"Speed" Exhibition Sneak Peek
When the new “Speed” exhibition opens at the Science Museum of Virginia tomorrow, what visitors will see first is an SR-71 Blackbird aircraft suspended from the ceiling of the former train station’s concourse. The plane has a wingspan of 55 feet, requiring it to be positioned at a precise angle to fit in the 48-foot-wide space.
Capable of Mach 3.2 speed — or 2,193 mph — the Blackbird was put into service in 1964 and served the military for more than three decades. The centerpiece of the $10 million permanent exhibition, the plane invites museum patrons to learn more about concepts related to speed.
Set to open May 21, “Speed” comprises more than 50 exhibits throughout the 10,000-square-foot concourse, featuring topics such as sports, technology and weather, plus a theater for live programs. The concepts explored aren’t all about moving fast, either. For example, how much time does it take for fingernails to grow or for glaciers to move? Rates of speed are measured in an interactive game called “Slow It Downs,” where you can match two things in a head-to-head race and make a “bet” as to which will be the victor.
“It’s just all about rate over time, change over time,” says Eugene Maurakis, a discovery scientist at the museum and lead project manager for the exhibition. This encompasses a variety of subjects within the exhibition, including evolution, light, sound and relativity.
The SR-71 Blackbird is the centerpiece of the $10 million exhibition. (Photo Courtesy the Science Museum of Virginia)
Visitors can experience a batting cage in which the speed of the pitcher is measured, challenge a robot in an air hockey match, or test their skills in sending a text message against those of a telegraph operator. There’s also the Spin Browser, which speeds up Earth’s 4.7 billion years of history. With the turn of a knob, you can witness the extinction of the dinosaurs or the formation of the seven continents.
Light Race has fiber-optic lighting that represents animals, people and vehicles and shows how long it would take each to race across the concourse — among them a NASCAR stock car, a cheetah and even Olympians such as Usain Bolt.
“If you could only do one gallery in a science museum, this is the one you pick to do,” says Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti, “because it covers such depth and breadth of subject matter, from the fundamental building blocks of what science is all about to our cell phones and whether our kids should get vaccinated, and what’s going on with climate change — relevant, modern-day topics that are in the social discourse.”
“Speed” is the latest phase of a $60 million museum overhaul, which has included the addition of “Boost” in 2013 and renovations to The Dome. Conti says the exhibition is the “largest construction effort in the history of the museum.”
The “Speed” exhibition is included with regular museum admission of $11. 2500 W. Broad St. 864-1400 or smv.org.