Walk through the doors of The Leonardo Museum in downtown Salt Lake City and it’s as if Leonardo da Vinci himself is running around saying, “Hurry up! Come and look at this!”
“Leonardo da Vinci was an inventor, a scientist, an artist — he did everything,” said Bryton Sampson, communications manager at The Leonardo. “The museum is named after him because people don’t need to fit into one category. We can explore everything and anything that interests us.”
The museum is a giant playground for scientists and non-scientists alike. It’s almost impossible to decide which section to start exploring first.
Sampson said not to think too much about it. “Just explore!” Guests can share a little saliva at the gene lab and watch as DNA strands literally unfold before their eyes, or tweet a city name to the Dynamic Performance of Nature wall and see the colors shift to reflect the city’s temperature, humidity and pollution. Young visitors can even tinker in a car garage or drop in at an activity in the art lab.
“I had to twist my son’s arm to let me take my grandson,” said Lynda Olmstead, secretary for the Teacher Education Department. “I was excited! The exhibits were very well presented and we found them fascinating.”
Adam Johnson, physics and science professor at Weber State University, said the museum is the first of its kind.
“I’ve been really impressed with how interactive it is,” he said. “I haven’t seen that at other museums. This interaction is so important for children because it allows them to take charge of their learning. (It) teaches them the skills that more and more our society needs. They aren’t just receiving information; they are learning that they are the people that can invent and create their own knowledge.”
The newest traveling exhibit, called “101 Inventions That Changed the World,” will open at The Leonardo on June 14 and run through September. Having been displayed throughout Europe, this is its first show in the U.S.
Sampson said the exhibit will explore the idea of mankind’s history being shaped by a creation or a discovery.
“A panel of experts from around the world counted down the most important inventions,” he said. “The inventions will be displayed in HD projections that allow the visitor to walk through them. It’s a huge, visually stimulating, immersive display. The projections will be from floor to ceiling.”
After walking through the exhibit, visitors will be able to touch each invention at the end in an interactive artifact area. Young visitors will also have the chance to make their own inventions or visit the Lego exploration area.
“We are so excited about it,” Sampson said. “The museum hasn’t seen anything like this before. We want people to come in and experience it because it’s hard to just describe.”
The Leonardo also features the Nature’s Toolbox modern art exhibit. Now through the end of August, this exhibit will display how human behavior has interacted with and affected the environment.
According to the museum’s website, “This art exhibition (brings) together work from around the world. (It) draws attention to the life-or-death interdependence between the 10-20 million species on earth — including humans.”
Sampson said the ultimate goal of The Leonardo is to bring attention to science.
“Everything in life has layers to it. One layer is creativity, another observation. We want visitors to be able to explore that idea. At The Leonardo, we like to do that through lots of exhibits and events.”
The museum has many classes, exhibits and events lined up for the summer. Sampson said the most exciting one for families is the Mind Over Matter performance. Running June 12-16, the performance explores the workings of the mind through sound, video and the spoken word.
“It’s not a play,” Sampson said. “It’s an hour-long story that will catch your attention and make you wonder about why your mind thinks how it does.”
Also this summer, The Leonardo’s Create Quest program will provide young scientists the opportunity for unlimited entry to The Leonardo. For $10 a month or $25 for the whole summer, children can participate in activities and classes. If they complete all the activities, they can even earn prizes.
“It’s a great way to get them involved in science when they’re young,” Sampson said. “We want them to know that science is cool.”
Hours and admission prices are available at The Leonardo’s website, www.theleonardo.org.