Great Lakes under microscope
By Becky Linhardt
Published April 20, 2008
From its vantage point on the shoreline in Cleveland, the Great Lakes Science Center has an expansive view of Lake Erie with the waters of this Great Lake extending off to a seemingly unlimited horizon. As one of America's largest interactive science museums, it focuses on both the finite resources of our environment and the infinite resourcefulness of technology, particularly in Ohio and the Great Lakes Region.
Built at a cost of $52 million, the 165,000-square foot-building opened in 1996 with more than 400 interactive exhibits, one-of-a-kind signature exhibitions such as the Great Lakes Situation Room with 24 computer stations, and an Omnimax theater. Additions have included the Steamship William G. Mather, now docked alongside the museum, and "green" energy sources to power the museum.
"We have committed to advance energy sources - long-term, sustainable sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen," said Linda Abraham-Silver, president and executive director. "In a precedent-setting move, we erected a wind turbine, and plugged in (it) in 2006 to provide a portion of our power at the center."
The white turbine can be seen outside catching winds off of Lake Erie. More energy was tapped in 2007 with the installation of a 300-foot solar array canopy at the entrance as an advance energy initiative and to raise awareness about renewable energy.
The Great Lakes water resources are the focus of inside exhibitions that open onto views of the waterfront. Interactive displays allow visitors to see the impact of commercial developments on the Great Lakes water quality and the damage to the ecosystem from invasive species such as the zebra mussel. One display explains fog creation. Another allows visitors to listen to recordings of traditional songs adapted to Great Lakes stories by the sailors who worked in shipping on the lakes.
To see a bit of what sailors' life was like, visit the Steamship William G. Mather, which was retired from the iron ore fleet of Cleveland Cliffs in 1980. The 618-foot long carrier can be seen from the museum's tall glass atrium and will soon be connected by a enclosed glass walkway. For now, access to the Mather is from the outside dock area and limited to May through October.
"Visitors are allowed into most areas accessed by the crew," said Abraham-Silver. "The cargo holes have an amazing volume of space. It always seems to surprise people to see all of that empty space, to imagine it filled with iron ore. The views of the lake and lakefront from the deck are beautiful."
Built in 1925, the steamship could carry 14,000 tons of cargo. The brass and oak pilot house, the elegant guest quarters, and the four-story engine room are also available to view.
Currently, the traveling exhibition space is hosting Chocolate: The Exhibition from the Field Museum, Chicago. The exhibition explains the history, processing and the change from European food fad to its current place in our culture. A product of tropical climates, cocoa beans were ground and used for an Aztec ceremonial drink called Xocolati. The beans were considered so precious that they were used as money. Spanish conquistadors who broke into the storerooms of the kings expecting to find gold often found cocoa beans instead.
"It was interesting to learn the complex process used now to bring out the flavor, and that it (chocolate)originated as a spicy drink, that it was not sweet," said Chris Steigerwald, visiting from nearby Chagrin Falls. "I felt a weakness of the exhibit was not having more sensory experiences, especially a taste or smell of cocoa as it was originally prepared."