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Best inventions exhibit at Discovery Place omits bikini, Post-Its

By Mark Washburn
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/31/17/02/4S7NC.Em.138.jpeg|316
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Video and sound surround visitors in one of the galleries at “101 Inventions That Changed the World” at Discovery Place.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/31/17/02/cduNE.Em.138.jpeg|172
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Caemron Ausman, 8, came to work with her mother Mary Beth Ausman Thursday. the pair look at the list of 101 Inventions before they go into the exhibit on Thursday January 30, 2014. Discovery Place unveils a new exhibition Sunday: 101 inventions that changed the world. Inventions range from the discovery of fire and stone tools to modern day use of GPS.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/31/17/02/UoPBo.Em.138.jpeg|218
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Chase Law (right foreground), director of development at Discovery Place, tries out an interactive state in the Inventor's Den on Thursday January 30, 2014. Discovery Place unveils a new exhibition Sunday: 101 inventions that changed the world. Inventions range from the discovery of fire and stone tools to modern day use of GPS.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/31/17/02/gXqxb.Em.138.jpeg|203
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Necessity, the Mother of Invention (left) and Alexander Graham Bell (right background) wander through the exhibit on Thursday January 30, 2014. Discovery Place unveils a new exhibition Sunday: 101 inventions that changed the world. Inventions range from the discovery of fire and stone tools to modern day use of GPS.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/31/17/02/Nb3qf.Em.138.jpeg|195
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Alexander Graham Bell stands in the 101 Inventions exhibit just as his fellow inventor Thomas Alva Edison's invention, the incandescent light bulb, is projected on the screens on Thursday January 30, 2014. Discovery Place unveils a new exhibition Sunday: 101 inventions that changed the world. Inventions range from the discovery of fire and stone tools to modern day use of GPS.

More Information

  • Quiz: Where did that come from?
  • Who says?

    Who came up with the 101 world-changing inventions? Six international science institution CEOs:

    Ronen Mir, director, Madatech National Science Museum in Israel.

    Professor John Durant, director, MIT Museum in Boston.

    Asger Hoeg, director, Experimetarium in Denmark.

    Wang Kewei, general director, Guangdong Science Center in China.

    Ann Bowers, board chair, The Tech Museum in San Jose, Calif.

    Per-Edvin Perssan, director, Heureka in Finland.

    Nancy Stueber, president, Oregon Museum of Science + Industry in Portland, Ore.


  • Want to go?

    “101 Inventions That Changed the World,” Sunday through April 21, Discovery Place, 301 N. Tryon St. 704-372-6261, discoveryplace.org.

    Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Sundays.

    Tickets: $20 adults, $18 children (includes museum admission).



It’s a fraud, a sham, a humbug!

How can an exhibition offering “101 Inventions That Changed the World” omit the two greatest advances of modern times? I refer, of course, to the Post-it Note and that yellow first-down line projected on football broadcasts.

Debating what did and didn’t make the list is half the fun of “101 Inventions,” a multimedia show with a provocative twist that opens Sunday at Discovery Place in Charlotte. It comes as no surprise that taming fire lands as No. 1 on the list, but one must quibble with the wheel-and-axle checking in so low at No. 27. Just try building a pyramid without them.

Oddly, some inventions hog two parking spots on the list, which is probably why sticky notes never got in. Alexander Graham Bell’s classic telephone (debuting in 1876 as the “electrical speech machine”) rings in at No. 7, followed closely by the modern cellphone at No. 9. Text me if you think that makes any sense.

Television, whose experimental roots stretch back to the 1920s, is No. 16, then color TV blooms in the No. 55 spot. No mention of the first-down line. None.

You can decide whether the electric guitar deserves to be one place ahead of the International Space Station (Nos. 72 and 73). Parents won’t argue about Legos making the list (No. 77) or Velcro (No. 94) or maybe even birth control pills (No. 8), especially if they just stepped barefooted on a Lego.

Stone tools at No. 14 could use a promotion, in my opinion, as could the spinning wheel (No. 65), but aspirin is about where it belongs at No. 40.

Questions open exhibit

“101 Inventions” opened its U.S. tour last year in Salt Lake City, and Charlotte is its first East Coast destination. Discovery Place staffers viewed it in Utah and developed their own mini-exhibit at the entrance posing questions.

Using ethical concerns raised by cloning, stem cell research and genetic mapping, the museum asks visitors that just because something can be created, is it necessarily right to do so? And how far is too far with some profound discoveries?

Another interesting fact: None of the inventions in the exhibition was created by women.

Tim Pula, manager of special projects at the museum, says that may be in part because women didn’t have ready access to the patent process until recent decades.

“You can play endless parlor games on what’s on the list and what’s not,” says Joanie Philipp, vice president of operations (who has color-coded sticky notes all over the periphery of her computer screen, and who wonders why duct tape didn’t make the list).

Sensory experience

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 45-minute video and sound loop that projects images of inventors and their gadgets on the floor and walls of a gallery. Called the Sensory4 experience, it is an all-around graphic assault on the senses that will be re-created with the next Discovery Place exhibition in April examining the works of Vincent Van Gogh.

While the show is a bit above the museum’s usual complexity level for children, Discovery Place tinkerers have built hands-on gizmos combining several technologies for kids to monkey with.

Perhaps the best is a classic Royal typewriter whose key-snapping rhythm makes words appear simultaneously on a computer monitor and a sheet of old-fashioned paper (the personal computer comes in at No. 41, and paper is where it belongs in the inventive hierarchy at No. 2).

Actors also prowl the exhibit talking to children about the characters they portray – among them Alexander Graham Bell, Galileo and Berenib, believed to be the Egyptian queen on the first-dynasty throne when the phonetic alphabet was created. Feel free to ask her if she ever thought that creation would someday lead to sticky notes.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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