Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Macao Science Center

Directly across the water from our home is a unique building, looking a bit like some sort of vehicle you might find in a Star Wars film.
Do you see it? Right in the middle of the screen? Like an upside down cone tilted to the side with the point cut off? It took me awhile to figure out what it is, but when I heard it was the Macao Science Center (spelled with an O), I could not wait another day to go!

We took a taxi, and got our first English-speaking taxi driver. He proudly told us he was 65 years old, was born in Macau, spent 30 years as a truck driver and then decided to become a taxi driver since he could work as much (or as little) as he wanted. He was so proud to point out many sights along the way. We were all so reluctant to get out of the taxi, wishing the ride was just a little bit longer so we could learn more!

We bought our tickets for the Exhibition Center as well as tickets to see a 3-D film on the space race in the Planetarium. We had four hours to explore before we had to report to see the movie, and we spent an entire hour in the first exhibition hall!

If you came here from my other blog, you know that my older son is quite the artist. He is very intelligent but can't stand school unless it involves art, music, or recess. Considering the state of California continues to cut funding for the arts, there wasn't much art or music to speak of. We continually seek out art classes and opportunities for him to strengthen his skills. I'm always trying to tell him how art is one of those things that is fed by other things in life, like science and math. He doesn't always believe me, but the first exhibit hall only strengthened my argument!

"The Scientific Conceptions of Leonardo da Vinci, 500 Years and Beyond" special exhibition, which runs through October 2, 2011. Absolutely incredible.

The exhibition consisted of replicas of his scientific drawings along side working models of his designs, many of which you could touch and move and see how they worked. Though they did not have any of his original work on display, they did a great job showing what his notebooks looked like. Right now Nathan pulls every finished page from his notebook, crumples it up, and throws it away, saying he could do better. I loved being able to show Nathan the many drawings of da Vinci in his notebooks which got more and more detailed, especially some of the anatomy drawings.

Each display told a little about the drawing and any other historical documents that may have mentioned it, or how it may have been used. In many cases, they showed the modern usage for his 500 year old idea. This exhibit was for a highly portable arched bridge. They had the display with a reproduction of the original sketch:

 A full size replica of the item in the drawing:
 And then an interactive part with a smaller replica (on the left) and the pieces available for you to put it together yourself. The full sized arched bridge is made out of logs and used no rope or straps to keep it together, yet could hold the weight of many men who needed to cross a river quickly in a time of war to surprise the enemy.

The docents spoke excellent English, and were incredibly helpful at adding to the experience, dropping little tidbits of information about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, keeping the kids thoroughly engaged. They had a hall of filled with reproductions of some of his most famous paintings. This is the digitally restored copy of the Mona Lisa, which they had alongside a reproduction of the original, pointing out the differences and how time aged the painting.

I hated to do it, but I finally pushed us all out of the exhibit so we could see the rest of the place!

The building itself is incredible. From the inside it's very reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Since we'd just taken the boys to see a movie that has a lengthy (funny but highly improbable) scene at the Guggenheim, the boys took a small interest in the building design. The Macao Science Center was designed by famed Chinese architect I. M. Pei, who was born in Canton, China, raised in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and then moved to the United States to attend university where he studied architecture at M.I.T. Some of his well known designs include the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, the National Gallery East Building in Washington D.C., and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong (which you can see prominently framed at the 2:00 minute mark when Batman crashes through the window in this clip from The Dark Knight). The interior winds up in a circular fashion, with exhibition halls every hundred feet or so, getting smaller as you go up.

Sharing the bottom floor with Leonardo da Vinci was a huge exhibit on the China Space Program.

I have to admit that seeing the People's Republic of China flag in the astronaut's hand and on the side of the rockets was jarring for a second. After spending an hour in "Italy" with Leonardo da Vincihere.

They had reproductions of the last several rockets launched by the China Space Program, including the Shenzhou 7 Spaceship on the far left, which launched September 25, 2008. It was the third human spaceflight mission of the China Space Program, and the first to include a spacewalk by two of the three crewmen. They plan to launch the Shenzhou 8 Spaceship in 2011.

This is an actual spacesuit worn by an astronaut in the China Space Program. It was remarkable that it was so tiny. My oldest son was 5'1" last time I measured him, and this suit was about the right size to fit him from feet to shoulders.

Shenzhou translates as "Divine Vessel." The name was derived from the idea that they are sending this ship to God in the heavens. You can see the mission patch includes a heavenly being among the stars.
 It was only the second gallery we visited, but I was already smitten with the Macao Science Center! Almost all the exhibits in the space gallery were hands on activities with a point. The kids were having so much fun they didn't realize they were learning! All the activities throughout the entire museum gave you the option of listening in English, Portuguese, Cantonese, or Mandarin, which meant that it was fully accessible for most visitors to this region.

This activity seemed really interesting at first:
You had to pick the angle which the Space Shuttle, complete with American flag, would re-enter Earth's atmosphere. If you chose correctly, the Shuttle would land at Kennedy Space Center to a cheering crowd. If you chose too shallow of an angle, the Shuttle would hit the bright white "atmosphere" and bounce right off. If you chose too deep of an angle, the Shuttle would burn up and crash into a bazillion pieces. I was shocked the first time I saw it happen from across the room, so I went closer. When it happened a second time I started crying and hurried away sniffling. Good thing it was dark in there! I remember the Challenger disaster which I listened to live in my elementary school classroom, and Michael, two-year-old Nathan and I watched the Columbia disaster live on television while I was pregnant with Benjamin. I blame the pregnancy hormones for the several hours of crying that ensued after that horrible explosion in 2003.

A more light hearted exhibit was the Chinese space food. So different from what the American Astronauts enjoy for their meals in outer space!
 Moving on from the Space exhibit, we went to another special exhibit proposing a monorail system to connect all of Macau. You don't have to convince me how great that would be! The boys are sitting on a map of Macau, right above Taipa where we live.

A favorite of the boys, the Robot Exhibition Hall was filled with interactive displays of robots doing every day tasks. This robot would race you to see who could put a puzzle together faster. Another one played checkers against two human opponents, while yet another could solve a Rubik's Cube in less than 20 seconds no matter how much you mixed it up!

Michael and Nathan played robotic soccer against two other museum guests. There was a flood of high school-aged guests who continually came up to me, waved, and said an enthusiastic Hello! I would say hello back, but that was the extent of our conversation in a mutual language!

 Here's a shot from the top floor looking down to the floor in the center of the building. Beautiful!

We made it to our 3-D movie in the Planetarium with plenty of time. There are 135 seats in the theater, and though the films are projected in Cantonese, you can listen in via headphones in English, Portuguese, and Mandarin. The films are projected by high resolution 3-D projectors. It was pretty incredible! We saw a 45 minute film on the history of the space race. It was computer animated, and though the graphics were sometimes a little cheesy, it was a pretty great film. The boys were beside themselves with grief when they learned about Laika, a dog sent into space aboard Sputnik 2, who died on the mission because there was no re-entry protocol created to bring her back to Earth. Sad children.

 Here's a closer view of the exterior of the Macao Science Center when we were all done for the day.

If you scroll all the way back up to the first photo in this post, you'll see our view of the Science Center from our house. Here's the view of our house from the Science Center! We live in the building on the floor that Nathan's finger is "underlining." We sat out there on the sea wall there for a bit, enjoying the nice breeze cooling off the high heat, watching the ships go back and forth.

We'll definitely be making a return visit. It was a pretty good day. But then again, every day that we get to spend exploring as a family is a pretty good one!


  1. I love, love, love this post! I really wish I could have gone to the Macao Science Center with you, what fun! I'm glad to see you are having so many great new experiences!

  2. Miss you... you never wrote me back either!
    <3 Sherry

  3. You have such an awesome life....

  4. Looks like a great place to visit! So interesting to see a space program from another country.


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