WATERLOO — With surgical precision, Exhibition Technician William Bisbee removes the guts of a Bluedorn Science Imaginarium exhibit on the space shuttle’s thrust steering system. Finally, he lifts out a short copper tube, noting a small puncture that is preventing the system from staying pressurized.
As he works, two members of the Cedar Valley Makerspace watch over his shoulder, discussing the merits of various soldering equipment before jogging off to repair the tube.
“I’m really an artist. I don’t have a mechanical or engineering background,” says Bisbee, although he’s spent the better part of 25 years keeping the Imaginarium’s hands-on exhibits up and running.
Now Bisbee is getting help on repairs from members and volunteers during Skill-Building Wednesdays, a new collaboration between the Grout Museum District and CVM.
Anyone who is handy or interested in science, electronic and mechanical challenges can volunteer to help — and learn new skills — while fixing, refurbishing and creating hands-on exhibits for the science museum for children.
Mike Hoffman, secretary of the CVM board of directors, describes the skill-building activity as a “gateway into CVM. You don’t have to be a member to work on this community project, but we hope to draw new members. You can come in and work on exhibits that interest you and help out however you want.”
Literally thousands of kids have spent thousands of hours flipping toggles and switches, pressing buttons and manipulating mechanical and electronic parts and pieces on the museum’s 20 original interactive exhibits.
The exhibits were built at the Pacific Science Center of Seattle as part of a grant challenge awarded to the Grout Museum through the Science Carnival Consortium in the 1990s. At the same time, the science museum has added many exhibits to keep pace with technological changes, Bisbee notes.
“Exhibits are expensive to replace, so we want to keep the ones we have in good repair. We rotate them on and off the floor, and we have seven new exhibits that will be installed in January. That keeps kids coming because if it’s always the same old stuff, they get bored,” he explains.
CVM gave the Grout a non-profit membership as a way to assist the museum district. CVM provides members tooling and equipment for woodworking, metal fabrication, 3D printing, electronics, digital fabrication and more, as well as classroom space.
Bisbee has moved a number of exhibits to the Makerspace on the third floor of the Techworks Building. Tesla Coil, Text Your Reflex, Benham Disk, Laser, Spirograph and Electrostatic Device are all being refurbished, for example.
“I’m open to whatever needs done,” says Fred Good. He works in service and sales at Bike Tech in Cedar Falls, and is an experienced designer and fabricator.
“I came to Makerspace for the social aspect. It’s a fantastic resource in the community, and I like pitching in wherever I can,” he explains.
Dan Rieger pops into the Makerspace at least once a week. “He comes by and bugs me,” says Bisbee, laughing. Rieger nods and smiles. “I do woodworking, so this is something unique for me. It’s electronic, electrical and mechanical, and I like the ‘learn-as-you-go’ idea.”
Not long ago, members constructed an Augmented Reality sand exhibit for the museum that has been a huge hit with patrons. Bisbee hopes it is the first of many such ideas that will be realized through the new program.