Orange Alert

New exhibit at the MOST explores time on a microscale

The National Science Foundation (NSF) helped fund the exhibit

March 13, 2012, by Judy Holmes

If light traveled in a circle, it would make seven loops around Earth’s equator in one second. That’s fast, but not so astounding when compared to countless things that happen in less than a second. A new exhibit at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse, N.Y., aims to help children wrap their heads around time on a microscale, from the second to the femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) and all the time in between. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences funded the exhibit.

Created by Timothy Korter, associate professor of chemistry in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the exhibit is the outreach component of Korter’s NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which he received in 2009. Korter is a pioneer in the use of terahertz radiation (THz) to identify the unique chemical (spectral) signature of molecules. THz light waves can safely pass through almost any kind of material, except metal, without the harmful effects of x-rays.

Korter uses a custom-built femtosecond laser for his research. The laser produces extremely short pulses of invisible, near-infrared light. That’s where the idea for the exhibit came from. The exhibit’s story of micro-time unfolds on a series of colorful panels, each depicting events that take place in increasingly smaller time scales. Did you know that it takes 10 milliseconds for a hummingbird to flap its wings once and one microsecond for your brain to realize that you’ve stubbed your toe? The story concludes by inviting visitors to test their reaction time in microseconds using an authentic drag-racing light tree.

“Time is a really difficult concept to explain,” Korter says. “The exhibit explores physical and biological phenomena that occur on very short time scales, as well as the technology used to observe events that proceed on timescales faster than the human eye can register.”

The exhibit took two years to create—from concept development through construction and installation. Denice Buchanan, the chemistry department’s web developer, designed the exhibit’s videos; chemistry graduate student Matthew King created the illustrations.

One of the challenges in building a science exhibit for children is to make it “kid tough,” says Peter Plumley, exhibits project manager for the MOST and an adjunct professor at SU. “Kids will find an exhibit’s minutest area of vulnerability to exploit. This exhibit has met the challenge and is great fun.”

The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University prepares students for the global workplace and for study in post- graduate and professional programs by providing a contemporary liberal arts curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary learning, research, service, and enterprise.

The Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology (MOST) is a hands-on interactive science center for children of all ages. Housed in the historic Armory Building in downtown Syracuse's Armory Square, the MOST's vision is to be a pre-eminent science and technology center, inspiring all generations through hands-on education and entertainment.

Media Contact

Judy Holmes