Exploring the World of Makers, Artists, and Inventors
(October 8 and 10, 2013)
Last week the Talking Stick Tuesday and Thursday 10-15 year old homeschool program went on a field trip. The weather was perfect, and after a short walk to the train station, we were on our way. Due to the careful planning of Paige, we fit so much into our day. Our first stop was to the American Philosophical Society Museum (APS).
Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, the APS has been dedicated to "promoting useful knowledge." It was in essence a maker space of the 18th century, a place where inventors, science explorers, naturalists, and artists could gather and share information. Franklin would be pleased to know that 270 years later it is still serving its mission.
We went to see Through the Looking Lens, an exhibit of the works of Cornelius Varley. Although Varley was never a member of the APS, he exemplified their principles of natural philosophy. He studied the natural world and recorded what he saw in a way that married the delicate touch of an artist with the veracity of a scientist.
Varley is primarily known as an artist, but accuracy was important to him, and he accomplished most of his work with the help of his scientific inventions, including the Patent Graphic Telescope (pictured above) which allowed him to achieve precision in his art work.
Using the same principles, he created the graphic microscope which allowed him to magnify his specimens 1000 times while they were suspended in glass vials instead of being pressed flat between slides. This allowed him to see them in their three-dimensional shape and draw them more fluidly.
His algae watercolors are aptly described by APS as "aesthetically beautiful and scientifically informative."
Using a replica of his patent graphic telescope we tried our hand at drawing a likeness of Varley by focusing the telescope on a picture of him that was suspended from the ceiling.
Taking advantage of the wonderful weather, we picnicked outside Independence Hall, noticing that the doors were locked due to the government shutdown, a situation we have been discussing in the Thursday Global Studies program.
After hanging out with Commodore John Barry, we heading to the Curtis Building to see The Dream Garden, a 49 foot mural designed by Maxfield Parrish and created by Tiffany Studios, completed in 1915.
The Chemical Heritage Building was our next stop. We could have spent all day there. Actually, I think we could have spent a week there! I can't wait to go back. There was so much information to absorb. The two-story tall digital periodic table was a big hit.
For a tablet version of this, you can go to periodictable.com and do some exploring.
We meandered around the museum, learning about how bakelite was made in a "Bakelizer"(looks and sounds like something Dr. Doofenshmirtz would invent).
We learned about the invention of nylon and how the chemist "juggled the atoms" to create GoreTex.
Through a temporary exhibit by artist Vaughn Bell we experienced first hand what it feels like to be a worm in the garden by putting our heads inside the eye-level green houses.
Artist and environmentalist, Stacy Levy created a calendar wall of 365 glass bottles to mark the daily rainfall at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
Every 24 hours a new bottle is opened in the courtyard and attached to a funnel to collect the possible rain from the day, and then it is added back to the collection.
I barely touched on the many exhibits we were able to see, and we had to force ourselves to head out to catch the train back to Awbury. Our trip was fantastic.
On Thursday I had so many possible activities to follow up on from our wonderful field trip. I was inspired by Cornelius Varley's interpretation of Bernoulli's Principle showing cork balls suspended in a stream of water.
I wanted to make our own experiment to demonstrate Bernoulli's Principle. In our version we used a hair dryer and a ping pong ball. The ping pong ball floated in the air stream created by the hair dryer and remained suspended even when the air stream was significantly tilted. Although far less artistic than Varley's example, ours worked well.
At the Cope House at Awbury Arboretum, the large windows with wooden pocket shutters provided the perfect dark conditions to demonstrate how a lens (in our case a magnifying glass) can cause an image (an illuminated IPhone) to be projected onto the wall upside down.
The picture explanation above is from Wikipedia. Awbury's dark room had a missing brass pull on one of the windows which gave us our open pinhole lens and we took full advantage of the situation and turned the room into a camera obscura.
The camera obscura held our interest for the rest of our Maker time. Camera is Latin for "room" and obscura is Latin for "dark." My job was done as soon as I created the space. The ingenuity and natural curiosity of the young people took over for the rest of the time. At first it was just hysterical to sit in a pitch black room with our friends and the volume was deafening. As our eyes became adjusted to the darkness (the younger you are, the quicker this happens) we could see the trees, the driveway and the grass and as soon as they thought up the idea, a slew of performers. They took turns leaving the room to perform some wildly animated maneuver for the group that stayed "in the camera."
Each time the door was open they had to wait for their eyes to readjust before they could see the wall images again so they quickly devised a system--knock, count to three and hide your eyes--before opening the door. The performances kept getting more and more intricate as the afternoon went on.
A chorus kick line, a rain dance. Could you perform something upside down so that inside the camera you were right side up? An idea would arise and a new group would run out the door to try it. We got a large sheet of paper and moved it back and forth near the pinhole inside the camera to see what spot was the most in focus. We played around with different size pinholes. The outside performers wrote notes upside down and backwards to see if the inside group could read them.
What do the young people at Talking Stick have in common with pirates?
Pirate photo from here.
Did you see them holding their eyes in some of the photos?
Thanks to A. we learned why pirates wear eye patches. Pirates are not unnecessarily hard on eyes when they fight which is what I always thought. In order to quickly take over a ship they need to be able to fight (and see) on deck and below deck where it is always dark. If they wear the patches they do not have to wait for their eyes to adjust when they go below. The eye under the patch will always be ready for the dark. Our group proved the way of the pirate to be a success. After performing they could go back into the room and see in the dark with their "patched" eye. Clever pirates. Clever young people. Another wonderful Maker day.
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