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June 22nd, 2016

An Engineer’s Perspective on the Museum of Science and Industry


I’m an engineering student, not an English or Journalism major. But, like my boss and Design Engine owner, Bart, says, “Engineers can do about anything. All they need is practice.” So, here goes a little bit of my writing practice…

Engineering is a “how things work” kind of profession. I’m concerned with a process. How do I finish a task, starting at point A and working through a procedure–problem-solving–until I reach point B? For me, it’s neat to see that work in progress, and even better to see the result as a reward. I often look approach daily events with an engineering mindset. Sometimes, I can’t help but use an engineer’s viewpoint everywhere I go.


Art of the Bicycle Museum of Science and Industry Courtesy of Google Images

I know many people don’t particularly like museums. History might be boring to some and museums nothing but old and dusty buildings. But I beg to differ–especially concerning one museum in particular–the Museum of Science and Industry. Exhibits found there are tailored to peak interest in scientific and innovative thought, so my time spent there is always thought-provoking. Here’s how MSI puts my engineering mind in overdrive:

I find engineering wherever I look. A great example of this is the “Farm Tech” exhibit. I always associate nature with a farm: Fields of crops, adorable piglets and cows, homegrown meals. However, the industrial aspects of the modern-day farm are very real and take some great feats of engineering, too. The exhibit provides a lot of information on advanced farm equipment loaded with GPS technology and even the transformative power of manure. It makes me look at farming as a process in a very different and evolving light.

Baby chicks at Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery Museum of Science and Industry

Baby chicks at Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery Museum of Science and Industry

A large factor in engineering is examining the question of How Can it be Made Better? This often causes lingering thoughts, and MSI’s coal mine is one of those exhibits that stuck with me. The experience is totally immersive. You, as a guest, are a miner sent on a trip down the shaft. You take a tram in the dark and get a chance to see types of extraction processes used. What really got me, though, was the use of an open flame lamp which would be extremely dangerous if in the presence of methane gas. The thought of this was startling. Thankfully, technology has improved for mining equipment, and laws and regulations have been implemented. However, the exhibit proved to be a lasting thought-provoking topic to me, and makes an important note to place safety on top priority in design.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

This brings me to looking into how much we’ve progressed as humans. One of my favorite areas of MSI is “Yesterday’s Main Street,” an old-time town full of storefronts. It’s a little tucked-away in the museum, and it’s sort of creepy and vacant-feeling. (I always seem to be one of the only people there.) But what the engineer in me notices is something along the train of thought of a time-traveler: That cryptic dentist and corset shop was once the trendiest and newest available. A lack of Novocain would not have been so shocking a little over 100 years ago; it was not yet invented! Shopping was not always at the tip of our fingers, online. Long, full skirts and top hats would not have caused any head-turning; it was just the style of the time. The fact is, technology, alone, is not all that used to be different than it is now. Society and social norms—what we deem acceptable and our whole human experience—has all changed a lot, too.

I think what I love best about MSI is that it works the whole package I love the way that everything is presented: Kid-friendly and pretty. Let’s be honest: looks do matter. People will be attracted to what they like to see. The Swiss Jolly Ball machine looks like a fun toy but can interest young people in mechanical principles. The Fairy Castle exhibit may very well draw in more females to be interested in the museum and in the male-heavy fields of science and technology.

This neatly laces up the separate ties within my engineering mindset. It’s point A to point B, being mindful of the entire process. Including packaging. I appreciate this museum, in its entirety. And I greatly appreciate that it consciously prompts me to think like an engineer. For a place focusing on science and industry, I can only imagine what many professionals in these fields may think of this awesome site.

Swiss Jolly Ball Museum of Science and Industry

Swiss Jolly Ball Museum of Science and Industry

Article Written by Angela Wiscons for Design Engine, June 22, 2016 

About the Author


Design Engine Industrial Design Training Pro Engineer


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