Franklin Institute, Philadelphia USA

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Ben Franklin’s writings on electricity

I recently visited the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s famed science museum, a 30 minute walk from University City.

Initially I headed for the planetarium for a few shows. The first was named ‘Dark Universe’, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. The show covered some of the fundamentals of astrophysics and cosmology such as the Big Bang, Galaxies and Planets; as well as two of the cosmic mysteries- Dark Energy and Dark Matter. Aside from the beautiful intergalactic visuals, I am quite good at getting inside of and sinking in to immersive planetarium dome experiences. The second show was called ‘To Space and Back’, reminding the viewer how many advances in everyday life and systems have origins in the innovations within the Space Industry. This engineering and technology used in space exploration and observation regularly filters down and benefits the applications and advances that become a given in society.

The museum is home to a giant Foucault’s Pendulum, which swings in between a winding staircase. This is a four storey example of an 1851 experiment by Foucault which demonstrated the nature of Earth’s rotation around its axis. The pendulum moves with the Earth whilst the Earth rotates beneath the pendulum and so appears to change direction over the day. This is revealed by the pendulum knocking down a circle of pegs one at a time.

Next up were the exhibitions. The Electricity exhibit was fascinating for its interactive exhibitions and historical artefacts. This featured some of the inventions of the cities Renaissance man Ben Franklin, including his lightning rod, the first practical application of electrical knowledge. Another pair of pioneers, the Wright Brothers, were centre stage next in the aviation exhibit. This contained original drawings of the 1903 Wright Flyer and the most intact remaining Wright aeroplane- the 1911 Model B Flyer. There were also some excellent aeronautical and fundamental physics interactive demonstrations, which I enjoyed experimenting with. The Franklin Institutes famous Giant Heart and Train Factory exhibit were just a couple more highlights.

Spending time reading every word of and playing with every exhibit meant the museum closed before I could see everything. The observatory and the Genghis Khan exhibit, among others, will have to wait for my next visit. On leaving, I was greeted by a full moon and city lights to saunter home under.

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