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Today's Hours: 
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From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Sensory Friendly"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 07 November 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Science is for Sharing. That's my motto and I'm sticking to it. This isn't always easy, especially at a science center as large as COSI with such a broad audience. How do we make the museum as welcoming and inviting a place as possible? How do we develop demos, games, and activities that speak to one audience without alienating another? How can we tell if we're doing a good job?

Thankfully there are plenty of amazing, dedicated people at COSI and OSU that are starting to answer those questions. A couple months ago I overheard Gerlinde Higginbotham talking about preparations for an upcoming Sensory Friendly Day. On this day she wanted COSI to welcome kids with cognitive and developmental disabilities, but wasn't sure who would lead the effort to select and develop demos and activities.

Within an hour I had Gerlinde introduced to Anna Voelker, a student I advise at OSU who has a passion for bringing science to underserved audiences. Anna immediately dove into the project, selecting existing carts and outreach activities that would be appropriate, developing new demos just for that audience, and organizing volunteers from both COSI and OSU to run theater games to teach social skills.

With a generous gift from OSU's Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics, we had over 100 students, chaperones, and parents visit COSI on Sensory Friendly Day. By all accounts the event was a huge success, and it was amazing to see so many COSI teams pitch in to help, including the volunteer crew, outreach, marketing, floor faculty, theaters, and CRE. Thanks to all for creating such a special opportunity for those kids!

"Skies so blue"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 31 October 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

There's a saying in physics: "Simple doesn't mean easy."

Chris Hurtubise wrote on the board outside my office a nice little question: why is the sky blue? Like the water boiling question from a few weeks ago, simple questions like this often deceptively hide complex answers.

Here's a snappy reply: the sky is blue because it's a blue thing. All sorts of things are all sorts of colors, and air happens to be blue. Just not...very blue. It's mostly clear, but look through enough of it and you can see its blueness.

But what about sunsets? If you look through a whole bunch of air, it turns pink or red.

Hmmm. Simple, but not easy.

It turns out that not all kinds of light bounce off air molecules in the same way. When reddish light hits air, it tends to just keep going in the same direction. When blueish light hits air, however, it tends to ricochet off into a random direction. This is called Rayleigh Scattering and it's really fun.

So white light (a combination of all the colors) from the sun hits our atmosphere, and the blue light scatters around while the red doesn't. So we see a blue sky and a yellow (white minus blue) sun.

During sunsets and sunrises, when we're looking right at the sun through lots of air, all the blue light has scattered off to the sides, and even some of the yellows, leaving a lovely red tint.

"Be...more afraid"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 24 October 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

My recent memo on the "Science of Fear" event prompted an email from the ever-curious Mary Ann Wojton, a research associate in COSI's Center for Research and Evaluation, who wanted to learn more about the thoughts and insights of the panelists.

One of the first questions posed after the showing of Halloween was this: what makes scary music so dang scary? Katie Walton, a clinical psychologist, suggested conditioning. Scary images or disturbing scenes are tied to a certain musical melody or tone early in a film, letting our minds create an association between the two. Later, when just the music is heard, our brains make the quick connection that "something bad's about to go down."

The conversation then pivoted to what we're *really* afraid of. Lauren Jones, an economist, reminded the audience to keep the time period of the movie - the late 1970's - firmly in mind. Of the women in the film, what were the jobs and lifestyles of the ones who Michael Myers targeted, and which ones were spared? Who just gave in, and who managed to fight back?

Finally, we talked about clowns, because of course we did. The film professor, Jane Greene, noted how the movie's villain was introduced early in the film as a kid wearing - you guessed it - a clown costume. Biologist Rob Pyatt suggested an explanation for the general creepiness of clowns: usually when we see faces, they change and react to social cues and other stimuli. But a clown face is painted with a single unchanging expression, which unnerves us because the only other things that do that are cadavers.

The full panelist discussion was recorded for the Sloan Foundation, so soon you'll be able hear all their insights.

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