Turkey and technology collide at Great Lakes Science Center’s ‘Turkey Tech’

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald and The Morning Journal

Great Lakes Science Center

The Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland is shown in July 2009. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

When you think about Thanksgiving, science and technology might not be the first things that spring to mind.

Sure, there’s the chemistry of starch behind the family recipe for gravy. And in the last four hundred years since the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621, kitchen gadgetry has come a long way. But, robots, 3-D printing and vacuum chambers aren’t the images that are typically conjured when turkey day draws near.

This year, the Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave. in Cleveland, aims to change those perceptions with Turkey Tech, a holiday-themed event Nov. 27-29 “where turkey and technology collide.” Regular admission to the Science Center gives access to the planned activities and presentations, with additional registration required for a couple of the items due to limitations on space and participation.

With the potential for chilly outside temperatures and the long weekend many look forward to from school or work, Science Center Communications Director Joe Yachanin explained that the event programming sought to give families a fun option for how to spend the holiday time.

There’s a bit of Thanksgiving-themed stuff developed just for the event, plus a holiday theme to several mainstays like the Big Science Show, he said.

“We thought, what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with the people in your family than coming downtown and visiting the Great Lakes Science Center,” said Yachanin. “We’re always looking for things to do that can engage multiple generations.”

On top of all of that, Yachanin said, the timing worked out for the debut of National Geographic’s “Robots 3-D” film in the OMNIMAX theater on Nov. 27, showcasing the latest successes and failures in robotics research.

“It’s a tour of robotics labs around the world, so that people can see what sorts of advancements are being made in the world of robotics,” Yachanin said.

RoboThespian, a humanoid robot actor designed to interact with humans in a public setting, acts as the film’s narrator. Viewers will be introduced to several high-profile robotics projects like CHIMP, ATLAS, Herb the Butler and more.

For more robotics, VEX Robotics exhibitions are scheduled all day for all three days. Builders will be demonstrating how to design and build robots with the VEX Robotics Design System, a platform geared towards students.

One of the more intriguing Turkey Tech exhibitions, which will run all day throughout the weekend, is the vacuum chamber floor demonstration. Attendees can see what happens when different Thanksgiving side dishes are put into the chamber to have the air sucked out of them completely and then put back in.

“It works really neat with whipped cream on top of pumpkin pie — to see the whipped cream expand and contract right before your eyes,” Yachanin said. “It works really well because there’s a lot of air in the whipped cream. It’s really neat to watch the food literally change size right before your eyes.

“And the education person doing that demonstration can of course explain the science behind how changing the air pressure affects the food.”

Both the Maker Workshop and Family Turkey Launch Tournament are free with regular admission, but require additional registration due to space and material limitations. The Science Center is asking for a donation of canned food for this event as well.

In the Maker Workshop, scheduled for Nov. 27 at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., participants will get an introduction to 3-D printing and make their own cookie cutters.

The turkey launch, scheduled for Nov. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., challenges teams to construct a catapult using a basket of household objects provided. The catapult will then be used to launch plastic turkeys, with the winner being the team able to propel their turkey the closest to landing in a pot, with a bullseye for getting it to land inside.

“The closer you get, the more points it will be worth,” Yachanin said. “It’ll be tournament style, and the top teams will go home with a turkey trophy.”

Visitors who have been to the Science Center before may not recall seeing any bowling lanes on the premises. Nevertheless, Turkey Bowling is scheduled Nov. 27-28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Nov. 29 1-4 p.m. Set up in open exhibit space, participants will get to make and decorate their own head pins and then hit the boards for a chance to roll their own turkeys, or three strikes in a row — a term that originated when bowling tournaments handed out grocery items (like turkeys), eventually becoming part of the vernacular.

A staple of the Science Center, the Big Science Show will have a few surprises in store for anyone who’s seen it before. Turkey Tech-themed elements were integrated into the show, scheduled to run on Nov. 27 at 2 p.m., Nov. 28 at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. and Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m.

“One of the new demonstrations is an explanation of why Thanksgiving Day parade balloons are full of helium instead of hydrogen,” Yachanin said. “And another one we’re doing is called the Tesla Turkey. We’re going to be conducting electricity through a turkey on a giant Tesla coil.”

For parents looking to take advantage of Black Friday shopping, the center is also offering a one day camp-like program called “Parent’s Day Out” on Nov. 27 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. By registering in advance, children ages 6-13 can be dropped off at GLSC for a day of supervised scientific fun with hands-on activities, a pizza lunch, an OMNIMAX film, the Big Science Show and more. The cost per child is $30 for nonmembers and $25 for members.

Like the Spooktacular Science Day in October, Turkey Tech continues a programming schedule of holiday-themed events. Coming up, GLSC plans a whole week of wintry/cold themed activities for Winter Week, Dec. 26-Jan. 2.

“Lots of kids are home from school, on winter break,” Yachanin said.

“We’re trying to put in a bit of added incentive with fun, wintry-themed activities. We’ll probably do some fun stuff with liquid nitrogen that week.”

Events like carpet skating will take place, with plans to run a snow machine inside GLSC to complete the wintry atmosphere for visitors.

“We basically just want people to make family memories,” Yachanin said.

“Come down and have a little fun with science. Hopefully we’re going to make it engaging and expose people to some level of creativity that they don’t normally associate with science.”

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