Sharks, Maggots, and Bats, Oh My: California Science Center Opens Environmental Exhibit


Paper Person from Earth Day '09 trash hovers over LA's eco-zone. Created by Kim Abeles. Photos by RCruger

Guide the bobcat home on a tilt game. See maggots recycle rot. Compare insulation of feathers vs. blubber. Be a barnacle and find food. These are a few of the many hands-on experiences at the 45,000-square-foot permanent $135 million wing of the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Ecosystems, the new expansion of the museum, boasts a 188,000-gallon kelp forest as one of eight eco-zones on display, from polar to desert. At a preview, I gazed at a large whirling globe project the carbon emissions in 70 years, as well as energy consumption, sea surface temperature, sea ice thickness, and rising sea levels around the world. Knowing the numbers is one thing, but watching it all unfold in time-lapse and 3D made it real. The eco-agenda at the impressive environments is compelling.

Entry to museum ecological exhibit sends "embedded" messages. Photos by RCruger

This new section of the museum opened this week and is free to the public. The intention is "to offer visitors the knowledge to become better stewards of the environment," said Jeffrey Rudolph the President and CEO. Each environment illustrates a different ecological principle and he believes if children (and adults) are informed and awed by nature they will get the "embedded" environmental messages. The museum hosted the "Cool Globes" show last year for Earth Day.


A leopard shark slinks through the kelp "rain forest of the sea."
Kelp Forest
A huge highlight, a transparent tunnel-like tank filled with kelp and lit by sunshine, is surrounded by informative displays like Help Kelp Grow, showing how it sustains biodiverse life. One kiosk shows where and why it needs restoration and another from Monterrey Bay Aquarium provides a fun, user-friendly video on sustainable fish to eat.


A map of sprawling Los Angeles County on the floor shows the Puente Hills landfill, SE of the city.
Extreme Zone
Traveling from the Rocky Shores to Deep Ocean Vents areas shows how animals adapt to severe conditions. There's a simulated tidal wave and a touch tank to reveal a tide pool, polar and desert areas.

Desert Eco-Zone
A monitor shows personal heat signatures as temps warm up in the replicated Sonoran Desert. A recreation of a flash flood demonstrates water issues while scorpions, centipedes and chuckwallas hang out among native plant life. Clues to evolution and how the species' isolation can lead to extinction are revealed in displays with a section devoted to bats.


Feathers win insulation test on glacial wall. Photo courtesy of California Science Center
Poles Zone
Temperatures chill in this room with a wall of ice. Mittens filled with fur, feathers and fleece illustrate how to combat severe climate. Though it touches on how scientific research is critical at the poles, more could be done in this space to inform guests about melting ice sheets and polar caps, the impact on animals, and the consequences.


Global Zone
Six feet in diameter, this large "Magic Planet" globe comes equipped with an internal projection system, dramatically showing energy and atmosphere circulation, currents and cycles over time.

River Zone has air blowers creating currents along a giant sequined wall. Dams are discussed, water tables and run-off waste. In the Island Zone, hands-on experiences show on how bird beaks illustrate the challenge of trying to catch food.


Maggots (the little white things) attack meat on a fake skeleton.

Rot Room
A time-lapse film shows the fascinating and repelling decomposition of a pumpkin, strawberries, rabbit, and rat. A fake dead creature is gobbled by flesh-eating beetles and bugs in an enactment of how nature recycles and creates new life.


LA Zone
An extensive room features pillars of plastic in a visual display of the average person's consumption. Interactive games manipulate smog sources, play with recycling bins, and show the impact of urbanization on wildlife. Change where water and garbage goes. The problems and solutions are covered, including CFLs, biodegradable products and plastic bag bans.


Recycle trash game gives points for separating metal, paper, glass, from landfill.
Human Habitat
Finally a cartoon version of a house and outdoor yard is a playful place for kids' activities, from gardening to composting for the nearly half a million field trips and 1.4 million visitors annually.

"Ecosystems" shows geophysical and biological processes on land and sea and the interconnectivity of living worlds. It's a great way to reach kids and parents with lessons in sustainability. By popular demand, a rain forest will be grown as part of the next phase outside the atrium of the ground floor. Bamboo is already growing. Though other science museums and also design museums have mounted environmental exhibits, surprisingly this is one of the only permanent displays -- and perhaps the most substantial.

More on green museum exhibits:
Green Science Museum Opens in San Francisco: Living, Blooming Design Has City in Awe
'Global Cooling' Exhibit Still on Display at the Smithsonian
The American Museum of Natural History Tackles Climate Change

Tags: Animals | Ecology | Exhibits | Global Warming Solutions | Los Angeles

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