CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Bishop Museum Science Hall, Peyten Gebhard, left, Kailey Chang, Anika Chang and Tatiana Chang take a breather from their scientific expedition on the African Snail exhibit.
"Just imagine," said Mike Shanahan, education director of Bishop Museum, "that my head is the North Pole!"
He was circling around a glowing sphere in a dimly lit room. The moms with snoozing kids strapped tightly into strollers began to pay attention.
'Mad About Science Day'
Where: Bishop Museum
When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $3 general and free to museum members
"My belt is the equator. My shoes are the South Pole. And Hawaii is my belly button."
A giggle or two.
"I'm the Earth going around the sun." Shanahan began to circumambulate the room which was, fortunately, round. "But what do we know about the Earth? That's different than the other planets?"
Someone in the darkness suggested our tilt, which was exactly right. "Yes! We're tilted at 23-and-a-half degrees. It makes a phenomenal difference in climate. And so the part of me that is north of the equator" -- demonstrating at a precarious tilt -- "is closest during the summer months, and it's warm. But during the winter" -- trotting to the other side of the room and leaning away from the globe, which was pulsating with a glow, the very image of the sun -- "now the northern part is farther away from the sun, and the southern part is warmer."
"His butt is hot?" wondered a child, thinking out loud.
Close, though -- the basic physical reality of the seasons sinks in, as well as the notion of the length of daytime changing. Hawaii, the belly button close to the equatorial belt, experiences relatively little seasonal change, except what's shipped to us long-distance, like the tradewinds.
"And we only have a hour and some difference between the longest and shortest days of the year," said Shanahan, whipping in a little solstice. "That's why Scandinavians sometimes get into trouble when they go hiking here in summer -- they're used to sundown at 10 p.m.!"
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the push of a button, the Science on a Sphere exhibit can change from global warming to ocean currents to Jupiter, as well as dozens more spherical images.
SHANAHAN'S spiel revolves -- literally -- around the "Science on a Sphere" exhibit in the museum's planetarium foyer. It's just one element that will be open to the public during the museum's annual "Mad About Science Day" Saturday, spreading from the Great Lawn to the inner collections not generally open to public tours, sort of like an open house to demystify the work Bishop Museum does behind the scenes.
"Or a one-stop shop of science-outreach programs," said Shanahan, resting between tours. "We're in the foreground of both science work and education, and we're just showing what Bishop Museum does. Just in the natural history collections, there are millions of items."
Events will include 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. talks in the planetarium about global warming by biodiesel expert Kyle Datta, in additional to the usual astronomy show. There's also a permanent exhibit on global warming in the museum -- maybe some government officials should attend -- and participants on the Great Lawn will include the Hawaii Water Environment Association, Pacific Biodiesel, the Hawaiian Astronomical Society and the O'ahu Invasive Species Committee.
The current exhibitions in the museum proper are "Lost Maritime Cultures: China and the Pacific" and "Pauahi: A Legacy for Hawai'i."
And that's the fun stuff. There's real work being accomplished at Bishop Museum, including:
» The museum's Pacific Center for Molecular Biology is sequencing the DNA of Hawaiian fishes and working toward a worldwide "Barcode of Life."
» The museum's insect collection -- 14 million specimens! -- is the third largest in the United States and fifth largest in the world.
» And what about those museum zoologists who, in the last four years, have discovered more than a hundred new species of frogs, lizards, and snakes from Papua New Guinea?
» Or Dr. Jack Randall, museum fish whiz, who, in more than 50 years of labor, has cataloged more species of reef and shore fishes than anyone else, ever!
» The Hawaii Biological Survey, created by the museum, is the only complete checklist of plants and animals of any state in the Union -- 25,615 species.
» And let's not forget that Bishop Museum experts and scientists are on call to aid state-appointed task forces and commissions.
IN 1993, Bishop Museum became the first major museum in the United States to be connected to the Internet. The technology of teaching has come long way since these dawning days of '93. Now everybody surfs the Web, and occasionally learns a little science on the way.
Which brings us back to Shanahan and "Science on a Sphere." As a teaching tool, it's almost magic, a 40-pound sphere of carbon fiber floating in the midst of a darkened atrium. At the touch of a button -- no kidding, Shanahan uses a remote control less complicated than those provided by Oceanic Time Warner Cable -- the surfaces of Earth or of any planet in the solar system (except for Pluto and half of Mercury) appear glowing on the sphere. And not just the Earth, but three-dimensional maps and current -- as in the previous night's -- satellite weather photos.
"It was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA," said Shanahan. "There were originally only four being awarded, and we applied for and got the grant. Now I think there are a half-dozen in museums in the country."
The 68-inch ball went up in November. It's not the ball itself that does the magic, however, but "four industrial-grade digital projectors arranged at equidistant points," said Shanahan. It's actually sort of an inside-out planetarium: Instead of being projected on the interior of a dome, the images are projected on the surface of a sphere. Shanahan praised the museum's techs who tweaked the projections until they're nearly seamless.
One trick is that the sphere often appears to be rotating, but it's actually motionless. It's the projections working in unison, controlled by a computer.
"The sphere came in pieces and we had to glue it together and sand it and paint it, like a model kit," said Shanahan. "Plus we had to install a specialized guardrail -- which some kids think are monkey bars -- and raise the ceiling a little. Everything else is electronics."
So does everyone seem to like it?
"Well, you never know with our audiences. It ranges from 2-year-olds to Ph.D.s. The kids just accept it as the usual magic you see in a museum!"