Exhibit examines balance of energy in Alaska
MAY 2011 - Early humans relied only on the power generated by their own bodies: energy in the form of food. Then they discovered fire. Suddenly, our ancestors were able to access the energy stored over decades, not just days or months, and transform it into heat and light. That was the beginning of the balancing act humans play between the need for power and the forms of available energy.
Power Play: Energizing Our Lives, Fueling Alaska’s Future looks at the balance of energy in Alaska.
“Power Play asks how we use available resources here in Alaska and how we can keep them cost effective,” said museum director Carol Diebel. “It also explores the lessons we’ve learned and how our solutions might be exported to other places.”
Using interactive games created specifically for the exhibit, Power Play challenges visitors to think about energy needs and supplies. In the city engine game, guests power a model city with marbles that produce light and sound, while the wind tunnel lets users adjust a wind turbine and test performance. At the geothermal station, visitors run a simulated geothermal power plant, and a digital game, designed along with exhibit sponsor Golden Valley Electric Association, lets visitors choose how they would control the cost of energy.
Diebel was inspired to create something unique after researching energy-based exhibits available to museums. They all said something about how people outside of Alaska use power in their daily lives, but this state is unique in terms of its abundant resources and the specialized energy needs of communities off the grid.
The original designs for the interactive elements in Power Play came from the mind and drawing pen of Roger Topp, new media producer at the museum. He created computer programs to drive the displays and built the motherboards that would trigger the action and store information from daily use.
Preparator Steve Bouta built the components in the museum shop, sawing and sanding the wooden gears, building marble runs out of copper and choosing materials that fit both mechanical and aesthetic needs. Tamara Martz designed the exhibit logo and worked with UAF graphic artist Dixon Jones to create the panels and labels throughout the exhibit. Eric Henderson, Yasunari Izaki and Steven Martz also helped construct the exhibit.
Power Play was developed in partnership with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Director Gwen Holdmann said the project was a good way to share what the organization has learned with museum visitors.
“Alaska is cut off from the rest of the world,” she said. “We have rural communities with isolated electric distribution networks. Even our rail belt is a fairly small system.
"That creates some challenges for us to integrate renewables with fossil fuels, but it’s similar to what people are starting to see in the Lower 48. What we can develop here could have a role in how other places use energy.”
Other components of the exhibit include maps illustrating the disparity of energy costs across the state and how resources vary by location. Fuel facts interpreted throughout the display will broaden how visitors view Alaska’s energy picture. The museum expects more than 70,000 visitors of all ages to experience the exhibit.
After that, parts of Power Play will be housed in the Energy Technology Facility, the new home of ACEP at UAF.