Black holes suck in visitors at the Peabody

Black holes are the new source of attraction at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

An exhibit, called “Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists,” was opened to visitors Friday night. About 40 students, professors and museum affiliates attended the opening for the exhibit thathas been developed over three years. While the black hole exhibit will be a new source of education for school groups around New Haven, it will also be relevant for some students at Yale, professors said.

Marla Geha, a professor in Yale’s astronomy department, said she will require her students in “Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics,” Astronomy 160,to go to the exhibit as part of an assignment.

“The assignment will combine students learning about black holes, as well as asking them to think critically about science education and how the material was presented to the public,” Geha said in an email.

The exhibit was developed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a combined research effort by the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory located in Cambridge,with funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation and premiered in 2009.

Mary Dussault, the project director for the exhibit, said she was excited for Yale to be the exhibit’s fourth venue because of the University’s strength in black hole research.

“Yale is now one of the great centers for black hole research” Yale astronomy professor Meg Urry said in a brief address during the reception.

The exhibit mirrors deep space with a black floor, black ceiling and black walls.

The exhibit is also interactive, featuring a touch-screen computer station near the beginning of the exhibit where visitors can create their own “Black Hole Explorer’s Card.” Visitors can use their ‘explorer’s cards’ to activate the various stations, while a computer system records data and generates a personal website for the user. Visitors can access their websites by using the pin numbers given on their explorer’s cards once they get home.

“From an educator’s perspective, [the website] is a brilliant maneuver to follow up on the educational experience that takes place in the museum,” said David Heiser, the Peabody’s head of education and outreach.

Jane Pickering, deputy director of Peabody Museum, said that Black Holes is the most interactive exhibit the museum has had so far.

Pickering, who is also in charge of selecting and scheduling exhibits, said the museum’s goal is to provide a variety of exhibits. In doing so, she said she hopes the museum experience will remain fresh and encourage people to continue visiting.

All six visitors interviewed said they enjoyed the exhibit.

“I think that the exhibit is outstanding,” said David Spinner, a Woodbridge, Conn. resident and prospective Peabody tour guide.

Spinner praised the exhibit for giving visitors the opportunity to learn science through experience, rather than book work.

“It makes going to the museum fun,” Adele Plunkett GRD ’15, a graduate student in astronomy, said.

The Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists exhibit will run until May 1, 2011.

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