The Experimentations exhibition opened in 1988 and has proved popular with our younger visitors ever since.
Aimed at children aged 5-12 years, their parents, teachers and carers, the exhibition is designed to be an informal learning space that inspires curiosity and questioning, and allows visitors to play and experiment with materials and processes.
In 2016, we completed a major upgrade of the exhibition, adding new content, collection objects and interactives, and brightening up the whole space to make it more fun and inviting to children and their families.
The upgrade was a joint project between the Curatorial and Education teams, led by Curator Tilly Boleyn and Education and Digital Learning Manager Peter Mahony, with assistance from myself and fellow Assistant Curator Nina Earl.
The exhibition is divided into six sections, which cover the topics of electricity, magnetism, chemistry, forces, light, sound…and much more. Read on to discover what’s new to see and do in Experimentations.
The entry to Experimentations introduces eight inventors who have challenged ideas, and themselves, to find solutions to problems. The four paper sculptures depicting experimenters from history are still on display, joined by four new scientists.
Meet Margaret Hamilton, the software engineer who made the first moon landing possible; Rosalind Franklin, who helped reveal the double helix structure of DNA; Michelle Simmons, who works on quantum computing; and Marita Cheng, a young robotics engineer focused on how robots can improve our lives.
In the Tinkering Zone you become the scientist, engineer, thinker, artist and inventor. It’s a space where you can play, explore, invent and discover. A series of exhibits from the collection provide inspiration for the inventors of tomorrow, showing how some of Australia’s most famous inventions, from the Victa Lawnmower to the Cochlear Implant (more commonly known as the ‘Bionic Ear’) went from prototype to final product.
The chemistry section introduces the elements with a digital periodic table using objects from the collection. There are a bunch of exciting chemical reactions for future chemists of all ages to try. The youngest visitors can play just for fun, exploding gummy bears in their wake. But never fear, the how and why of all these reactions is always explained at the end for keener chemists.
A cabinet full of collection objects reveal how even the rarest and most unexpected of elements can be found in everyday objects. The ground-breaking work of chemical engineer Veena Sahajwalla and her team at UNSW is on display too. Australian researchers are on the forefront of sustainable transformative chemical solutions.
Come and charge up your curiosity. Divided into three parts, Zapped deals with the concepts of static electricity, electric current and magnetism, and how electricity both sustains and endangers life. Visitors can play with static electricity, power a toy train, become part of a battery and test their strength against our magnets. Collection objects show how our understanding of electricity and magnetism have developed over time. And of course, crowd favourites – the fire engine and the plasma ball – remain.
This new section is all about the six simple machines – levers, pulleys, wedges, wheels, screws, and inclined planes. A series of giant, multi-person interactives show how each of these machines can be used to make work easier – from a seesaw that appears to give you superhuman strength to a pulley competition with friends. Meanwhile, our giant tool wall shows the application of these machines in the everyday world, and a pulled-apart motorcycle reveals how they can be combined to create something very complex indeed.
This section introduces the idea that light and sound both travel as waves, and shows what information we can learn from the size and shape of the wave. A Theremin – a type of electronic musical instrument – allows visitors to play a tune and to ‘see’ the sound waves they are making. There’s also an artwork where visitors can play with light, colour and reflections.
But undoubtedly my favourite part of the entire exhibition is the ‘monochromatic room’ which lies beyond a mysterious black curtain in Making Waves. The room is lit by single-wavelength sodium lamps, the same kind of yellow bulbs used in old-style street lamps. Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time – and into an old sepia photograph – where your skin, clothes and the objects surrounding you are all leeched of colour. But turn on the torch and shine it around to reveal the hidden colours again, while you learn about how objects absorb and reflect light and why that makes them the colours they are.
Since the upgrade Experimentations has become more popular than ever. During the week it’s normally filled with visiting school groups, and on weekends is taken over by families learning and playing together.
Science is an unfinished conversation between humankind and the world around us – both natural and technological – and Experimentations shows that anyone from novices to experts, the young or the old, can learn by experimenting.