Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

Chelsea Trull
Karen Wight, program coordinator of the Detroit Observatory, sits by the permanent exhibition of the Meridian Circle Telescope, built in 1854. (ASHLEY HARPER/Daily)
Chelsea Trull
Three-year-old Miranda Thiis-Evensen plays in the water at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum on Ann Street Tuesday. (JASON COOPER/Daily)
Chelsea Trull
An exhibit in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Gallery at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Artifacts on display include objects from Egyptian funerary practices. (JASON COOPER/Daily)

By Amanda R. Shapin

Daily Arts Writer

Anyone between the ages of 0 and 100 should immediately add Ann Arbor’s Hands-On Museum to their to-do list. While many may initially think the museum is geared only toward kids, it can provide visitors of all ages with hours of fun and learning.

Open since 1982, the museum has seen more than 2.75 million visitors, some driving as much as two hours to check out its always evolving and popular displays. Located close to campus at 220 E. Ann St., those nearby won’t want to pass up the opportunity to drop by for a visit.

Occupying more than 40,000 square feet over four floors, the Hands-On Museum displays a number of exhibits; usually keeping visitors interested for around three hours, but has been known to entertain for up to eight.

While some exhibits feature the fundamentals of science are up all the time, most exhibits are frequently closed. Ranking in popularity, the musical steps (a set of stairs that plays notes as you walk) is a favorite, as well as the stringless harp that allows visitors to play music through breaking laser beams. A new exhibit, The Lyons Country Store, is a 20th century general store that displays actual historical artifacts and brings visitors back to a simpler time before technology, surprising many younger visitors.

“I was reluctant to come, thinking it was more for kids, but it is great and is much more fun than the traditional museum” said Public Health graduate student Jessica Welch, who will soon be leaving Ann Arbor and put the Hands-On museum on her list of fun places to visit before leaving the city. “I recommend coming and make sure to check out the Measure Up exhibit, which interactively measures your physical fitness.”

The museum has also been attracting University classes for years, including physics and language classes, as a creative way for interactive learning. Around every corner is something new to learn about, regardless of a visitor’s age. However, the museum provides much more than a place to learn.

You will never run out of things to talk about with all the amusing exhibits” said Pam Smith, director of public affairs and marketing for the museum.

The museum also hosts a number of special events throughout the year, with the next one coming up on Monday, Martin Luther King Day, with the theme “Science is for Everyone.” Admission will be free all day (normally $7.50 for adults), and there will be two concerts as well as hands-on activities open to the public.

Emphasized at the Hands-On Museum is the volunteer work. Started up by volunteers, this has been vital the museums continued success. Many University students have devoted their time to help out, including spending a day working at the museum.

Anybody looking for a place to spend a non-awkward date, wanting to give back to the community or just searching for a fun way to waste the hours of an afternoon, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum provides guaranteed entertainment.

For more information on admission, museum hours or volunteering visit www.aahom.org or call 995-5439.


Seeing stars: the university’s Observatories

By Katie Marie Gates

Daily Arts Writer

Anxious for Spring Break already? Dying to get out of Michigan? Well, before cabin fever sets in, there is one trip you can take without booking a plane ticket. All you have to do is look up.

The stars and planets have fascinated astronomers for centuries because of their mysterious beauty. Three facilities in Ann Arbor, the Detroit Observatory, the Angell Hall Observatory and the University Observatory at Peach Mountain, allow students to think like astronomers, do some stargazing and imagine the outer reaches of the universe.

The Detroit Observatory was built in 1854 under the direction of the University’s first president, Henry P. Tappan. Tappan sought to bring the Prussian education system to the United States and establish a research-based university.

“This was the big initial showcase project,” explained Karen Wight, program coordinator for the University’s Detroit Observatory. Tappan would begin the University’s longstanding tradition of research with the study of stars, Wight said.

After receiving funding from 75 donors in the Detroit area, the observatory was named in honor of the city where they all lived rather than after one specific contributor. It now remains on campus as the second oldest building after to the president’s house.

The Detroit Observatory offers two open houses each month for visitors to step back in time and experience the study of astronomy like the scientists of the 1800s.

“You are experiencing the building like they did in the 19th century,” Wight commented. “It is like doing a 19th century dance.”

Taking a tour of the observatory is the only way to really appreciate the work that was done there 150 years ago. “It is a little closer to the raw,” Wight said. “You can imagine what it was like for them in the dark and the cold.”

As you move through the space you will see where astronomers spent long days preparing their instruments and even longer nights examining the skies. A large room on the main floor with ceiling hatches to the north and south holds a Meridian Circle telescope used to keep time. In a building with no heat or electricity, a long night of stargazing was not very glamorous as scientists sometimes spent hours waiting for a single star to come into position to assure accurate time.

The top of the building is home to an 1857 American telescope made in New York City by Henry Fitz, Jr. A large rotating dome with a hatch encloses the telescope for viewing purposes.

Unfortunately however, the dome is not functional due to rotation problems.

However, there is still an opportunity to get a glimpse of the stars at the Angell Hall Observatory. Situated on the roof of Angell Hall, this observatory was built in the 1920s to function as classroom space because of its central location on campus.

“It’s the worst location in the world (for seeing stars),” said Peter Seitzer, associate research scientist in the Department of Astronomy. Due to the city lights, stargazing from the top of Angell hall is often less than ideal, but the location is perfect for students.

Two Fridays each month, the Student Astronomical Society, the undergraduate astronomy club here at the University, holds open houses that allow the public to partake in some stargazing as well. With two fully functional telescopes, the observatory has drawn impressive crowds for special exhibits such as the transit of Venus across the sun this past June, where 200 were present.

In addition, the Angell Hall Observatory recently opened a new planetarium in September. It gives visitors a good look at the stars without fear of poor weather or light pollution from the comfortable 25-seat auditorium. Shows accompany each open house and Seitzer will be holding a “Tuesdays at the Planetarium” series for five weeks starting Jan. 25th.

“Folks can expect to see what the night sky would be like from Ann Arbor if there were no clouds or city lights,” Seitzer explained. “I also show them what the skies look like from the southern hemisphere, and how the sun, moon, and planets will move over the next year.”

For the most dedicated star seekers, the best place in our area is the University Observatory at Peach Mountain near Dexter where viewing is untainted by city lights. Open houses are offered by the University Lowbrow Astronomers two times each month for those willing to make the trip.


Digging up the past: Archaeology Museum

By Kathryn Rice

For the Daily

Modestly situated on 434 S. State St., the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is easy to overlook. However, those who venture inside will discover an active center for archaeological research and development. The museum unmasks a host of fragmented secrets — from an open Egyptian coffin to the sacred texts from the “Book of the Dead.” The Kelsey delights in the cryptic grandeur of ancient funerary practices, but it does not exclude the grit of everyday living from its showcase. Visitors will find marriage contracts adjacent to magic spells, and canopic jars in the same room with cooking pots. In every display, supernatural enigmas appear to co-exist comfortably with the perfunctory tools of domestic life.

The museum features three permanent exhibitions: a Greek and Roman collection, an Egyptian and Near Eastern collection and an Egyptian sarcophagus. Some of the highlights include the coffin of priest Djheutymose, and a series of Roman portraiture busts.

Kelsey also unveils about two temporary exhibits each year. Currently, curators are preparing for the opening of a new exhibit, titled “This Fertile Land: Signs and Symbols in the Early Arts of Iran and Iraq”. Scheduled to open Feb. 4, the exhibit features a collection of 158 pre-historic “buttons” dating back to c. 4000 BCE. Associate Director and Curator Lauren Talalay insists, “The name buttons is misleading, they’re really more like seals.”

These seals appear to have performed a variety of functions in the ancient Iranian civilization, serving as decorative ornaments and magical healing charms, among other uses. This eclectic collection will also be accompanied by artifacts from the Musee du Louvre, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Dartmouth College.

According to Talalay, the majority of new exhibits are inspired by the work of the Kelsey’s curators, who delve through the museum’s expansive collection of over 100,000 artifacts. Unfortunately, due to space limitations curators are only able to display a mere 1 percent of the items in their collection. However, after years of frustration, the museum has finally forged plans to expand their exhibition space into the parking lot behind the museum. Construction will temporary close the Kelsey in the spring of 2006, with the hopes of re-opening in the fall of 2007. Among the events envisioned for the grand re-opening of the museum will be the opening of time capsule, first buried under the cornerstone of the museum when it was originally built in 1888.

As one of the oldest buildings on campus, the Kelsey Museum has a rich history in the field of archaeology. Since 1924, the museum has led approximately 25 excavations in sites including Turkey, Italy, Armenia, Greece and Syria. It has supplemented these projects with regular international conferences and the frequent output of archaeological publications.

While the museum has enjoyed years of academic success, it has also formed an integral part of the learning community for children in Ann Arbor and surrounding areas. The museum hosts kids programs named “Mummy Days” which specialize in what Talalay calls “our eviscerated Barbie doll project”. Children are provided the opportunity to act as Egyptian priests for a day. The children remove candy organs from the insides of dolls, wrap them in tissue paper and decorate shoe-box coffins.

Although the Kelsey Museum appears to occupy an understated place on campus, those who take the time to step inside will find an institution steeped in heritage and discovery.


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