Feature Exciting Science

FEATURE

Exciting Science!
A sneak peek of the much awaited
Mind Museum

by Ashley Aquino

The people of the ancient world believed that our earth and all of life, including human life, had a beginning. In a time before modern science, they sat around bonfires and told each other strange stories of silver foxes and desert coyotes singing our planet into existence, of divine beings whose ritual sacrifice gave rise to the changing seasons, of a man and a woman suddenly emerging from the hollow of a large bamboo.

Mind Museum 1

One culture, in particular, told the tale of the earth goddess Gaia springing forth from a great void called Chaos. Gaia birthed a line of immortal beings who found their home in the ancient mountain of Olympus. The most powerful of these deities was Zeus, the father of both gods and men. He begot nine daughters who became the Nine Muses, the guardians of the arts and sciences, and the inspiration of poets, musicians and philosophers. Sacred places were built to honor these Muses. Set apart from the rest of society, these buildings were filled with treasured artifacts like statues of thinkers and instruments for astronomy and surgery. Later, they would grow to include botanical and zoological gardens. The people called these special buildings “museums”.

Today, though most people have stopped believing in the gods of Greek antiquity, museums have evolved to become one of the world’s most important cultural, scientific and civic institutions. They are considered indispensible to societies who wish to preserve and promote crucial aspects of their culture, in part for posterity, but also to learn from them, to be inspired by them. Such societies understand that there is a deep connection that runs between the past and the future, between history and progress—a connection that deserves not only to be maintained, but constantly revisited. This is why it isn’t a coincidence that the best museums in the world are also located in the most progressive cities—the Louvre in Paris, the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Miraikan in Tokyo.

This is also why, on March 16, 2012, in a bold gesture of hope and commitment to the future, Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig will debut what they claim to be the first world-class science museum in the Philippines, The Mind Museum.

Boldly Going

The Mind Museum was created with the vision of becoming“the country’s center for the public understanding of science.” Sitting on a vast 12,500 sqm property along 3rd Avenue in BGC, the museum certainly has more than enough floor space to match its wordly ambition. Aside from housing five large exhibit halls, it’s big enough to accommodate state-of-the-art facilities such as conference rooms, reception halls, outdoor parks, a science laboratory, and even a 200-seat theater.

The project was the brainchild of the Bonifacio Art Foundation, Inc. (BAFI), a non-stock, non-profit organization established 16 years ago. In 2006, BAFI’s Board of Trustees, composed of individuals from Ayala Land, the Campos Group of Companies, Bases Conversion Development Corporation, and a representative from the property owners of BGC, decided that it was time “to have the arts and the sciences make up the soul” of their growing city, and perhaps of the country. Since BGC already had a program geared towards the arts, one which included an outdoor collection of public modern art pieces called “Artwalk” and a school for the arts located at 26th Street called “Arts in the City”, the idea of putting up a Science museum became their main focus.

“We’re inquisitive people by nature,” claims Joselito Campos Jr., chair of the Foundation’s board. “We’re curious and hungry for knowledge, known the world over as fast learners and hard workers. But we’re also struggling to keep up with the world. What we need to recognize is that science and technology are the keys to our renaissance as a people, as a society.”

Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Vice Chair of the board, is also of the same mind—

“If our country is to aspire for world-class infrastructure, we must start with the basic building-blocks. And I would think that a critical part of that would be to develop a stronger bias for the sciences and encouraging our youth to be inquisitive and creative. The Mind Museum is a fundamental step towards this, and [it is] a venue for the great stories of the sciences and technology to be told.”

Exploring the Museum

It is precisely this spirit of curiosity that The Mind Museum takes its inspiration from. Once it is opened to the public, visitors of the museum will be able to enjoy the breathtaking and ever-unfolding tale of science by walking through the different indoor atriums, spread over two levels and featuring over 250 fun “hands-on” and “minds-on” exhibits: Enter through the Mariano K. Tan Hall, a naturally-lit open space that serves as the museum’s lobby.

Here you will find friendly staff who are only too eager to provide assistance and entertain your questions. After getting your tickets, you may then proceed to the Introductory Hall where a friendly robot created by the Kokoro Company of Japan will introduce you to the Mind Museum and brief you on the many possible ways to explore the story of science that lies within. But first, to whet your curiosity, you will also get to walk through the Ten Most Beautiful Experiments area, another open space, which features audio-visual presentations of how Sir Isaac Newton discovered white light, how Henry Cavendish calculated for the weight of the world, and other exciting experiments in science.

Of course, all these exhilarating features would not have been possible without the dedicated team that first brought the idea of the Mind Museum to life. During the planning stage, BAFI enlisted the help of private organizations and individuals interested in their cause. Like all ambitious ventures, it proved to be a formidable undertaking, one that required tapping resources from the different sectors of society. Fortunately, many of those who heard of the project were enthused by BAFI’s vision, and there was no shortage of parties willing to lend a hand.

Believe it or not, students from UST, UP and Ateneo have helped in the design and fabrication of several of the Mind Museum’s exhibits, 95 percent of which are originally designed and fabricated locally. Other students from various schools and grade levels around Metro Manila also served as interns during the research stage of the project. During two test runs held in May and September of last year, these students provided feedback to ensure that the exhibits were both educational and enthralling for young audiences.

Another enthusiastic collaborator in the project is the museum’s Exhibit Advisory Council, which is composed of several prominent local scientists: Dr. Joey Balmaceda and Dr. Cesar Saloma of UP Diliman; Dr. Jerrold Garcia and Dr. Emma Concepcion Liwag of Ateneo de Manila University; and Dr. Joven Cuanang of St. Luke’s Medical Center. At the conceptualization stage, the council collaborated with The Mind Museum to validate the science story that the museum wanted to tell. During the early construction stage and throughout the rest of the preparation phase, some of the council members, along with scientists from other institutions, also actively participated in vetting the science of the interactive exhibits.

Mind Museum 2Architect Ed Calma of Lor Calma & Partners was also another fundamental partner in the making of The Mind Museum. He and his team of architects were commissioned by the board to design the museum building. Drawn by the project’s vision of integrating art and science, Calma took great pains in coming up with a concept that’s not just aesthetically appropriate but one that is also highly functional. His blueprint for the structure called for an organic design patterned after cellular and molecular structures, and includes environment-friendly and energy-saving features such as a bowed roof for more efficient rain collection, and slanted exterior walls that prevent too much sunlight from streaming in and strategic positioning to utilize the shadows of adjacent buildings—two features designed to cut down on cooling costs.

Learning the Museum

Still, the heart and soul of The Mind Museum is its five main galleries that also serve as the five major “chapters” of its overarching narrative of science—The Story of the Universe, The Story of the Earth, The Story of Life, The Story of the Atom, and The Story of Technology. In each of these galleries, guests can interact with exhibits that encourage an experiential understanding of scientific principles. Conceptualized and built by a team of local scientists, artists, engineers and craftsmen, these interactive exhibits are not just educational, they are also—and just as importantly—fun.

What makes the Mind Museum special is that it is one of the few places in the country that provides Filipinos, especially young students, with an environment which stimulates them to get up close and personal with science, considered by some as abstract, esoteric, and better left inside the lab or the classroom. In the Mind Museum, children are actually free to roam around and explore the many spacious galleries without fear. They’re invited to engage with the exhibits, to touch them and play with them, in the hope that, subsequently, they’ll learn from them. At the same time, they’re also being guided by the very structure and design of the building, which is intended to take guests along a journey—an epic tale of how everything came to be.

In the end, it is this playfulness, coupled with the museum’s overarching emphasis on teaching through storytelling, which allows guests of the Mind Museum to have an intimate understanding of science while also gaining a macroscopic understanding of the whole of it—the big picture of how science developed, and is continuing to develop, and how it, in turn, is helping to shape our world…and beyond.

 

Photos by Mind Museum