updated 2/23/2004 10:05:08 PM ET 2004-02-24T03:05:08

Touch a globe and feel climate warming. Search the human genome for sequences of DNA. Learn how scientific advances affect daily life.

A compact new museum under construction in the nation's capital will offer those opportunities and more to visitors starting this spring.

With the goal of sharing the spirit and excitement of science, the Marian Koshland Science Museum is being built by the National Academy of Sciences, just blocks from the city's major museums and monuments.

"We've done everything possible to purge the exhibits of jargon," said designer Tom Bowman. He and exhibit director Peter Schultz stressed that academy scientists worked closely in the development of the exhibits.

The museum is aimed at teens and adults, with three exhibits allowing them to study topics in depth.

When it opens in April, the Science Museum will have a permanent exhibit on the wonders of science and two temporary exhibits, one on climate change and the other on the human genome, the blueprint of life. After about two years the temporary exhibits will travel to other museums around the country and be replaced by other topics.

Wonders of science
The permanent exhibit will look at how scientists learn the rules that govern the structure and behavior of everything from atoms to plants to planets; analyze the place of matter and energy in the universe; and offer a look at the earth via satellite imagery.

Visitors will be able to feel global warming, Bowman said, explaining that there will be a copper globe with a plexiglass atmosphere, thicker in some areas, thinner in others. Lights will mimic the sun and visitors will be able to reach through holes in the plexiglass to see how some areas are warmed more than others.

Nearby, workers were assembling a glass ball to be filled with water, aquatic plants and brine shrimp to illustrate the cycle in which carbon moves through the air, plants and animals. Disrupting one part of the cycle causes problems elsewhere, Schultz said.

Museum-goers will be able to use their tickets to activate some exhibits, such as a videogame-like display that allows them to examine various trade-offs in countering global warming.

They can choose among such alternatives as protecting wetlands; saving money; raising or limiting quality of life; and increasing or decreasing energy use.

Visitors will be able to see the results of their choices and compare them to the responses of other people. The game will record the decisions people make, and that data will be sorted by ZIP code and studied by researchers at Pennsylvania State University to see how people from different parts of the country respond.

A wall graph illustrates increasing temperatures worldwide; visitors will be able to slide a television-like screen along the wall. The screen will display a worldwide temperature map for each year, and moving it will allow viewers to understand changes _ up and down _ over time in various parts of the world.

"It puts the visitor in touch with authentic data," Schultz said. "We also expect climate scientists to come in and look at it. No one has ever done this kind of animation before."

In the DNA section, which has a floor-to-ceiling screen of the human DNA sequence, visitors will be able to observe how 10,000 years of selective breeding has changed crops; learn how DNA led scientists to identify Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; and see how the FBI uses DNA to help solve crimes.

The museum is named for Marian Elliott Koshland, a longtime academy member known for her research in immunology and molecular biology.

Located at 6th and E Streets N.W. in Washington, the museum is scheduled to open in April. Tickets will cost $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students under 18. It is expected to be open daily except Tuesdays and some holidays.

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