There’s something nice about taking a day off of work in the middle of the week, which I did recently. I didn’t want all of us to just sit around, so we talked about what we wanted to do. One of our staff members wanted to go to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ready, set, go – we picked up a staff member’s friend, and were on our way!
Driving into the city was a bit of a challenge, especially since they’re getting ready for a concert, and also for the papal visit. Some roads were blocked off, which made both navigating and parking more difficult. It was offset by it being a weekday, though. The buildings in that area are very ornate. Another interesting thing in that area is the flag display. On every street light, they have a flag for a different country, and the country’s name on a sign under each one. They’re in alphabetical order. We enjoyed looking at them, and naming the countries out loud while we tried to find a place to park. After driving around in circles for quite some time, we were lucky enough to find a spot right on the corner, next to the Franklin Institute!
It’s in a big, beautiful old building. There is a separate entrance for strollers and wheelchairs, which I think is a wonderful idea. There is a huge metal airplane statue in front of the building, next to the special entrance. If you pass that entrance, you can climb the many stairs up to the main entrance. Inside the lobby, there are some flags, high ceilings, and a huge statue of Benjamin Franklin. Of course, we started taking pictures even before we got out of the car! We took some on the stairs, and next to the statue.
After we paid for admission, we headed to a doorway with mist coming down. On the other side was an area that had information about weather. There is a booth where you can simulate doing a weather report, then watch yourself on instant replay. On the wall in one spot is a carbon footprint map of the United States.
Through the next doorway was the Electricity exhibit. Some of the things they have there are floor tiles that light up when you dance on them, several things that cause static electricity when you touch them, and places where you can complete a circuit with your hands to light up a bulb! There is one wall that lights up when you use your cell phone. We purposely texted and called each other just to see all of the red lights. Another display allows you to put your arms inside and when you wiggle your fingers, it shows how much electricity you can generate. One place has buttons you can push and it will show you on the wall display which nerves are used for different activities.
Beyond there is the Heart Display. The most noticeable thing when you walk into the room is the giant heart model that you can actually walk through. It goes from the floor almost to the ceiling – at least 15 feet tall. There are several benches in that room. They look like bones, with the middle cut to show the ‘blood vessel’ running through.
There are representations of hearts of various animals to show the difference in size. There is a set-up of a simulated heart surgery that has several enclosed displays of the instruments that are used for a ‘typical’ open heart surgery. One kind of amusing thing is the skeleton on the elliptical machine nearby. There is also an area that has exercise bikes that power a TV.
Sometimes, they have someone there showing different real plasticized hearts. One is from a horse, one from a dolphin, and one from a sheep. There is a tiny one in a jar, and the woman (named Cynthia) who works there asked if anyone knew where that tiny heart came from. Staff member Joseph answered, “The Grinch”, which made me laugh! There were several guesses, but I guessed correctly. I won’t give away the answer, though!
There are scheduled mini-events during the day. We were there when they had a heart dissection. The man who did the demonstration dissected a sheep heart and pointed out the ventricles, arteries, veins, and other parts.
At one station, they have an age progression program. It takes your picture, and then shows what you might look like at different ages. You can even email it to yourself, or someone else.
There’s a place to move gravel in a small tank to learn about the structural effects of water on land. One of our staff members, Christina, used our Rokpak as a sort of ramp to redirect the water. It’s still waterproof!
There is a display on the wall showing the movement of tectonic plates in the past and in the future. There are also samples of different types of rocks. An earthquake tunnel activates when someone crawls through it. Next to it is a place to build a model of a house to see if it would survive an earthquake.
The next place focused on the brain. You walk into a dark room with a squishy floor and spots on the floor that light up. All around are nets to climb on, symbolizing neurons, with clear bases you can look through. There are interesting sounds and light and color patterns.
If you go through to the other side, there is a display of a brain and nerves, and one of a real neuron. Of course, there are many displays and activity centers. One that I really enjoyed was a wall that showed a picture of a person’s nervous system that appeared to mimic your movements. Another was about the fusiform face area of the brain. It’s interesting to read about how our brains interpret faces from everyday objects.
There are amazing areas that show how our brains perceive things, sometimes incorrectly. Optical illusions can really capture your attention! Of course, trying to describe them is quite challenging, since you really need to see them for the full effect. For example, hearing about a room that makes it look like someone is standing and leaning at a more or less impossible angle isn’t anything like actually seeing it. You can even partner up with someone to find out if you can figure out when they’re lying, by asking them some simple scripted questions and watching them answer.
We spent some time before we left looking through the gift shop. There are some interesting things such as Slinkys, magnetic hourglasses, plasma balls, Newton balls, pin art, Venus fly trap plants, mini space suits for kids, geodes, and my favorite – freeze dried ice cream and other astronaut food!
The people who work at the Franklin Institute are all very pleasant and helpful, which makes visiting there an even better experience. It would be very difficult to fully explore everything the Franklin Institute has to offer in just one day. We were able to really pack a lot into the 4 – 5 hours we spent there, but I doubt we saw even half of it. The fortunate thing is that a membership generally costs less than visiting there just two times. I think it would be fun to try riding the Skybike, and making sure to catch some of the things we missed this time. There are always special displays that are there on a limited basis. While we were there recently they had what they called The Art of the Brick (incredible Lego displays), as well as a section about Genghis Khan, but we didn’t get the chance to see either of those, other than the surprisingly detailed Lego building in the lobby area. Back in 2006, we were able to go there to see Body Worlds, which was really an amazing and unforgettable experience. A similar special display called Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out is coming to the Franklin Institute in just a few weeks (October 4, 2015 through April 12, 2016).
I can’t really do it justice in an article. The only way to truly appreciate the Franklin Institute is to go there.