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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Martin Fisher is the director of Science Central.

Science Central debt-free, dreaming big

Courtesy photo
Science On a Sphere is a room-sized global display system that Science Central expects to unveil next summer.

Many amazing natural wonders have been demonstrated at Science Central, but this one may be the most wondrous of all.

A few weeks ago, Science Central went debt-free.

Executive Director Martin Fisher commemorated the occasion by guiding spectators to the place where science intersects with tooting one’s own horn: He froze the promissory note in liquid nitrogen and crushed it at a staff meeting.

When I pointed out to Fisher that total lack of debt is not a typical state of affairs among regional tourist attractions, he said it is pretty unusual among science centers nationally as well.

“I recently attended the annual science center conference (ASTC) with 1,600 of my closest, geeky science friends,” he said. “The recession has really taken a toll on a lot of these science centers. They’ve been forced to dip into resources, dip into the principal of their endowments.”

That’s not an option for Science Central, which doesn’t have an endowment and receives “no public funds at all,” Martin said.

Martin credits that grand old campaigner “fiscal responsibility” for putting the spring back in Science Central’s step.

Now, what was formerly a pleasantly predictable Science Central is about to get a lot more pleasingly unpredictable.

Fisher said the facility recently finished its first-ever capital campaign.

It raised $1.5 million toward the purchase of a new exhibit called “Science on a Sphere.”

Imagine a movie theater where the screen is spherical and the projectors are numerous.

On this unusual 360-degree globe-shaped screen, meteorological happenings – past and present – on all known planets will be projected.

Martin said Science Central will be one of the few facilities in the country with this technology.

The exhibit, created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, should be up and running by the summer of next year, Martin said, and will be housed in some currently unused space.

At present, Science Central takes up only half of the structure formerly used as the City Light and Power plant, Martin said.

Martin said a new logo will also be introduced in 2013 and a fresh attitude should be much in evidence by then as well.

It may be safely asserted that most devotees of Science Central think of it as a place that was primarily designed with kids in mind, and Martin said he wants to change that.

Nominally informational signs will be replaced with ones that have more information on them, Martin said, and cartoonish illustrations will vanish in favor of more refined ones.

Martin said he wants Science Central to appeal to a broader range of possible patron. He said he’s seen evidence recently that this has already started to happen.

“It’s not uncommon for me to walk out onto the floor and see Indiana Tech students on a date, or a group of four or five high school kids, or senior citizens visiting without their grandkids,” Martin said.

Martin wants adults to get as excited about science as kids do.

“If someone walks out of here with one or two facts or figures about science, that’s great,” he said. “If someone walks out of here seeing real-world connections to science, that’s powerful. If someone walks out of here recognizing that anyone can do science, become a scientist and that science is fun, that’s super powerful.”

A newish event at Science Central is not likely to be mistaken for a childish one.

“Mixology 201: The Science of Cocktails,” a fundraiser in its second year, will showcase science of a more recreational sort. But it is science just the same, Martin said.

The experts on elixir-creation who will be brought in on Friday are not bartenders, Martin said.

“These are people who have a very strong background in (the science of taste), in gastronomy and in chemistry,” he said.

“These are sort of folks – let’s say a ritzy new restaurant wants a signature $20 drink,” Martin said. “These are the people they fly out for a week. These people determine the ingredients, the right size of glass and the right shape of glass.”

Baker Street will cater the event, Martin said, and culinary students from Ivy Tech will conduct food-related experiments that presumably will be a feast for the eyes, as well as for the usual feast-appreciating parts.

Now that Science Central is debt-free, Martin is free to dream bigger.

He said he has some pie-in-the-sky plans, and they include a planetarium, a “giant screen hi-def theater,” an immersion theater, a Great Lakes watershed aquarium, an observatory, additional classrooms, a second traveling exhibitions gallery and a full-capability exhibits fabrication shop.

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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