flashy and intricate video games.

After two hours of wandering through nine different technology galleries it is safe to say it captivated their interest enough to satisfy even the X-Box Generation.

If you expect the Tech Museum to simply be all things Silicon Valley and biotech, guess again. It runs the gamut from a jet pack chair you can “ride” to get a feel of how astronauts in space move around to simple technology such as a foot operated pump that works much like a Stairmaster to allow impoverished Third World people to have clean drinking water from the ground.

The technology museum’s mission is to show visitors how technology is changing - and can change - the world around them as well as their own lives.

It does it with a combination of static displays and hands on demonstrations.

Some of the more hands on demonstrations of technology at the Tech Museum besides the jet pack simulator are:

•An exhibit that features a one-person submarine and computer simulation to give you the impression of piloting a craft under the sea.

•A real working robotic vehicle such as the ones used to explore the surface of Mars that you can operate.

•A shake table that holds up to 12 people to allow you to experience one or more of eight different earthquakes through history using simulations based on actual earthquake data such as magnitude, movement type, and duration.

•Google’s first public installation of its Liquid Galaxy that allows a person inside the circular room of screens to fly across the surface of the earth, moon and mars by touching a button and moving a joystick. A custom version of Google Earth makes the voyages possible.

•Numerous touch and video screen interaction displays that demonstrate a repertoire of technology.

•The ability to harness sun, wind, and water in collaboration with others to make a power tower glow.

•A Tech Virtual Galley that allows you to interject your image into various tech creations.

•A Pixel display where eye tracking cameras allow others to see what you see through your eyes.

•A digital foam station that allows you to sculpt 3-D models with your hands.

•A body heat exhibit where you can see where your body’s hot and cold spots are.

That is just a tip of the interactive modern-day tech displays.

There are also others such as being able use muscle power by hand cranking a generator to run a radio while another display lets you use pedal power to light up various devices from a light bulb to a traffic signal.

Many of the “static” displays are enlightening as well. They run the gamut of demonstrating the timeline of various computer technologies - including displays of some of the devices that would seem prehistoric to a 19-year-old today - to displays of modern-day electric vehicles and a 102-year old electric car.

There are also displays of bio-tech advancements and explanations of DNA research.

The Tech Museum also has a basic, hands-on area for younger kids that uses building blocks and such to provide simple technology lessons.

Tech challenges

There are also tech challenges on most Saturdays and often on Sundays as well from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can drop-in any time with specific dates available on the Tech Museum website.

It provides the opportunity for teams of students in the fifth through 12th grades to tackle various tech challenges in the undertaking presented by Cisco Systems. This year’s challenge is to create a solution to help earthquake survivors after a quake damages a bridge. The challenge is to create a device that will reach and rescue stranded people.

Volunteer judges are on hand to help simulate the competition and assist in the learning process.

It involve everything from creativity, problem solving, design, teamwork, leadership, presentation, risk-taking, perseverance, and learning from failure that are all combined for a hands-on engineering project geared to solve a real world problem.

All of that is on top of special lectures and panel discussions that carry a $10 fee.

The Tech Museum website Museum carries upcoming lecture details. The next one is this Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m. It is a panel discussion on new trends in space exploration covering partnerships, commerce, and beyond. The moderated panel discussion includes three experts in the field.

The Tech Museum also has a gift shop.

— Dennis Wyatt

209 staff reporter

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