March 28, 2013Vol. 43, Issue 1

A Gateway to Campus Collaboration

Since its opening in 2010, the Gateway Science Museum has served as both a physical and metaphorical gateway to learning and sharing, says Director Renee Renner, Computer Science.

With visitors ranging from fourth graders on school field trips to seniors on the lifelong pursuit of learning, Renner says the challenge is meeting that diverse audience with thematic content that inspires people of all ages to explore the science and natural history of Northern California and beyond.

One of the main ways the museum meets that challenge is by taking advantage of its partnership with Chico State’s academic community—the students, professors, and faculty members whose research and curriculum add depth to the exhibit experience.

This idea is evident in Brain Teasers 2, a traveling exhibit from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry that will be at Gateway until May. This exhibit includes an array of hands-on challenges that have to do with brain cognition and problem solving. Ben Seipel, professor in the School of Education, provided the museum with additions to the walls of the exhibit that explain the science behind the puzzles—what is going on inside the brain as it solves a problem.

John Acton, a computer science student in one of Renner’s artificial intelligence classes, also showcased his work in Brain Teasers 2. Acton created a model of a human hand and arm and then bought an EEG headset with 15 sensory points. Using sophisticated artificial neural-network software that loosely tries to model brain cognition activity, the headset allows you to train the software to recognize what thought patterns create particular movements of the hand. Thus, while wearing the headset, you can control the hand.

So while the youngest visitors enjoy playing with the exhibit’s puzzles, there’s always the real science component that makes the experience worthwhile for a more advanced audience, Renner says.

In the fall 2012 exhibit season alone, the number of campus participants and collaborators exceeded 200. This included a broad diversity of faculty and students from disciplines in art, biology, chemistry, communication design, computer science, education, geography, geosciences, horticulture, marketing, math, mechanical and mechatronic engineering, nutrition and food science, nursing, recreation and parks management, photography, physics, and science education.

Last year, engineering students developed a rainwater reuse system that is currently in its final stage in the museum’s garden. The system—which the students proposed, got funding for, designed, and implemented—collects rainwater off the museum’s roof for reuse. Last season, the museum held a workshop where community members could learn about the system and how to create their own.

“Those students gain a lot by being able to work with a client to create a project that’s actually going to be used,” Renner says.

The museum also recently received a grant from AS Sustainability to put together a pollinator garden. Students, community volunteers, and staff members will work on that project this semester. Renner says the museum particularly likes to highlight projects that promote stewardship of the environment and sustainability, awareness of the natural resources in Northern California, and any STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) content.

“We want to be a premier location for promoting STEM,” she says.

This April, the museum will have a second themed career day where local students can learn about science-related jobs. Last season’s theme was aviation, and this spring’s will be sports science, which correlates with the museum’s current Sportsology exhibit. Renner said in her experience as a young person who liked science, teachers were quick to point to a career in teaching science without promoting the idea that she could actually be a scientist. With the museum’s career days, she hopes to expose young people to the variety of science careers available by connecting them with professionals from Chico State and the community.

The museum sees this partnership as vital to its vision and the creation of an environment where people of all ages and demographics are inspired by science, Renner says.

To discover how you can get involved with the Gateway Science Museum, located near Bidwell Mansion at 625 Esplanade, contact Renee Renner at 530-898-4121.

—Kacey Gardner, editorial intern, Public Affairs and Publications