District Collections Continue To Grow

Posted November 12, 2004 at 9:29am

Have you ever eaten indigenous food? Do you know what the difference in the energy concentration of North Korea and South Korea looks like? Do you know that Julia Child was once a spy?

Well, if you want to expand your knowledge and are looking for something to do one afternoon, you might want to take a walk, a short Metro ride or a drive to one of the three newest museums in Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of the American Indian, the Marian Koshland Science Museum and the International Spy Museum are not your traditional museums. Visitors play interactive games, choose what they want to learn more about on touch screens and computers and watch movies. All three are full of displays, both permanent and traveling.

National Museum of the American Indian

Located on the National Mall between the Capitol and the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian is D.C.’s newest museum, having opened Sept. 21. The four-story building has three permanent exhibitions, a theater presentation and an art gallery.

The three permanent exhibitions are “Our Universes,” “Our Peoples” and “Our Lives.” “Our Universes” shows different philosophies about the creation and order of the universe. “Our Peoples” has American Indian people telling their own story. It also shows how the development of the Western Hemisphere has affected them. “Our Lives” presents native people in the 21st century, including language, customs, beliefs and politics. Visitors can select video clips and interviews to watch on a variety of subjects in each exhibit.

Upon entering the museum, you are in the Potomac — the museum’s lobby, which extends 120 feet high to a dome that is more than 120 feet in diameter. Potomac comes from the Piscataway word meaning “where the goods are brought in,” according to the museum. Programs on boat building and navigation, the museum’s opening theme, are put on in the Potomac.

The “Window on Collections” exhibit is located on the third and fourth floors. More than 3,500 pieces of art and artifacts are on display and visitors use touch-screen computers in front of the glass cases to choose what object they want more information on. In addition to getting all of the facts about the object, the computer shows a 360 degree view of the selection.

A resource center with 18 public-access computers is on the third floor. You can e-mail reference material on a variety of subjects concerning American Indians, view floor plans of the museum, visit the museum’s Web site and e-mail a postcard while listening to music on headphones.

After seeing the exhibits, you can buy a souvenir in one of the two gift shops and sample indigenous food at the café. The Chesapeake Museum Store, on the ground level, sells native artisans’ work. The Roanoke Store sells crafts, books, music, toys and other souvenirs.

The Mitsitam Café has a separate food station to show different regional lifestyles. There is food from the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and the Great Plains. “Mitsitam” means “Let’s eat!” in the native language of the Delaware and Piscataway people, according to the museum.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, but timed passes may be required and can be reserved in advance by calling (866) 400-NMAI or at the museum on the day of your visit. L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW are the two closest Metro stations.

For more information, call (202) 633-1000 or visit www.nmai.si.edu.

Marian Koshland Science Museum

The Marian Koshland Science Museum offers a hands-on learning experience, and you do not have to be a scientist to understand and enjoy the exhibits. Located at Sixth and E streets Northwest, the science museum opened six months ago. Among the more than 15,000 visitors are Senators, White House staff and the staff for the House Science Committee.

The three exhibits at the museum are “Wonders of Science,” “Global Warming Facts & Our Future” and “Putting DNA to Work.” “Wonders of Science” is a permanent exhibit. The other two exhibits will be rotated out after two years. Practically everything in the museum is interactive.

Visitors start in the “Wonders of Science” exhibit, where a movie introduces how science answers the big questions. The Seeing Science computers allow visitors to choose what they want to learn about. For example, the “Lights at Night” exhibit shows where energy is concentrated in the world and how it has changed from 1993 to today. You can zoom in on any area of the world, see where the population has grown and where highways are located.

“Visitors spend a great deal of time here, because it is so engaging,” museum director Patrice Legro said.

The “Global Warming Facts & Our Future” exhibit lets you feel the difference between the natural greenhouse effect and today’s amplified green house effect.

“We show evidence of the effects of global warming,” Legro said. “We are not an advocacy group.”

You can also slide plasma screens along a large timeline to see the climate changes from 1900 to 2000 and projected temperature changes from 2000 to 2100. The “Consider the Alternatives” interactive display lets you calculate the cost of different options for improving the climate. You are shown how your choices compare to other visitors.

The “Putting DNA to Work” exhibit lets you guess how similar humans’ DNA structure is to that of various animals, fungi and plants; shows how one letter difference in your DNA will give you a disease; and demonstrates how diseases are inherited.

There is also a forensics display that shows how DNA is used in criminal trials.

Legro recommends allowing an hour and a half to view the museum. Private tours can be given at any time, but Tuesday is the best day because the museum is otherwise closed, she said. The science museum is privately funded by the National Academy of Sciences.

The science museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors, active duty military, students and children. For more information, call (202) 334-1201 or visit www.koshland-science-museum.org.

International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum opened two years ago at 800 F St. NW. It immerses you into the world of espionage through video clips, games and examples of spy tools and tricks.

Upon entering the permanent “Introduction to Espionage” exhibit, you are shown a video telling you to choose an identity from those around the room and memorize it. You are tested on your identity later. Then a movie shows you why one would want to be a spy and what it takes to be a spy.

After the movie, you guide yourself through a maze of five exhibits: “School for Spies,” “The Secret History of History,” “Spies Among Us,” “War of the Spies” and “The 21st Century.”

There is also a special exhibit, “The Enemy Within: Terror in America, 1776 to Today,” that tells the history of Americans terrorized in the United States. This exhibit opened in May and will be on display through summer 2005.

There are more than 400 gadgets on display in just the “School for Spies” exhibit, according to Amanda Abrell, the museum’s media relations manager.

Numerous interactive games throughout the museum test your ability to be a spy. You learn to identify the threat in a certain situation, alter your appearance and break codes.

Videos train you to pick a lock and make a disguise and show the consequences of being a spy. One video shows clips of how espionage has influenced popular culture with a variety of movie clips ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to Austin Powers.

The museum also teaches the history of espionage and shows women who were spies.

It ends with a video showing the challenges of intelligence in the 21st century.

The last exhibit lets you out in the museum store. There are two places to eat at the museum: Spy City Café and Zola. Spy City Café is for a quick meal. Zola is a more formal restaurant.

The Spy Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April-October and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. November-March. Tickets are $13 for adults; $12 for seniors, active duty military, the intelligence community and college students; and $10 for children ages 5-11. Tickets for the special exhibit are $5 for adults; $4 for seniors, active duty military, the intelligence community and college students; and $3 for children ages 5-11.

Tickets can be purchased at the museum or through Ticketmaster. For more information, call (202) 393-7798 or visit www.spy museum.org.