Space exploration, supercomputing, and neutron science are featured in three new hands-on exhibits at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.
The exhibits showcase national science topics with local ties to research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“Bringing more of the modern lab into AMSE enhances our mission,” said AMSE director David Moore. “In addition to learning about our past, we hope visitors enjoy learning about the fascinating scope of research ongoing at ORNL.”
In the supercomputing exhibit, visitors can learn about ORNL’s Titan, currently the second most powerful computer in the world, through its miniature counterpart, “Tiny Titan,” which is built with an Xbox videogame controller, Raspberry Pi processors, and a television screen.
The colorful Tiny Titan computer is designed to interactively teach the basics of parallel computing. Unlike serial computers, which only have one processor per core, parallel computers have multiple processors on each core, enabling much faster calculations.
“Tiny Titan uses an interactive, visual simulation to show how multiple computers can work together to speed up the same scientific problem,” said Robert French, Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility staff scientist and one of the creators of Tiny Titan.
Each of Tiny Titan’s nine cores displays a different colored light, and images on the connected monitor use the same colors to show what each processor is doing. The more colors that light up on the computers, the faster the program will run.
AMSE’s new Cassini exhibit features the pioneering spacecraft’s mission to Saturn.
Deep-space probes such as Cassini get their power through the thermoelectric effect, using heat from the decay of plutonium-238 to generate electricity. ORNL is leading DOE’s production of plutonium-238 for NASA.
ORNL also was one of several facilities that helped produce the radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs, used on Cassini. The exhibit contains models of the Cassini spacecraft and a RTG as well as videos explaining the mission’s findings.
Finally, AMSE visitors can “become a neutron” in an exhibit that guides people through a simulation of the Spallation Neutron Source, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL. The SNS is a one-of-a-kind research facility that provides the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development.
The exhibit explains how non-charged particles called neutrons help scientists “see” into materials without damaging them. Neutrons are used in a wide range of research projects, from finding cracks in fighter jet wings to helping design new therapeutic drugs.
A long-time Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, AMSE became a NASA Affiliate Museum this past year and has launched a number of new public programs. The museum hosted the world premiere of Alvin Weinberg, a documentary on the nuclear scientist who was ORNL’s first laboratory director, and the museum is exploring ways to introduce cutting-edge technologies like robotics and 3D printing into exhibits and programs.
Information about AMSE:
AMSE, located at 300 South Tulane Avenue in Oak Ridge, is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. AMSE tells the story of the World War II Manhattan Project that created the Secret City of Oak Ridge and the science that evolved. AMSE visitors can use interactive exhibits on basic science, fossil fuels, alternative energy sources, including nuclear, and participate in live demonstrations with audience participation. For more information on AMSE admission, membership, exhibits, programs and classes, go to www.amse.org. To schedule a group visit, call AMSE at (865) 576-3200.
UT-Battelle, the managing contractor of ORNL, operates AMSE on behalf of the Department of Energy.