Brain buzz at Franklin Institute

Visitors explore a two-story neural network climbing structure with lighting and sound in the new permanent exhibit "Your Brain" in the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, opening Saturday at the Franklin Institute.
Visitors explore a two-story neural network climbing structure with lighting and sound in the new permanent exhibit "Your Brain" in the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, opening Saturday at the Franklin Institute. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 14, 2014

Come Saturday, Philadelphia's beloved Franklin Institute will more resemble a fairground than a museum - albeit one with a scientific slant.

At the grand opening of the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, the institute's 53,000-square foot, $41 million addition, sounds of celebration will fill the museum's halls.

The pavilion houses the interactive, neuroscience-focused "Your Brain" exhibit - a permanent installation that opens Saturday - in addition to conference and education centers and exhibition spaces for traveling shows such as "Circus! Science Under the Big Top" and "101 Inventions That Changed the World," which also debut Saturday.

"It is going to be a day packed with activities, special events, food, music, and . . . all presented in that very special Franklin Institute way," said Troy Collins, senior vice president of programs, marketing, and business development.

A ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m., at the entrance to "Your Brain," will mark the grand opening. The first 500 guests get in free, and receive a gift bag. Other visitors on opening day, and until the end of the traveling exhibits' runs in the fall, need pay only general admission to access "Circus!", "101 Inventions," and National Geographic's "Ocean Soul," a collection of vivid underwater and oceanic photographs that opened May 21. Imax and 3-D films will cost extra.

There will be myriad free activities throughout the museum, including a wide-scale app-based scavenger hunt. All participants receive a brain-themed puzzle, and if they complete the search, they are entered into a raffle to win a yearlong family membership to the museum.

Those at the opening can also test their minds with brain-benders given by the Brain Waves science team, and ogle the antics of stilt-walking and juggling circus performers. Or they can marvel at magician Scott Sullivan's sleight-of-hand card tricks. Live music, played by a four-piece band on 20th Street and the museum's steps, will enhance the atmosphere, and classic fair eats - hot dog sliders, cotton candy, and snow cones - will be there for the hungry.

But it's not just fun and games. True to the legacy of its namesake, the Franklin Institute puts science first, even amid the buzz of museumwide happenings. No visit to the Franklin would be complete without some educational takeaway.

"As much as we're really excited about opening up the new building and the focus it provides, particularly with emphasis on neurology in 'Your Brain,' when we celebrate the opening, we want to celebrate it in Franklin Institute style," said Collins. "And when we do that, that really means science of all kinds."

Saturday's schedule consists of a range of activities related to "Your Brain," "Circus!", and "101 Inventions." A Brain Bar cart will feature real specimens and models of human and animal brains. Mentalist Max Major will demonstrate his talents, in conjunction with the museum's chief bioscientist, Jayatri Das, who will demystify the role the brain plays in how we perceive magic. Statues of scientists and inventors who won the Franklin Institute Award, including Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, will come to life to impart wisdom when you turn the oversized keys in their pedestals.

The opening will be exhilarating not only for the public, but also for the institute team members involved in orchestrating it.

"I look at this full list of all these different things that are going on and it's kind of, for lack of a better way to say it, . . . mind-blowing to see how much is going to be going on and just how festive it's going to be and how excited our staff is about coming together to celebrate everything that the Franklin Institute has historically been and everything that we've become," said Gerri Trooskin, director of the museum's strategic integrated programs and the Philadelphia Science Festival.

In addition to the scavenger hunt, there are several other stand-alone opening-day events: "The Wonderland of Science," a display of 80 historical artifacts from the curatorial vault that encapsulate the museum's eight decades on the Parkway, and Wasabi 3-D art installations, optical-illusion images that bring reality-defying scenarios to life. Visitors are encouraged to snap pictures with the street art-style mats - which make them appear to be jumping off of a building into a giant hole or crossing a bridge between two mountains - and share them via social media.

"Without getting too philosophical, we have a mission here, and that mission is to inspire a passion for learning about science and technology," Collins said. "We are not going to sit somebody down and read out of a textbook. We are not going to teach them scientific concepts or make them solve math problems, but what we do is bring science down to what we call an informal level, where people can have fun with it."

The celebration continues on Sunday, with repeats of a handful of the most engaging activities: the scavenger hunt, Brain Waves' puzzlers, the Brain Bar, and Design Challenges inspired by "101 Inventions" that let guests design flying machines and buildings and get an up-close look at a 3-D printer.


Grand opening of the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, Franklin Institute. 215-448-1200,

Ribbon-cutting: 10 a.m., at the "Your Brain" entrance.

Admission: Free for the first 500 guests to arrive. After that, $16.50 adults, $14 children 3 to 11, including admission to "Your Brain" and all traveling exhibits.

Also ongoing:

Museumwide scavenger hunt, Design Challenge (inside "101 Inventions That Changed the World"), and jugglers and stilt-walkers roaming through "Circus! Science Under the Big Top."

The Brain Waves science team roves the museum all day.

At 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., mentalist Max Major will combine magic, psychology, and hypnosis in 30-minute demonstrations in the Franklin Theater.

Eye and heart dissections will take place throughout the day in the Giant Heart exhibit.

9:30 a.m. Museum opens. Brain Waves team will be back, and there will be another scavenger hunt.



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