The Hall of Wonders opened for several hours on Saturday as part of a three-day Light in Winter Festival. Organized by members of the Ithaca community for its residents, the festival fostered appreciation of the arts and sciences through its various educational and interactive exhibits presented at the Statler Atrium.
The biggest attraction at the booth was a miniature working steamboat displayed by The History Center in Tompkins County. The boat — a model of the life-size steamboats that travelled on Lake Cayuga over 100 years ago — propelled itself around in a tub using jets of hot water heated by a lighted match.
“We have many pictures of steamboats [at the History Center], but I thought it would be better for people to understand ‘how’ the steamboat works by seeing a model of it,” a volunteer explained at the booth.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology was also present at the Hall of Wonders. Its booth displayed information about Citizen Science, a project aimed at helping people identify bird species within their local natural habitats. They encouraged visitors to promote a habitat for local birds by giving them seeds to grow sunflower plants.
Another organization present was Family Math, an Ithaca organization that runs family summer camps to support math and computer appreciation. They provided geometrical crafts and several software demonstrations including SeeLogo — a software developed in Ithaca in the late 1960’s to create geometrical art and Scratch, a software used to create virtual robot and learn about programming.
Many visitors were captivated by the audio-kinetic sculptures of George Rhoads. While not educational, these sculptures showed the outcome of combining the creativity of art with the precision of science. These sculptures were designed based on the machine principle, using dynamic levers, chains and marbles to create auditory and visually interesting pieces of art.
“We want the Hall of Wonders to be a hands-on, experiential, fun time for families,” stated Marie Sirakos, executive director of the Light in Winter festival. The festival seeks to make the sciences and arts interesting and accessible to community members, explained Sirakos.
Admission to the Hall of Wonders was free, feasible due to corporate sponsors, individual donations, and Tompkins County grants garnered by the festival’s large tourism draw. In its 6th year of activity, said Sirakos, the festival hopes to draw an even greater number of visitors and continue to illuminate the sciences and arts for Ithaca and the Tompkins County community at large.