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Fall 2003 Vol. 3 No. 3

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Koshland Science Museum to Open in
Spring 2004

Entrance of the future Marian Koshland Science Museum, photo by JD Talasek

The National Academy of Sciences is developing a new, dynamic venue to present some of the most important scientific issues facing the nation. Opening in April 2004, the Marian Koshland Science Museum is the National Academies' latest effort to extend their reach to the public and engage a wider group of our citizens in science, medicine, and engineering.

The 6,000-square-foot space located in the Academies' Keck Center in downtown Washington will house three major exhibits. Each exhibit includes a series of interactive displays that allows visitors to piece together the scientific evidence behind an interesting, sometimes controversial issue of the day. The first exhibit topics will be on global climate change, DNA and gene sequencing, and scientific discovery.

Aimed at people of ages 13 and older, the museum is intended to offer a novel museum experience. Visitors will be captivated by sophisticated visualization technology, while learning how scientists gather and evaluate evidence about matters that affect us every day.

The exhibits will incorporate scientific findings from recent reports published by the National Academies. To ensure scientific and technical accuracy of the exhibits, the National Academies tapped 22 scientists to help develop the content.

"Because of the complex subject matter, we arranged for a group of outstanding scientists to be on hand every step of the way to make sure that the exhibits were both clear and accurate," said NAS President Bruce Alberts. "The museum is an extension of the National Academies' public service. The reports we developed used to remain on paper; now some of the work we do will become visual and interactive."

Interactive exhibits explaining scientific discoveries in depth are rare and expensive to develop. The National Academies hope to fill the void by sending the exhibits to partner museums across the country, once they have been displayed in Washington.

Named after National Academy of Sciences member Marian Koshland (1921-1997), who made major contributions in the field of immunology and molecular biology throughout her career, this new museum has been made possible by a generous gift from her husband, Daniel Koshland, also an NAS member.   -- Maureen O'Leary

Terrorism in Real Time

Media and First Response symposium at the National Academies, photo by Cable Risdon Photography

How quickly would first responders in the nation's capital mobilize after a terrorist attack? How well would the news media perform in the crucial first minutes? And how successfully could government agencies and the media work together to get the word out and protect area residents closest to the terrorist incident?

Much has been written and theorized about how such communications ought to work, but in June the National Academies, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Washington Board of Trade, discovered what might actually happen. Federal and local government officials, together with national and local media, became participants in a daylong simulation of a terrorist incident played out on the NAS auditorium stage.

The event was led by Mike McCurry, White House press secretary under President Clinton, and former CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno. With the prodding from the moderator, presidential adviser and editor David Gergen, dozens of participants from institutions as diverse as the FBI, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the D.C. Mayor's Office, WTOP Radio, WRC-TV, and CNN attempted to cope with a fast-moving sequence of events. Using simulated video and radio broadcasts, the players witnessed and reacted to an explosion above a Metro station in Northwest Washington at the height of morning rush hour.

The scenario was pressure-packed, complete with traffic jams and an evacuation of the rail line, as well as many unknowns. Participants from government wanted to delay saying anything to the public until they were certain what had really happened. That frustrated TV and radio reporters, who were on the air and at the scene. WTOP's traffic reporter, Bob Marbourg, was ready to give motorists routes of evacuation from the scene. Bob Ryan, WRC-TV's chief meteorologist, described the tools he would use to predict how a potentially toxic cloud might blow across the city. The national media, especially 24/7 cable news, were calling the same inundated local officials who were still trying to learn the facts.

In post-mortem sessions, scientists and emergency workers familiar with the actual risks in the day's scenario began laying out practical "rules of the road" for journalists covering this and other terrorist incidents, especially those in which the media itself could be at risk. This fall, the National Academies, working with the Radio-Television News Directors Association, plan to stage additional simulations for journalists as well as begin providing newsrooms with reliable information on how to prepare for terrorist incidents.
  -- William Skane

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Copyright 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences