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Strange Matter at the Liberty Science Center
November 28, 2003

Strange Matter and the Materials Science Community
Highlighting a Lesser Known Scientific Field to Gain Better Pubic Understanding

 Ask members of the public to name a field of scientific endeavor and they may mention medicine, physics, chemistry or even entomology. But materials science? Even if you prompt them, all you may get is a blank look.

Yet materials, and the science that creates and studies them, surround us in the modern world. In fact, in most suburban and city environments, there is far more manmade material than natural.

Five years ago, the Material Research Society (MRS), a not-for-profit professional society representing 12,500 scientists from around the world, decided that as exciting as materials science is to them, too few others knew about the field. This lack of knowledge affects the field in many ways, but perhaps the most profound is that kids know nothing about it, and essentially no one, even on the high school level, plans to grow up to be a materials scientist.

Dr. Alex King, Purdue University professor and past president of the MRS says, “When I was eight years old, the greatest fun in the world was to go into the backyard and make stuff. In 1998 when we were thinking about how to significantly increase an understanding of what we do as scientists, we decided that we needed a way to convey that natural excitement of childhood … that drive and curiosity to experiment with objects around us … so that millions of people would begin to ask questions about everything.”

Thus began a $3 million project that has consumed tens of thousands of volunteer hours from the material science community, culminating in what may be the most unusual hands-on science exhibition to be developed in years. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the MRS scientists set the following goals for the exhibition.

  • The exhibition and web site should create a sense of awe and motivation, and must strive to be as “cool” to kids as following the antics of rock bands
  • The show should increase public understanding of basic scientific principles, issues and trends in materials research
  • The exhibition must show viewers that materials research is pivotal in helping make advancements in other areas of science and technology
  • Students, especially those as young as 5 th -8 th graders, should come away with an interest in materials science as a rewarding career path.
  • Through active community outreach, MRS scientists will work to improve public science literacy

 The Strange Matter project committee was comprised of Material Research Society scientists and distinguished members of related scientific communities to uphold the scientific integrity of the exhibition and its associated educational materials. In addition, experts and exhibit evaluators from the museum and education (formal and informal) fields provided their special insight about the quality, educational effectiveness and overall success of the program.

Dr. Shenda Baker, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California and Strange Matter chair says, “The exhibit is educational and accurate as it must be, but most of all, it's colorful and exciting with active experiences such as trying to break a pane of heat-tempered glass with a bowling ball and using a boot to squash metal flowers made with nitinol (‘metal with memory') then resurrecting them again using a heat blower. We wanted to have a big impact on visitors, and I think that's exactly what we've accomplished.”

 Thanks to a firm conviction on the part of the MRS that everyone in the country could benefit from a deeper understanding of science and the role of materials science, two versions of the exhibition were developed, a 6,000-square foot copy that can fill large science center and museum spaces, and a 1,700-square foot copy that could travel to smaller venues.

Both exhibitions begin their national tours on January 31, 2004 , with the larger version at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City , NJ , and the smaller exhibition at the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque , NM . The exhibitions will travel for three years and a total audience of over 3.75 million is expected.

To speak to those responsible for the development of Strange Matter, please contact them as below:

Dr. Shenda Baker
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Harvey Mudd College
301 E. 12 th Street
Claremont , CA 91711
NB: Her office number is 909-621-8643 but Dr. Baker may also be at the lab, and can be reached there on her cell phone: 909-518-4027.

Richard Souza
Strange Matter Project Manager
Materials Research Society
506 Keystone Drive
Warrendale , PA 15086
724-779-3004 x. 403

Dr. Alan J. Hurd
MRS Secretary
Director, Manuel Lujan Jr. Neutron Scattering Center
Los Alamos National Laboratory
PO Box 1663
Lannsce-12 M/S H-805
Los Alamos , NM 87545

For more information, please contact:

Media Contacts: 201.451.0006
Dina Schipper, Ext. 278
Dalya Ewais, Ext. 263

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Anita B. Miller
Manager, Marketing and Member Services, Materials Research Society

Tel: 724-779-3004 x551
Fax: 724-779-8313


Liberty Science Center
Media Contacts:
Tel: 201.451.0006
Dina Schipper, Ext.278
Dalya Ewais, Ext. 263