A high-tech fun house

April 30, 1997

By Kate Coleman

Staff Writer

Brochures describe Columbus Center's Hall of Exploration at Baltimore's Inner Harbor as a high-tech fun house.

The educational family attraction will celebrate its grand opening Saturday, May 3, beginning at 10 a.m. There will be an outdoor festival on the pier complete with a marching band, Morgan State University Choir, jugglers, stilt walkers and magicians.

But the reason for the party is inside.

The $10 million Hall of Exploration, designed by Bran Ferren, now vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, is described as the public window on the world of marine biotechnology. It is designed to help make science accessible.

The exhibits in the 46,000-square-foot space reflect research happening upstairs in University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center of Marine Biotechnology.

Center of Marine Biotechnology is a research laboratory devoted to the study of molecular biology and molecular genetics of marine life. Translated to the Hall of Exploration, that science is presented hands-on and high tech. Highlights include:

  • A 75-foot-wide fabricated horseshoe crab shell houses the Immersion Theater. Visitors can feel sandpapery sharkskin on the fronts of the seating benches in the darkness as they see, hear and feel images of the undersea world on three floor-to-ceiling video screens.
  • Visitors can walk into the jaws of a 46-foot model rockfish to encounter exhibits on the diversity of marine life.
  • A model of Western Maryland's Cunningham Falls is the entrance to exhibits that introduce the importance of water.

Visitors standing before what appears to be a mirror soon will see themselves transformed into a mummy-like image of what their bodies would be without the precious resource.

  • Cell Voyage takes visitors on a journey through a lung cell magnified 3 million times.
  • In keeping with the marine theme, "channel markers" hold networked touch-sensitive computers that serve as interactive guides through the hall. "Crobi the Microbe," is Columbus Center's mascot.
  • Five living labs offer visitors hands-on opportunities to use scientific tools and applications to spool DNA, test water quality and see microscopic organisms in action.
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