Friday, December 19, 2014

The Franklin Institute gains a brain

Everybody knows and loves the Franklin Institute for its Giant Heart - a fun-house style, walk-through learning experience. Yesterday, we got a peak at Franklin's Brain - a state-of-the-art multi-media exploration of our most complex body part - that will be luring in crowds and sparking imaginations come the Summer of 2014.

The Franklin Institute gains a brain

Everybody knows and loves the Franklin Institute Science Museum for its Giant Heart - a fun-house style, walk-through learning experience. Yesterday, we got a sneek peek at Franklin's Brain - a state-of-the-art multi-media exploration of our most complex body part - that will be luring in crowds and sparking imaginations come the Summer of 2014.

Intended to de-mystify some of the complexities of human biology, the exhibit will be formally called Your Brain  and is the center piece of a spiffy new  53,000 square foot extension on the south side of the Franklin Institute, formally announced with a ground breaking and comments in the museum's  rotunda under the granite gaze of Ben Franklin.

 Also boasting a large space for traveling exhibits, a high tech educational center and the latest/greatest in "green" building design (instructive unto itself), the Franklin's new pride-and-joy is to be named the Nicholas & Athena Karabots Pavilion after its most generous ($10 million) and education-minded of funders.

 Meet The Makers: The Fort Washington-based Karabots  are also behind a science-ed pilot program at the Philadelphia College of Physicians that's having great results. After two and a half years, the after-school project has so-engaged its' 24 Philly high school participants that "all will be going on to higher education programs in the medical field," shared Nicholas Karabots.

A South Bronx-er, originally, Karabots himself "couldn't afford college" but got boosts up from others, including Philadelphia media magnate Walter Annenberg, who gave N.K. the job to print TV Guide. "Growing up in a tough neighborhood I experienced, first hand, the difference that others can make in your future  - literally life and death,"  Karabots related. "That's why we're doing this now." Yeah, there'll be a lot of heart in our new brain, too. 

The Testing Zone: Behind doors unmarked and handle-less (so F.I. guests don't accidentally saunter in), Gizmo Guy got a first sneak peak at some high tech exhibits being developed for Your Brain. Visitors will be able to put hands on (no surgical gloves required) a model to turn off brain sectors and see how that alters our senses (visualized on a  companion screen.) Another interactive opportunity has you use a touch screen to move and properly link the individual cells called neurons into the brain's complex communications network.

There will be a physical challenge, too, a-la the Giant Heart, for kids to climb into the brain (you become the signaling neurons), as well as a most intriguing, walk-through foreign Street Scene. The latter will demonstrate by example how the "science in our head"  copes with sensory overload and eventually turns the seemingly unfathomable into stuff that's understandable, explained senior exhibit developer Jayatri Das.

About 50 exhibit modules are currently being worked on for Your Brain, from which the 30 best will be selected, said prototype developer Eric Welch. But unlike the Giant Heart exhibit  -  updated just once in 2004 on the occasion of its 50th anniversary - Your Brain will be a work in progress, as is everyone's.

"Most of what we know about the brain has only been discovered in the last 15 or 20 years," said Das. " A lot of this most brilliant device is still a black box." 

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