By Chris Bainbridge
Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn. What better town then, than Aurora, Neb., to host a facility dedicated to enlightening curious young minds? The Edgerton Explorit Center, named after Harold “Doc” Edgerton (BSEE 1925), opened its doors in 1995 and will turn 10 this fall. The center’s namesake, a native of Aurora, is the father of the strobe light, high-speed photography, and side-scan sonar, which he used with long-time friend, Jacques Cousteau, to discover sunken ships and deep-sea creatures.
The Edgerton Explorit Center follows the distinguished MIT professor’s philosophy of learning by doing, and describes itself as Nebraska’s hands-on science center. Here students come to witness first hand such activities as shattering frozen tennis balls, using strobe light physics to watch a balloon pop, and stepping inside a bubble.
“We trick them into learning before they know what they’re doing,” said Michael Derr, executive director of EEC. “Whenever you see that light bulb turn on in a student’s mind and actually see them learning, there are just no words to describe the satisfaction.”
The EEC recently appeared in the Association of Science-Technology Center’s bi-monthly journal, “Dimensions.” They were also asked to give a presentation at the ASTC conference this September in Richmond, Va., with the Pacific Science Center of Seattle, and the Exploratorium of San Francisco. “It’s a huge honor,” Derr said.
While recognition flows in from across the country, it is the work the EEC performs right here in Nebraska that makes the biggest difference. In an age when schools are struggling to meet the new Nebraska state science standards, teachers turn to the EEC to help them introduce their students to science in fun, interesting and educational ways. In the words of one first grader, “this is better than recess!”
The EEC is a field trip destination for students and teachers from across the state. The future holds plans for greater outreach to schools too far from Aurora to make the drive. “We go to these farther away areas and basically create a fair-type atmosphere of scientific education,” Derr said. While at the fair, students and their families encounter team-building and challenge-based problems that introduce them to new scientific ideas. Staff members of the EEC present demonstrations and supervise interactive experiments with students.
Derr said the EEC also is in the beginning stages of a capital campaign to obtain more funding for a scientist-in-residence program that has met with recent success. “What we do is bring in college professors from around the country doing research in various areas,” Derr said. “Once they’re here, they educate our staff and teach them about that research. The idea is to create new exhibits each year based on the most up-to-date science taking place in the country.”
With new and exciting methods of education waiting in the wings, and with more and more students gaining that first look at the world of discovery, there is little doubt that after 10 years the sun is still rising at the Edgerton Explorit Center. A new dawn breaks each day for science in Aurora.
Milk Drop Coronet, 1957. ©Harold & Esther Edgerton Foundation, courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.