Museum boldly goes into the space between science and fiction
Monday 18 September 2000
The fusion of fact and fiction is at the centre of an exhibition at the Science Museum in London that aims to popularise concepts of mathematics, biology and, above all, physics, with props and characters from
Star Trek used to explain subjects such as rocket propulsion and space exploration.
The fusion of fact and fiction is at the centre of an exhibition at the Science Museum in London that aims to popularise concepts of mathematics, biology and, above all, physics, with props and characters from Star Trek used to explain subjects such as rocket propulsion and space exploration.
The exhibition recreates areas of the USS Enterprise - the bridge, the transporter room, the sick bay - with interactive exhibits arranged around them, which allow complex aspects of science to be explored by visitors.
The displays, designed with children in mind, deal with topics including the creation of simulated matter (as used to power the Starship Enterprise), controlling an electron beam, detecting cosmic rays and using magnetic force.
Props from the Star Trek series and films are compared in exhibits with real technological developments such as Biojector, a device using compressed carbon dioxide to penetrate the skin to inject medicine without damage to human tissue.
Trekkies talk with pride about the insistence of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, on sound science and point out that sliding doors, computer disks and portable communicator devices all appeared in Star Trek before being made commercially.
A popular exhibit uses the transporter room, associated with the Star Trek catchphrase: "Beam me up, Scottie", to explore the blue-screen technology of virtual reality, while another uses thermal imaging to map heat spots in the bodies of visitors.
The exhibition was first created by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in the United States, in 1992. It has even been at the Science Museum before, five years ago. Consequently, some exhibits are starting to show their age and several have already broken, even though the show has been open to the public for just three days. Many information displays carry references to the 20th century, which grates with many now that we have entered the 21st.
Perhaps the bigger question is how far the collaboration of science and fiction should be taken, especially as the show was devised in conjunction with Paramount Pictures, makers of the Star Trek feature films, which is no doubt benefiting from the publicity. The museum is also doing a brisk trade in Star Trek merchandise outside the exhibition hall.
Entry to the exhibition plus the museum costs an adult £12. Entry for children, who can visit the museum free, is £5.75. Several visitors said they found the entrance fee too high. Philip Toop, 43, an equities trader from north London, visiting with his son, Simon, nine, said: "We are very disappointed by the exhibition. It seems to me not really about Star Trek as such. It is a vehicle for the museum to place its other exhibits in a Star Trek format ... and a device to raise money for the museum."
Graham Cranfield, 55, visiting with his son, Stephen, 20, said: "One or two exhibits were not actually functioning ... I think it is a little bit expensive."
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