The human need for communication has always been a unique pursuit, and technological advances that impact how we do it are the foundation of the new exhibition at the Innovation and Science Museum. “Let’s Connect! Exploring Communication Technologies” opened on Friday.
“The exhibit’s focus is on significant changes over the years and how these innovations have created those changes,” said Chris Hunter, vice president of collections and exhibitions.
The exhibit, one of the largest ever produced by the museum, is divided into five sections. The first part is wireless communication. Did you know that a human voice can travel 375 yards, or that a shout in a calm open space can travel a little over a mile? But our ancestors needed to reach out to others in a more substantial way a thousand years ago.
“We have some small stele seals from Sumer from 2000 BC and an Egyptian scarab with hieroglyphs on it,” Hunter said.
The flag and torch system eventually led to the printing press in the 1400s, and then the first newspapers. The exhibit has a page of Liber Biblia Moralis borrowed from a German Bible of 1474.
The second part is the communication with the wires. It’s all about the telegraph and Samuel Morse’s dot-and-dash system, which used electricity to send information over long distances. This inspired Alexander Graham Bell to use these electrical impulses to transmit the human voice through his telephone in 1876.
The third part is about how broadcasting started from the early drama and evolution of the Capital Region’s own radio station, WGY, into television.
The fourth part is how the use of radio waves beyond amateur radio applies to the federal government’s allocation of portions of the electromagnetic spectrum to various companies and agencies.
The last part is about computers, with a focus on satellite technology and a reference to cell phones.
Hunter said that while “a large part of the Thomas Edison-GE connection” is “largely related to the human voice.” An example of this is the use of radio waves. Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio in 1909, primarily to allow ships to communicate with other ships at sea.
“When the Titanic sank in 1912, their distress signal was gone, but the airwaves were not regulated, and all the ships were on the same frequency,” Hunter said. “People are jamming the airwaves with fake news saying there is no distress or that the boat has been rescued.”
When rescue came it was too late, which eventually led to the creation of the Federal Communications Commission, and today every boat has its own frequency, just like every plane, wildlife group, ham radio operator or public broadband.
Hunter said the outline for the exhibition was formed quickly, but the exhibition itself took about three years to organize.
“The biggest challenge is honing in on what to focus on and not burying people with too many cool facts or objects,” he said.
Among the 150 items are: a 1964 radio antenna prototype originally designed by Roy Anderson for NASA in the 1960s using a golf umbrella; a model of the first cell phone in 1983 and Apple’s latest i-phone 4; a The 1960s Princess phone, which many Hunter employees recalled. The hardest thing to find, however, was an old wooden phone booth.
“The Adirondacks had a couple of glass and metal booths where cell phone coverage was poor, but we got a 1960s wooden booth from a collector in Rochester,” he said. “It’s interesting that without the internet, we would never have found it.”
While grandparents may miss these old items, kids may enjoy playing with up to 20 interactive exhibits.
“Some you press buttons, or you tap keys with a telegraph,” Hunter said.
Another shows how audio bandwidth can alter speech by filtering it to compress data in cell phone use.
“It doesn’t sound the same on the line because the device clips the higher and lower frequencies,” he said.
Hunter said that even today, more devices are using foldable phones and screen holographic technology, a testament to the human desire to find faster and better ways to send information.
“Let’s Connect! Explore Communication Technologies”
When: September 23-May 14, 2023; Wed-Sun 11am-5pm
Where: Innovation and Science Museum, 15 Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady
How Much: $12, adults; $10, seniors; $8, children
Information for tomorrow: www.misci.org; 518 382-7890
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Categories: Entertainment, Life & Art, Life & Art, Schenectady