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Alumni Newsletter: July '08 to July '09

by Bonnie L. Epstein Silverman, AB '94

When attempting the impossible it’s a good idea not to think about how hard it will be. I plan to create a highly interactive, hands-on science museum in Rhode Island. If I look at the big picture, I tend to hyperventilate. But I feel so strongly that this museum needs to exist, that I put my head down and just try to accomplish the next item on my to-do list.

Ever since visiting the San Francisco Exploratorium well over a decade ago, I have wanted such a compelling science museum in Rhode Island. The spare, elegantly designed exhibits there were both physically and mentally engaging. The thrill of discovery permeated each experience. Visiting, I was reminded again of the excitement and wonder and even the beauty of science. I waited and hoped for someone to come build such a place near me.

While I waited, I graduated from Brown with an AB in Geology/Biology, and then from URI with a Ph.D. in oceanography, and I went to work for the New England Aquarium. I got married, had two children and left work to stay home and raise them. Then during a vacation, we visited the New York Hall of Science in Queens. It was fabulous! The creativity, the interaction – it was just like the Exploratorium. It COULD be repeated! Not only could it be, but in fact, I have found that it has been repeated successfully all over the U.S. and the world. I wrote a fan letter to the NY Hall of Science and asked, semi-seriously, if they would franchise.

The response was very positive. Although the NY Hall of Science didn’t exactly franchise, I was put in touch with their founder – who now consults. He seemed to think that my desire to create a museum like theirs in Rhode Island was quite possible. And so… I stopped waiting for someone else to build my dream. I wrote a whitepaper, started a blog (, began having meetings and am now trying to put together a board.

What, exactly, will this museum be like? Well, to borrow from my whitepaper: I propose to utilize Rhode Islands’ rich resources in the arts and sciences to create a distinctive, highly interactive, informal learning center - the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Arts (RI- MOSA). This museum will be an exciting cultural attraction for people of all ages, as well as an opportunity for students and a resource for teachers. By focusing on the junction of art and science, MOSA’s unique, hands-on exhibits and programs will appeal to a wide variety of learning styles and emphasize the tools that both artists and scientists share; curiosity, observation, experimentation and communication.

The more I research, the fonder I become of open-ended exhibits – those built for pure dabbling. Instead of a volcano model with labels, for example, visitors may mess around at a table with differently viscous fluids by bubbling gas through them, pouring them through tubes of different sizes, and sending them down ramps and through chillers and warmers. Our mission is first and foremost to awaken curiosity and encourage experimentation. Studies have shown that learning without an internal desire to know the answers is simply short term memorization (Friedman, 2003). But intellectual curiosity, if stirred, can lead to a lifelong love of learning.

Would you like to learn more? Please visit the blog to read more and leave comments. Or e-mail me at I would love your thoughts, your advice and especially your help, in shaping this nascent museum and bringing it to life.

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