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Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination Lands in our Galaxy—at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Jay Cochran - June 07, 2007

Could humanoid robots and vehicles that hover above ground, once limited only to the fantasy worlds of Star Wars, become a reality? On June 9, 2007, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History will open an innovative exhibition, Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, in its only scheduled visit to the Southwest.

Developed by the Museum of Science, Boston in collaboration with Lucasfilm Ltd., the 10,000 square-foot exhibit explores the fantasy technologies depicted in the Star Wars films, the real science behind them, and the current research that may someday lead to remarkable real-life versions of the technologies seen in the film series.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and presented by Bose Corporation, Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is the first exhibition to display costumes and props from all six Star Wars films with real-world technologies. The exhibit includes extensive video interviews with filmmakers, scientists and engineers; and hands-on components, including two large Engineering Design Labs, where visitors can build and test their own speeders and robots.

“Technology is changing by the minute,” remarked Van A. Romans, president of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, on the opening of this major interactive exhibit in Texas. “We are thrilled to give the people of Texas and the Southwest an opportunity to visit Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination and experience some amazing innovations first-hand. We also hope this exhibit will inspire future scientists and engineers.”

Award-winning filmmaker and Star Wars creator George Lucas remarked on the collaboration with the Museum of Science in creating the exhibit, “I'm happy that Star Wars can help to educate people about technology in an entertaining way. Technological innovation and filmmaking have a lot in common; they both begin with imagination and creativity.”


Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination has two main theme areas. “Getting Around” focuses on transportation in the films as well as new and future modes of travel. The “Robots and People” section, sponsored by Raytheon Company, looks at the relationship between robots and humans on screen and in the real world.

Within each of the two main theme areas of the exhibition, there are Engineering Design Labs (EDL) where visitors are presented with engineering challenges. For example, in the “Getting Around” theme area, where Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder from Episode IV is on exhibit for the first time, visitors are asked How would you build a maglev car like Luke’s Landspeeder? Videos of real-world speeders and maglev trains in use around the world, coupled with accounts from the engineers who design them, help visitors explore the facets of each technology involved in creating a floating vehicle. Visitors can climb into a real world hovercraft and levitate for a few moments to feel what the next mode of mass transit might be like. Next, visitors can begin to develop a levitating vehicle using magnets and LEGOs supplied in the Design Lab. The EDL process gives exhibit-goers an opportunity to imagine, create, and evaluate real-world technologies. In the case of creating a maglev car like the Landspeeder, visitors build a floating speeder, then test the vehicles they created by propelling them along a magnetic track.

At the “Robots and People” section, visitors will see displays of Star Wars robots like C-3PO and R2-D2. Robot-enthusiasts can try to make a robot walk, test a robot that balances on two wheels, and even design facial expressions for an emotional robot. They can also explore the link between robotics and medicine. Medical researchers are adapting roboticists’ designs to modern prosthetics. They are seeking new ways to integrate technology into the human body—replacing lost or damaged functions through complex implant systems, tapping signals directly from the brain to control a computer, and melding metal, tissue, and bone in the newest prosthetics. Modern prosthetics look much like the interesting medical technologies seen in Star Wars. Alongside Luke and Anakin’s prosthetic hands and a Darth Vader costume will be real-world robotic legs and neural and muscular implants that may allow people increased mobility.

Once visitors have had a chance to explore fantasy and real-world robots, they can try building a droid. At the “Robots and People” EDL, the challenge is How would you design a robot like R2-D2? Activities focus on robot mobility, perception, and cognition. Visitors can choose from a variety of wheels and sensors, and by following simple instructions, program their robot to navigate through the droid factory.

Graphics, artifacts, and interactive video components will bring visitors up to date on the latest research efforts related to specific technological challenges outlined in each EDL. For each challenge, the components will be designed and grouped to engage visitors to inquire what, how, and why—essential questions to build technological literacy.

“Bose Corporation is proud to support this exhibit and the Museum of Science's commitment to science and technology education,” said Bob Maresca, president of Bose Corporation. “Because of our company's dedication to research and innovation, participation in an exhibit that highlights scientific research and engineering design is a natural fit.”


At the exhibit’s Robot Object Theater, visitors enter a large-scale model of the sandcrawler from Episode IV for an engaging presentation on robots. Inside the dark, rusted-steel interior of the sandcrawler, they come face-to-face with an animatronic version of beloved Star Wars robot, C-3PO. He is joined (via video projection) by real-world robotics engineer, Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Robotic Life Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. The two have a thought-provoking and entertaining discussion on what makes a good robot. Breazeal takes on the issues of mobility, perception, and cognition in robotics. Along the way, she banters with C-3PO, recalling moments from his robot career to illustrate her points.


From harsh deserts to underwater cities and the forest world, visitors can explore some of the unique environments seen in the Star Wars films at freestanding displays integrated throughout the exhibit. Costumes from each of the Star Wars worlds will demonstrate how the environment shaped the look of the Star Wars characters. It will also show visitors how people on Earth, similar to those on screen, adapt according to their surroundings. Some of the colorful costumes on display include Wookiees from Kashyyyk, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin and Yoda from Coruscant, a snow trooper from Hoth, and a Jawa, from Tatooine.


“Throughout the development of the exhibit, it was clear that the Star Wars films had greatly influenced the filmmakers, scientists, engineers, and technologists whom we interviewed,” remarked Ed Rodley, exhibit planner, Museum of Science. “Through video kiosks in the exhibit, they give insight into the important role their imagination played before making their visions a reality—whether it’s a memorable character like Chewbacca or a real-world, social robot like Kismet.”

Breazeal, director of the Robotic Life Group at the MIT Media Lab, reflects upon her early interest in robots in the exhibit’s immersive theater experience: “I think you could say I first became really interested in robots when I was maybe about 10 years old. I saw Star Wars. I was a little girl, and I just loved the robots in the movie. I fell in love with R2-D2.” Regarding the first time she saw robots at the MIT Media Lab, “…they were these sort of insect-like intelligent robots, but I really thought these are autonomous, biologically-inspired machines and if we're ever going to see robots like R2-D2 or C-3PO, it’s going to happen in a place like this. So that whole Star Wars thing kind of rekindled it in my mind. And really, if you look at my life now and my research, I am really trying to make these kinds of robots a reality.”

Animation and development director for Lucasfilm Animation Ltd., Rob Coleman, is one of the artists seen in video interviews throughout the exhibit. He was instrumental in the development of Wookiees—the species from which the character Chewbacca originates. “When I started working on the Wookiees, a lot of the animators were concerned because in the art work there was this tropical environment and they kept coming in and saying, ‘This doesn’t make sense that you'd have such a big, furry character on this tropical world.’ And all I did was turn to them and say, ‘Orangutans, gorillas? Guys, orangutans grow up in Indonesia right on the equator.’ And they all sort of stood there like they’d forgotten. They come from the tropical rain forest, so it makes perfect sense.”

Admission to the Exhibit

Tickets to Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination are now on sale. Admission will be by timed ticket only and will include a separate ticket for general exhibit admission that can be used on the same day of a visit to Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination: $15 adults, and $10 seniors (60+) and children (3-12). Advance ticket reservations are recommended and tickets can be purchased online at www.fortworthmuseum.org or by calling 817-255-9540. For more information on how to become a Museum member, call 817-255-9404 or visit www.fortworthmuseum.org. Special pricing for school field trips to Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is $7.50 per student, including general exhibit admission. For information on exhibits and programs connecting to school curricula, call 817-255-0416 and to book a group visit, call 817-255-9440. The exhibition will be on display at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History through Sept. 3, 2007.


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