Observing the Art in Science

A week ago I went to the Griffith Park observatory for the first time. And while I visited the center for another class, I saw aspects of this class too in what I saw and I have decided to talk a bit about the overlap. I went to the observatory for my Evolution of the Cosmos seminar. That part makes sense. A class about the stars and the universe so you take a trip to a museum dedicated to science and astronomy. But I believe that the Griffith Park Observatory best embodies the successful merger between science and art. The museum had different rooms dedicated to different aspects of discoveries in the field of science. You entered a room about the sun and elements. In that room they have a model of the periodic table. What makes it so spectacular though is that the periodic table actually has the elements in the spaces. It sets the tone for what the museum is known for: taking ordinary science discoveries and adding a creative spin to them to make them more visually pleasing and engaging. On one of the walls there is a model of the different known stars in the universe to scale. How demoralizing is it to see that the massive ball of gas that we call our sun is the size of a ping pong ball in comparison to other stars in the universe?


(Photo Credit: http://imgarcade.com/1/griffith-observatory-inside/ )


(Photo Credit: http://whatido.com/posts/griffith-observatory-at-sunset )

 After the room with the sun and the elements you walk down a hallway with exhibits on the revolution of objects in our solar system. On each side of the hallway there are individual booths with models of the revolution of the moon and the planets as they orbit. And amazing as those are it’s what’s at the end of the hallway that best grabs your attention. A giant Foucault pendulum. And for those of you who aren’t sure what that is, it’s a giant ball hanging from a string and it swinging back and forth. At the bottom there are a row of dominos. As the pendulum swings the earth rotates underneath and eventually the ball will knock down the pendulum. You know the observatory is doing something right when a giant crowd of people are standing around just staring at a metal ball swing back and forth, mesmerized.


(Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/puck90/5133091732/ )

On the other side of the Foucault pendulum there is a replica of Tesla’s coil. It isn’t turned on all the time, just during certain shows. They have one of the curators come and give a presentation of the history of the invention. From the way people got so excited listening you would have thought you were at an amusement park or concert of some kind. And then finally they turned it on. And it looks like a scene from the movie Frankenstien.


(Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martin97uk/8646009740/)

All this and you’ve only walked 15 feet into the observatory. I’m not usually the type that gets really excited about museums but the fact that they managed to make it both interactive and educational is something that I can respective. Like DIYBio, the Griffith Observatory is trying to make science accessible and attractive to all age groups. When I went to the observatory it was raining so I had expected the area to be abandoned. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the weather had not held anyone back and that there was more than enough people packed in the building. The exhibits inside take average scientific phenomena that we read in our textbooks and makes them new and exciting. Stepping inside that building let you learn everything you knew over again. And I only mentioned a few of their exhibits. They also had stations that told you your weight on all the planets, a replica of Jupiter so that you could see the swirling lava hot gases that the planet is composed of, a telescope that holds the record for being looked at by more people than any other telescope in the world, and a chamber that lets you see the cosmic rays moving around you now. And that’s just what I can name off the top of my head.


(Photo Credit:: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Griffith_Observatory,_Los_Angeles_(5895986083).jpg )

Did I also mention the incredible view??

(Photo Credit: ME!!)