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Guests of the Science Center can take a close-up look at both the science behind pandemics and the human ingenuity in the fight against them in two new free exhibits on display. The exhibits, Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Mission: Control the Spread from Space Center Houston, are located inside the tunnel to the McDonnell Planetarium and will be on display through September of 2021.

Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Outbreak project, looks at the human, animal, and environmental factors that contribute to infectious disease epidemics. Mission: Control the Spread, meanwhile, tells the story behind NASA innovations developed in response to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To enhance the topics inside, the Science Center’s educators have added related demonstrations and activities in addition to the exhibits themselves.

Models of different viruses (3D printed in the Science Center’s Makerspace) show the basic parts of viruses and how they vary in structure and function, while outside the exhibits guests will be able to learn more about COVID-19 and how diseases spread, as well as the importance of vaccines. At Energy Stage, guests can also watch a free live STEAM Performance about vaccines.

Christina Carlson, Manager of Adult Programs at the Science Center, says that bringing these two exhibits for the St. Louis community to explore is a perfect fit. “The Science Center,” she says, “is always aiming to bring relevant science topics to our guests, and we felt that disease outbreaks and epidemics were particularly relevant and timely topics.” Christina also points out that these exhibits go beyond simply talking about the current pandemic. “[They] really focus on why pandemics occur and ways we as individuals and communities can prevent future outbreaks.”

“[These exhibitions] really focus on why pandemics occur and ways we as individuals and communities can prevent future outbreaks.”
–Christina Carlson, Manager of Adult Programs


Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World highlights how pathogens can spread to humans from wildlife and livestock, why some outbreaks grow to become epidemics, and how the health of humans, animals, and the environment are all connected.

The exhibit also discusses how scientists track pathogens and identify outbreaks in the field, as well as the science of how vaccines and antibiotics work to keep people safe.

In Mission: Control the Spread, Christina says that guests get to see the incredible ways scientists and engineers solve problems when something like the COVID-19 pandemic arises.

For example, the exhibit shares how NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab helped develop a simpler breathing machine when ventilators were in short supply, and how material engineers at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston utilized their special labs and skills to test how many times an N95 mask could be sterilized while still remaining snug and effective.

The exhibit also explores how NASA keeps astronauts safe and healthy, how NASA prevents contamination on the International Space Station, and how people can reduce the spread of pandemics like the current one.

Ultimately, that’s something Christina hopes that guests take from the exhibits. “The main takeaway I hope people get is that we can help to stop and manage future disease outbreaks before they get out of control and become pandemics, but only if we work together—both across the globe and within our own communities.”

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