The Motion Lab is one of the main attractions in the new Sportsology exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota

The Angle

Sportsology: Where Science Meets Sports

by on 6 January 2017

A new exhibit at the Science Museum challenges visitors to learn about the science of bodies in motion.

A big change is happening at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Starting today, you’ll see a whole lot of running, throwing, kicking, balancing, jumping, and spinning going on across from the dinosaurs on the third floor. It’s all part of a new permanent exhibit called Sportsology. Frequent visitors to the museum are likely to be excited for this rare major update to a large section of exhibit space.

“We haven’t created a lot of new change — in terms of exhibits — in this building,” says Sportsology Project Lead Cari Dwyer. “We have travelling exhibits come in. We’ve certainly changed things up and we have done other exhibits, but this is on a pretty big scale for us to revamp this part of the museum.”

Sportsology was originally developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota as a permanent exhibit hall for the 2012 opening of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. The “Sports Hall” quickly became one of the most popular exhibits at the museum, attracting scores of visitors and a $5 million donation to the museum from Lamar Hunt’s family.

“We saw how engaging it was and what a great collection of whole body interactives it was for the museum in Dallas. We retained the intellectual property and thought ‘well, if we ever have the chance to replicate some of these exhibits and bring them here for our visitors, that would be great,’ and we’ve had the chance to do that,” says Dwyer.

Protect your brain: learn about concussions.

Despite the head start on the concept and design from the work done for the Dallas installation, it still took nearly a year and a half for the team in Minnesota to bring the exhibit to life in St. Paul. While some features of the exhibit — such as the racing against pros — are the same design, several new features were developed. Among them are a section on concussions, a section on the science of balance, a series of touch screen videos of sports scientists and professional athletes, and a collection of artifacts throughout time showing how sports skills have been used for both survival and recreation.

Think you can win a race against Christen Press or Erik Haula? You won’t stand a chance against a T. rex (yes, that’s an option).

The entire exhibit showcases accomplished local and national athletes. “We’re featuring a wide range of athletes, from high school athletes to collegiate athletes and pros,” notes Dwyer. You can race against US women’s national team player Christen Press or compare your kick to that of Minnesota United defender Justin Davis or Gopher forward Simone Kolander.

Visitors will be lining up for a turn in the Motion Lab. While inside, a high speed camera will capture their movement at 200 frames per second. Once outside, a computer monitor plays it back at 24 frames per second. While participants can do whatever they like, those who pick one of the suggested activities (there are ten to choose from in a wide variety of sports) can view their playback side-by-side with those at the top of the field.

Compare your motion with local athletes, such as Simone Kolander, using the Motion Lab playback.

Even if you can’t kick a screamer like Kolander, you’ll probably be fascinated by what you see. Says Dwyer, “You just notice things about what goes into your body’s motion that I don’t think you can in real time. That’s one of the things that’s been a priority with the exhibit: helping people learn about the anatomy and mechanics of their bodies in motion — what happens to let you jump, run, spin. I think that’s one of the coolest take-aways is being able to get a new perspective of your body in motion.”

Access to the Sportsology exhibit is included with regular admission to the museum. More information is available on the Science Museum of Minnesota website.

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