Science Museum Takes Brains-On Approach
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2003; Page C01
The National Academy of Sciences plans to open a science museum in
Washington next spring that will showcase research sponsored by the
academy and dissect important policy and ethical questions facing
scientists, it announced yesterday.
The 6,000-square-foot facility -- small compared with Washington's other
museums -- will be at Sixth and E streets NW, a block from the National
Daniel E. Koshland Jr., a biochemist, veteran of the Manhattan Project and
former editor in chief of Science magazine, gave the academy $25 million
in memory of his wife. Marian Koshland, a noted immunologist who did
groundbreaking work on a cholera vaccine and the behavior of antibodies,
died in 1997.
"We wanted to explain science a little more. We wanted to show how science
works, the science behind the headlines," said Koshland, 83, a professor
at University of California, Berkeley, and an heir to the Levi Strauss
fortune. During World War II, Koshland worked at the University of Chicago
and the laboratories at Oak Ridge, Tenn., as a chemist trying to purify
plutonium. The work of Koshland and others led to the development of three
nuclear bombs, including the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the last decade science museums have become enormous draws around the
country. Most of them are packed with bells and whistles, as well as
computer-generated interactive exhibits, to appeal to the school-age
visitor. "Museums are very tangible. They provide a place for people to
enter and experience," said Patrice Legro, director of the new museum.
The Marian Koshland Science Museum is deliberately trying a different
The museum will be organized around a series of oversize panels and
interactive displays. The material will be based on reports of the
scientists, engineers and health professionals who work for private
research groups under the National Academy. The academy gets about 80
percent of its funds from the federal government; each year groups
associated with it publish more than 200 studies on topics such as
nutritional guidelines, the Human Genome Project, nuclear waste, medical
errors and science, and health and education issues.
The topics, the planners hope, will be timely. "The currency of what we
are trying to show is the hook," Legro said.
The organizers have planned a permanent exhibition on general science and
two changing displays. The latter will focus on climate change,
specifically the global warming phenomenon, and on DNA sequencing,
examining the SARS outbreak, crop improvement and criminal forensics.
"We are aiming our content at the non-scientist adult. We recognize our
content is complex," Legro said.
The museum is being planned by the Bowman Design Group, a firm based in
Signal Hill, Calif. It created the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica and
the Children's Museum of Tampa. It also ran events for the National
Football League and soccer's World Cup.
Koshland thinks a boutique museum for science will attract those who want
more answers. "We are looking at what is the basic science you need to
understand, and then you read the newspaper and decide your position," he