Talking about the “+Talks” at the Montshire

Marcos Stafne at the Montshire

Each science exhibition has a story behind its creation, and some exhibitions even use stories to communicate important concepts and themes. The story behind Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering
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is near to my heart, because it involves personal connections to the individuals who offered advice and helped plan the exhibition. Human Plus was developed by the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). I worked for NYSCI when this exhibition was being proposed by Eric Siegel (then Museum Director and Chief Content Officer—my big, big boss at the time). Eric’s vision was to develop an exhibition about how adaptive technology helps advance human ability—especially for those who have extra challenges. Eric’s daughter, Lilith Sigel uses a walker to get around. He often expressed discontent over how little the technology that Lili used has changed over the past 20 years—and wouldn’t it be great if a user of this type of technology could have input into the design process. Here’s Eric talking about Human Plus: While I was at NYSCI, Lili interned in my department, and it taught me a great deal about the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities. If I want to walk from one end of the Museum to another, I don’t even think about how long it will take me… but for people who need to use canes, walkers, or wheel chairs, extra thought must be made to consider obstacles (like stairs or exhibits that are too close together), and the amount of physical endurance that needs to be expended to move from one place to another. Many years later, with the help of an incredible team of advisors (including Lili), the Human Plus exhibition was completed and is now featured at the Montshire. The personal stories help connect visitors to the experiences of both designers and technology users. These stories are present in the Upper Valley as well, and it’s our great pleasure to present +Talks, a series of discussions that celebrates the central themes within the exhibition. +Talks take place at the Museum on the first four Tuesdays in March, and feature specialists in human evolution, implant technology, adaptive technologies in sports, and community well being. The talks begin at 6:30 p.m. and are free and open to the community. The big questions we’re going to cover are: What happens when our bodies are injured, born with a challenge, or just wear out? What happens when you start adding technology to the outside and inside of our body? How do you adapt a single activity for multiple people with disabilities? How do we support a community with differences? Each +Talk will involve a short introduction by me to connect the evening’s theme to theHuman Plus exhibition. Our featured speaker will present for ten to fifteen minutes, and I’ll ask a few questions to get our minds working.  We’ll then open the conversation up to the audience. In our first program, The Evolution of Walking: The Perils of Bipedalism, Dr. Jeremy DeSilva will discuss our evolutionary history and explain how the engineering of our body sometimes works against us—especially when it comes to our feet. I first met Jeremy when he came for a visit to discus his work in paleoanthropology—he’s responsible for bringing famed paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and our Homo naledi casts to the Museum last fall. Jeremy studies prehistoric locomotion—specifically feet and ankles. He sparked me to think about the parts of our body that might be overly complicated—remnants of our prehistoric evolution. For example, the human foot has 26 bones. If we need to replace a human foot, we don’t necessarily make an exact replica, because there are more efficient ways to accomplish walking. I was first introduced to Dr. Michael Mayer during a Thayer Engineering Open House last spring at the Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center when he was demonstrating the evolution of hip implants. This technology requires a huge amount of collaboration between various fields of science (think MD’s, engineers, materials scientists, chemists, and more). His talk, Engineering on the Inside: Innovations in Implants will review how implants have changed over the years. One of the featured exhibits in the Human Plus exhibition is an interactive mono ski experience. The mono ski is only one tool that allows Managing Director Maggie Burke of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport to provide thrilling outdoor adventures for people of all abilities. In her talk, Sports for Every Body, Maggie will discuss how her organization utilizes a range of technology to empower athletes with disabilities to have access to sports and recreational activities. She’ll also demonstrate a range of equipment. A few months ago, when I was discussing Human Plus with our Board Chair, Philip McCaull, he suggested that I watch the documentary the ">Crash Reel featuring the story of champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce. An Upper Valley native, Kevin Pearce experienced a traumatic brain injury, and the documentary followed his recuperation. I was incredibly impressed at how involved his family and friends created a support network for his recovery and learned that Kevin and his brother Adam founded the Love Your Brain Foundation, an organization that to help all people understand what it means to truly love their brain. Adam’s program, Balancing Brains, Bodies and the Mind, will showcase how a caring community can improve mind-body connections to help people with brain injuries improve their quality of life. Check out this interview with Kevin and Adam Pearce from Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition. I’m excited to bring these programs to the Montshire and hope to see many of you over the next few Tuesdays. If you have questions for any of our speakers you can tweet them to me at @marcosstafne #PlusTalks or email me at marcos.stafne@montshire.org.

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