Will a hands-on energy efficiency exhibit aimed at children help them to think about their carbon footprint?
That's the hope at the Connecticut Science Center, where a recently-updated "Energy City" exhibit includes interactive features that invites children to understand energy efficiency.
The exhibit surrounds visiting children with replicas of alternative sources such as wind turbines, solar panels, hydropower, and fuel cells. An energy-efficient house with model appliances encourages children to think about how their families may be overusing their own heating system and other appliances.
And yes, children can also calculate their own carbon footprint.
A display at the exhibit features small models of notable Connecticut buildings, inviting children to power state structures with alternative fuels. Visitors push buttons that enable mock power plants to generate electricity, and transform the energy to light up the buildings.
Funded by Energize Connecticut, the updates to the exhibit incorporate touch screens and auditory learning tools. "This is not the most interesting topic for children, but if there’s a button to push or a crank to pull, children are really thinking about what they are doing," said Tracy Shirer, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Connecticut Science Center.
"What we’re showing people is that they can save energy; how they can make choices that are beneficial to the environment, and how they can preserve it for future generations," Shirer said. "We want children to be good consumers, and part of that is learning how to keep their homes energy efficient."
While the visuals and auditory aspects aim to inspire children, the exhibit provides a learning platform for adults, too. The Connecticut Science Center expects that children will return home and inform their parents what they learned, helping parents to think about how they might apply the learning to their own home.
"Energy City" first appeared as a permanent exhibit by Thinc Design when the Connecticut Science Center opened in 2009. Prior to the recent update, the exhibit was not as engaging, according to Richard Thomas, director of exhibit development and design at the science center. In the original exhibit, he said, "elements were missing like electrical transmission and more consumer-related types of information." Thomas designed the updates with the goal of making the exhibit more exciting and experiential. The process took nearly a year and a half to complete.
"What was lacking was this imaginative immersion of a real town," Thomas said. "I thought: we can do better in making this exhibit more interesting and attractive. It's more consumer-focused. That's the intent. We want to respond to the questions consumers ask, so they take this away when they go home."
If people learn to conserve energy, "the economic impact for Connecticut is huge," said Shirer. "We’re trying to inspire the next generation of scientists."
Katherine Peikes is an intern at WNPR.