'Provocative Questions' And More At New Science Museum Exhibit

It sounds like a chamber straight out of Hogwarts: The Area of Provocative Questions

But no, it's part of an ambitious, forward-thinking new exhibit that focuses on personalized health, human biology, public policy and more at Boston's Museum of Science: The Hall of Human Life, a renovated 15,000-square-foor space that visitors will enter through a huge, semi-transparent membrane.

Paul Fontaine, the museum's vice president of education, said the Provocative Question area will challenge visitors to explore their own own beliefs and the outside forces that shape them. The questions might include:

-Should high schools delay their start time because of sleep needs of teen-age students?
-Should genetically modified foods be acknowledged in packaging and advertising?
-Should the state of Massachusetts control fluoridation in the public water supply?
-Should the drinking age be lowered to eighteen?
-Should the FDA regulate natural supplements and herbal remedies?
-Should cell phone use in cars be banned?

The exhibit, slated to open in July 2013, will also house a "living lab," where working scientists in biology, neuroscience, cognitive development and other areas will conduct research with consenting museum-goers. "People will get a chance to talk to real scientists and researchers," Fontaine said, and it will also give lab-bound scientists an opportunity to get out into the real world a bit.

Perhaps the coolest part of the exhibit, which just received a $5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, is an interactive exploration of personalized health and how to manage it. Each visitor will get a bar-coded bracelet

which will ultimately contain all sorts of interesting data about themselves (don't worry, it's all anonymous) like how fast they can run, or how their pupils react to certain images.

The data will be stored on a database for future use. "All of this will give them a sense of how unique they are as individuals," Fontaine said, "and when they return they can reset all the data, re-experience what they did and check their evolution over time. So much of our health literacy in the future is going to be based on individualized and personalized medicine, and we want visitors to begin to see the uniqueness of themselves and their genetic makeup."

Here's more from the news release:

The Hall of Human Life will reside in a renovated 15,000-square-foot-space in the Green Wing on the Museum's second floor. It will be the single largest permanent exhibit created by the Museum since the 1990s. Content for this ever-changing exhibit will draw on the region's extensive life sciences research community in academia, healthcare, and business, while leveraging new advances in digital media, technology, and personal interaction to redefine the visitor experience.

Visitors will enter the Hall of Human Life through a huge, semi-transparent membrane. By wearing a wristband featuring a unique (and anonymous) barcode, visitors will be able to record and contribute their own experiences directly to a Museum database. Museum-goers will measure their responses to five dynamic environments related to food, physical forces, living organisms, social experience, and time. The Hall of Human Life will also feature a Provocative Questions area, where visitors will discuss public policy questions about socio-scientific issues to develop critical thinking skills, and a Living Laboratory, where scientists conducting research in human biology will invite visitors to become subjects and learn about their studies. The Exploration Hub will sit at the heart of the exhibit, where Museum educators, health and biology students, and retired researchers will address visitors' questions and assist in experiments and dissections.

This program aired on January 26, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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