The Museum of Science and Industry

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on August 8, 2012.  You can view it on the newspaper’s website by clicking here.  Attention Homeschoolers: You might find useful information for your home education program on this museum’s website!

Since my family and I made a trip to Chicago to help celebrate my in-laws 50th anniversary, we thought we might as well stay awhile and take advantage this wonderful city.  Yesterday we went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  My husband had been there many years ago, but I’ve never been, and I think it’s now become my favorite place in Chicago.

I felt just as giddy as my children as we toured this museum, which, according to its website, is the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere.  It’s “home to more than 35,000 artifacts and nearly 14 acres of hands-on experiences designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity.”

Our first tour was of the “Silver Streak: Pioneer Zephyr.” This train was one of America’s first diesel-electric streamlined passenger trains.  In 1934, it was the fastest train in the world, traveling between Denver and Chicago in about 13 hours.  It cut the previous travel time (by steam engine) in half!  It was also the first train to ever have air conditioning or refrigeration.  For the first time, passengers could be served ice cream.

After the Silver Streak, we found the room with several airplanes suspended from the ceiling, a real steam engine, wagons from the old days, and a United Airlines 727 to tour.  But my boys spent most of their time at “The Great Train Story,” a model railroad with 30 trains running on 1,400 feet of track.  The trains wind their way from Chicago to Seattle and pass through the Midwest, Plains States, Rockies and Cascade Mountains.  The size and detail was stunning and according to the museum’s website, this railroad was the largest of its kind when it opened in 1941.

We enjoyed watching “Tornado Alley” at the Omimax Theatre where we followed scientists and photographers into the middle of a tornado.  It was my five-year-old’s choice to see the movie about the tornados, but I was relieved to hear him say afterward that he never wanted to chase tornadoes!

After the movie we went to what became my five-year-old’s highlight of the day: touring the U-505 Submarine, the actual German U-boat that the U.S. Navy captured on June 4, 1944.  He took the tour with this grandfather while the rest of us enjoyed the exhibits and memorial outside the vessel.

The story of the battle is quite remarkable, and you can read all of it on the Museum’s website.  What I found fascinating is how the nine-member boarding party saved the vessel from sinking or exploding.  They re-secured the cover to a sea strainer and yanked the wires to several scuttle charges, or time bombs, which the German crew had set before they abandoned the vessel.

Then there was the seemingly impossible task of towing the vessel to Bermuda.  On August 15, 1945, The Saturday Evening Post printed these words written by Captain Daniel Gallery: “…[Commander Earl Trosino] spent hours down in the bilges, crawling around in the oily water under the engines, tracing pipelines and closing valves to make the boat watertight…. Thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard of his own safety, we succeeded in saving the U-505.”

And thanks to Captain Gallery, who was a native of Chicago, and this Museum, the U-505 was preserved.  Its journey to the museum is another great story, but I’ll let you read about that on your own.

The Museum had so much more to explore.  We visited the Idea Factory, which was almost like a children’s museum for children 10 and younger, and we visited “YOU! the experience,” which was about the human body.  I was awed and had somewhat mixed emotions at their presentation of a developing fetus, from conception to full term, using real babies that for various reasons had never been born.

We only explored a small fraction of the museum.  If you are ever in Chicago, I highly recommend you stop by, but if you can’t travel there, please visit their website.  It is full of wonderful images, stories, a blog, podcast, and online activities.  It would be time well spent for children or adults who are interested in learning about science and industry.

Our Summer Vacation Part 2: Chicago’s Field Museum

On our recent trip to visit relatives in Chicago, we took advantage of being in the big city!  I loved the natural history museum, or the Field Museum.  I wrote a column about it for the Barrow Journal along with our adventure at the Brookfield Zoo, but I’ll post photos of the zoo later.  Click here to read the column and learn about this amazing museum.

I hope we can go back to the Field Museum someday.  Although my young children loved it, it’s a great place for adult learning, and when my boys are older and able to read, it would be an incredible field trip.

The main hall of the Field Museum.  In the foreground you can see “Sue,” the most complete T-Rex fossil in the world.

He liked pushing all the buttons.

This is only part of dinosaur hall.  The fossils were amazing.  I appreciate the Fernbank Museum that we have here in Atlanta, but it doesn’t have real dinosaur fossils to my knowledge.  And its exhibits pale in comparison.

A-hem.  I don’t think climbing was allowed….

If you are ever in the Chicago area, I highly recommend the Field Museum!