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Raising the Roof at the Science Museum of Virginia

Susan and Rick Mudd and their children Paige, David and Sam recently raised the roof at the Science Museum of Virginia. Literally. They raised AND collapsed the roof of a wooden dome while they learned all about buildings - inside and out. “Raise the Roof” is more than an exhibit. It’s an immersion in how buildings work and is at the Science Museum of Virginia now until April 28th. You still have time to go and try your hand at all of the great activities that help you explore the physics of architecture.

While I was checking out the exhibit, I asked Paige who is 11 years old to tell me what she enjoyed the most. She told me she really liked trying her hand at building all kinds of things. She was able to build a very tall structure with special Kapla blocks and she did so in a very specific pattern. “I chose this pattern because I wanted to make it taller and sturdier all at the same time,” Paige shared. She obviously spent time in the exhibition exploring all of the activities that helped her understand the principles of building stronger structures.

Paige also told me she really liked going into the Ger house and that she saw the word “Yurt.” Now I had to ask her - what’s a Ger and what’s a Yurt? She and her brothers David (10) and Sam (5) took me inside the Ger that is displayed in the museum and taught me quite a bit. A Ger, also called a Yurt, is a round portable home traditionally used in Mongolia.  

We walked inside a replica of this incredibly efficient and beautifully simple structure which is made of strips of wood and held together with rawhide (no nails). The roof is a simple piece of canvas and the structure is insulated by wrapping it with thick pieces of felt. The Ger has ornately painted doors and a stove and a bed. Being inside lets you have a brief glimpse into the life of a Mongolian family living in this type of structure. And while you are inside, try out Sam and his Dad’s favorite part of the exhibition. Push the buttons on the computer screen to hear lots of interesting sounds and learn all about how a Ger is built and transported. Click here to see a video of the raising of a Ger.

I asked Paige’s mom, Susan, what she liked best about the exhibition. “I like the fact that my children can manipulate materials and learn by exploring. They are learning all about strength and stability and how structures fit together.” I watched as Susan and her boys carefully manipulated a variety of handcrafted wooden joints to build something without nails. “You don’t have to use only nails or screws. You can be creative with structures.”

If you are like David, you’ll enjoy talking into a microphone and listening to the echo his voice makes in different buildings. There are so many things to do it is hard to choose only one favorite.  

Do you like to see buildings implode and crumble? You can watch fantastic footage and learn about the Art & Science of Demolition in one area.  

Want to know what makes a building topple in an earthquake? Is it the rate of the shake or the shake itself? You can test your hypothesis and discover how different buildings respond to different quake frequencies.  

Have you thought much about how insulation works? Or better yet, have you experienced it lately? In the exhibit you can place your hand on a glass filled with different types of insulation and feel which one works the best.

You can even play a fun video game - Dogtastrophe that lets you choose and test building materials against some pretty wild simulated disasters.

But maybe the best thing to do in the exhibition is like David said - “You should come and get under the dome where the roof comes down and you feel like you're going to get smooshed! But you don’t, you just have fun!

Find out more about “Raise the Roof” at The Science Museum of Virginia and let me know your favorite things.

Article by Debbie Mickle, Science Matters 

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