Pillbox

Take a Risk! at the Carnegie Science Center

Taking turns lying on a bed of 4788 steel nails is how many visitors now spend the day at the Carnegie Science Center. Torturing participants was not the objective; the new Risk! exhibit is an interactive risk-takers’ playground asking: Are you tough enough?

The science center’s new exhibit, developed by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, is an exploration of the science, math, and critical thinking skills behind risk-taking in everyday life. Understanding the logic behind risky situations allows for better decision making by estimating probable outcomes. The exhibit also allows spectators to view the ways in which technology is changing the amount of risk behind certain occupations and daily activities.

A path of warning signs with facts such as the probability of death by car accident dots the walkway through this large exhibit, which takes up more than half of the second floor at the science center. Risk! is laid out in a circle that begins with the probability of risks people make, and works its way through a risky occupation section and a preventive technology section before finishing with an explanation of how math and science can be used to assess risks.

A display titled “The Order of Things” is popular with many adult visitors. Colorful panels explain how most things reside around the middle of a spectrum with few things happening at the extremes. The stock market is such a thing: Most people will remain around the middle, but in rare situations some will win a great deal of money and others will lose a great deal of money.

The risk-assessment studies department at Texas A&M University contributed to Risk! with a map-covered panel and book full of images of the most dangerous places people inhabit all over the world. Students from the university will spend the year designing and developing preventive-measure technology that may one day be useful to people dwelling in risky environments.

Perhaps discouraging for some spectators, the “One in a Million” display provides a realistic opportunity to see what the clichéd phrase looks like. A clear plastic tube is filled with 1 million tiny beads in different colors, yet there is only one bead in the entire tube that is black. Participants are asked to spin the tube and shift the beads around to look for that one black bead.

“How Old am I?” is another popular attraction. Participants station themselves at a computer, where they must record their current age and then answer a series of about 20 questions about their daily life. Most questions have to do with health and wellness concepts such as smoking, exercising, and stress levels at work. While answering these questions, two ages appear at the top of the screen, the participant’s current age and the participant’s health age. The healthier your lifestyle, the more your health age drops from your current age, while answering “no” to questions like “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” or “Do you wear your seat belt?” can drive up your health age significantly. This display is a great way for visitors to see how lifestyle choices can put them at risk for a premature death.

A glass-enclosed display shows the progression and advancement of protective devices, such as helmets, which prevent injury and death and make real-world situations less risky. The world’s riskiest occupations are discussed throughout the display, and participants can try on protective fire gear, experiencing the protection of new technology and comparing it to older models that were riskier to wear. Also displayed are mining artifacts that show a progression of the technology used to test the air, beginning with a tiny wooden canary cage and ending with digital air testers.

Another exhibit mimics the daily life of a steel worker at a construction site. A narrow steel beam stretches across the floor, and beneath it is a picture of what a street would look like from 17 stories up. People and cars are just tiny moving specks from such a height. Clouds and chirping birds move around, mimicking life 17 stories above ground. While visitors take turns walking along the steel beam, the noise of the birds and the sight of the street below and the clouds swirling around create realistic distractions that real construction workers face every day.

Though many small children enjoy the exhibit, the displays and activities are better for teenagers and adults who take them more seriously; young children don’t necessarily understand risk-taking and lack experience with decision making.