Exploring the physics of pinball at the Chabot Space & Science Center
on October 3, 2017
Melissa Harmon, a co-curator for the Pacific Pinball Museum, stood in the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, smiling as she talked about teaching children using one of the world’s oldest electronic gaming devices.
“I just think it’s fun,” she said, tilting her head forward and scrunching her brow, “to teach kids science and let them see all of these forces like gravity and electromagnetism that happen on a pinball machine.”
That’s at least half of the point of the “Art and Science of Pinball” exhibit at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, which opened in July and runs through the end of October. The exhibit uses deconstructed pinball machines to show how the game works and illustrate scientific concepts, like how electromagnets inside the machines go off when they come in contact with the pinball, or why the game’s inventors put the board on a tilt instead of leaving it parallel to the ground.
Another purpose of the exhibit is to showcase the “working class art,” as Harmon called it, often featured on pinball machines: multicolored and elaborately designed with clowns, spaceships, or television and film characters. Large canvasses with comic book-style scenes hang on the walls of the exhibit.
“I’ve gotten a lot of ideas for how to teach people about science with pinball from curating this exhibit,” Harmon said. “Using pinball machines, people can begin to see how some of the forces of nature come together. So it’s inspirational.”
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