A Tale of Two Robots

MiSci’s Robot Lab experience, open this summer, teaches robotics and coding with Finch robots. Designed by Carnegie Mellon, these small robots translate computer languages into motion, sounds, and visual effects. Robot Lab is also home to two larger robots, Knowbot and Baxter. Both robots have been attracting attention, so this blog is dedicated to telling their stories.


knowbot2Formerly located on the lower level near the Toyota Engineering 4D Theater, Knowbot’s new temporary home is in Robot Lab. Officially named Griot Knowbot, this robot was created by artist Jim Pallas. He was originally designed as a fundraising tool.

Knowbot accepted coins or bill in his mouth and used a sensor to respond with one of more than 150 sound files his memory. Most of the responses were based on quotes from scientists,  philosophers, inventors, comedians, artists and others.

Knowbot has an industrial look meant to reflect the history and character of Detroit. Industrial discards form most of Knowbot’s body and around his heart are mementos of Europe, Africa, the Middle-East, the Mediterreanean, and more, in recognition of the people who have come to Detroit from all over the the world. “We tried to make a Motor City Griot that combines art and technology to continue the oral tradition and that expresses the bold spirit of Detroit,” Pallas wrote on his website.

Today, Knowbot is retired from fundraising, but enjoys his work in Robot Lab. He greets guests as they enter the exhibit space and holds two tablets with information on robotics, contributing to the educational content in Robot Lab.


baxterBaxter is on loan to MiSci from Magna Corporation. He has served as the “face” of Robot Lab appearing in the news media, including Channel 4’s Live in the D. He is currently stationed in Robot Lab, where he demonstrates a wide range of simple tasks. Most of all, guests enjoy shaking hands with Baxter or giving him a fist bump.

MiSci’s Baxter is one of many Baxters created by Rethink Robotics to help businesses with their manufacturing process. According to the company’s website, organizations across North America have integrated Baxter into their workforce. “(He) is a proven solution for a wide range of tasks – from line loading and machine tending, to packaging and material handling.”

For now, MiSci’s Baxter is enjoying a life of leisure away from the manufacturing line. He enjoys entertaining MiSci guests and teaching them about robotic capabilities.

Be sure to stop by MiSci’s Robot Lab during your next visit to meet both Knowbot and Baxter.

Becoming a Professional Domino Artist

By Lily Hevesh (Hevesh5)
Domino Artist


It may seem ironic to spend weeks constructing a project only to destroy it, but that is precisely the art of domino building and toppling.

I am Hevesh5 and I am a 16-year-old Domino Artist. Domino art involves creating intricate patterns, 3D structures, images, and chain reactions using dominoes specially designed to set up and knock down. I set up thousands of dominoes in ways that creatively fall and produce remarkable effects. Building dominoes requires a whole lot of patience, time, knowledge of physics, and a super steady hand.

I got into domino art at the age of 10 after searching “dominoes” on YouTube. I found a TON of mind boggling domino videos with thousands upon thousands of dominoes and was completely amazed by the projects that people were able to build. I thought dominoes were just setting up a line and knocking them down, but you could make 3D structures, towers, pictures, words, and so many other amazing constructions out of dominoes. After watching hundreds of videos, I was inspired to try building dominoes myself.

Throughout 6.5 years of practice, I have worked my way up to the level of a professional domino artist producing domino setups for companies as well as viewers on my YouTube channel. I have done a live domino topple for Prudential, events at the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center, a lyric video produced by Kevin Jonas for Bethany Mota, and commercials for Campbell’s Soup, Lenovo, and Honda. Currently, I am the most subscribed domino artist on the web with nearly 500,000 subscribers and 100 million views!

Thanks to the YouTube domino/chain reaction community, I have become good friends with other builders including Sprice, the mastermind behind the Incredible Science Machine. We had always dreamed of the chain reaction community coming together to create one large setup. When Sprice told me he found some space to host a huge domino/chain reaction event I was so excited and eager to get involved! After a huge success from the Kickstarter fundraiser, we immediately began the plans to make the Incredible Science Machine a reality. On Saturday, July 18, we’ll launch the Incredible Science Machine at 3 p.m. and we’re hoping to set a new Guinness world record.

View a replay of the Incredible Science Machine and follow us on Facebook to find out if the team set a new world record.

NASA’s Journey to Mars


In the classic Ray Bradbury book, The Martian Chronicles, humans land on Mars only to discover it is already populated by Martians. Naturally, disaster ensues. In real life, NASA’s Mars mission – scheduled for the 2030s – is sure to be more successful. 

In the past, Mars may have had conditions suitable for life (although none as complex as described in The Martian Chronicles) and NASA is hoping to uncover evidence of this, answering the age-old question “does life exist beyond Earth?”

Although 2030 may seem far away, NASA is already preparing for the mission. Three astronauts recently returned from 199 days in orbit on the International Space Station and NASA will be monitoring them to determine how the human body changes in space.

During their time in orbit, the astronauts conducted a number experiments that will advance the Mars mission and benefit those on Earth.

Special Pants
The Fluid Shifts experiment tests one theory to explain why more than half of astronauts experience changes in their vision. This experiment uses special pants to help pull fluids from an astronaut’s upper body to their legs – similar to the effect of gravity on Earth.

Neck Collars
Drain Brain uses a neck collar to relieve pressure inside an astronaut’s head, which may help relieve headaches caused by lack of gravity.

Espresso Machines
The Capillary Beverage study, using an espresso machine, helps researchers better understand how fluids move in space.

A 3-D printer aboard the International Space Station created a wrench – the first object to be 3-D printed space.

To learn more about the Journey to Mars project, visit the NASA website and check out our Journey to Space IMAX® film opening June 13. This film, narrated by Patrick Stewart, explores the past and future of human space exploration, including the Mars program.

Introducing MiSci’s Robot Lab

Thanks to support from Quicken Loans, MiSci will open a new Robot Lab June 20! The Robot Lab will allow guests to learn computer coding and manipulate a two-wheeled robot known as the Finch. The Finch robots were developed in Carnegie Mellon’s Robot Institute and are designed to engage students with computer science. The Carnegie Mellon website offers a complete description of this innovative educational tool.

(The) Finch … can be programmed by a novice to talk, dance or even make its beak glow in response to cold temperatures. 

The simple look of the tabletop robot is deceptive. Based on four years of educational research sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Finch includes a number of features that could keep students busy for a semester or longer.

“Students are more interested and more motivated when they can work with something interactive and create programs that operate in the real world,” said Carnegie Mellon’s Tom Lauwers.

Read more …

Visit us this June for your chance to learn coding, play with the Finch, and even compete against your friends, family and other guests! Members: don’t miss our members-only Summer Kickoff on June 18!



Guest Blog: Hyperscore – Changing how we Understand Music

By Katie Scharra, MiSci volunteer


As a master’s student of anthropology at Wayne State University, I am always looking for fun ways to spend a day or two away from schoolwork. I am extremely interested in the way adults and children alike interact with alternative modes of learning, so I jumped at the chance to work with a new Michigan Science Center exhibit. I’d like to share the awesome things I’ve learned about the Hyperscore exhibit and program, how children and adults interact with it, and my hopes for the future of the exhibit at MiSci.

Hyperscore is an incredible music composition software created by Tod Machover – a renowned composer and MIT professor.  By assigning colors to individual sets of notes, Hyperscore lets you create music through your own drawings. The exhibit is part of a program called Symphony in D, which asks Detroiters to capture the sounds of the city using Hyperscore or a related app. These sounds will be used to create a symphony which will be performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in November.

Seeing how Hyperscore is used by visitors of all ages has been the most rewarding part of the past few weeks. As children came to experience Hyperscore, I began to notice a distinct pattern. While older children love the software and find it pretty intuitive, younger children didn’t seem to understand how to use it, even when I guided them. After I tried to explain how to draw across the screen, a parent said to me, “They don’t know what ‘click and drag’ means.” It was an absolute shock to learn that ‘the click of a mouse’ is an increasingly obsolete term.

Luckily, the Michigan Science Center is a place full of wonderful employees ready to challenge themselves and try something new. Within a week, MiSci had new Microsoft Surface tablets, allowing Hyperscore to be run by touch. We still have several PCs for those who are familiar with the mouse, in addition to three touch screen tablets. These touch screens have completely changed the experience of this already incredible program. Imagine, musical notes coming right from your fingertips. This will be extremely familiar to musicians, however, for those cannot read a single note (like me), the act of creating our own music is incredibly exciting.

In August, I’ll return from my internship in Colorado, and the MiSci team and I hope to host one or two workshops on Hyperscore. These programs will allow visitors to learn Hyperscore in-depth and to re-create the sounds of Detroit. I encourage everyone, regardless of musical ability, to visit MiSci and try Hyperscore. It will change the way you understand the music you hear every day.

Learn more about MiSci’s volunteer program.

A Symphony By and For Detroit

In collaboration with Symphony in D, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Composer Tod Machover, the Michigan Science Center is excited to offer Hyperscore, software that empowers anyone to compose music. Hyperscore compositions will be featured in the DSO’s Symphony in D debuting this November!

Tod recently shared his Symphony in D experience on the Knight Arts Foundation blog.

My dream is to collect … impressions of Detroit – past, present and future – in sound, to transmute those sounds into “music,” and through our Symphony in D to tell a story about what Detroit feels like now, and what it could be in the future. 

There are so many ways for you to participate – no matter what musical background you do or don’t have, what kind of music you like, where you live, how old you are, etc. – and I really hope that you will jump in and take part. You’ll have the opportunity to record and send your favorite sounds, to shape and vary music as it develops, to lay down beats and tweak timbres, to trade ideas about Detroit’s problems and potential, and to contribute to telling a special sonic story about this great place, to be enjoyed here and now….. but also far away and for a long time to come.

Read more …

There are many ways to contribute to Symphony in D and we invite you to share the sounds of your Detroit at one of our three Hyperscore stations. Be sure to check our Hyperscore webpage for availability.


No More Porridge

At MiSci, we talk a lot about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). At renowned  design firm Sundberg Ferar, President Curt Bailey and his team are advocating for STEAM – STEM plus art.

The Sundberg Ferar team’s motto – “no more porridge” – reflects their desire to rise above mediocre and create unique products and experiences. Curt’s take on the importance of art in engineering and design is showcased in Model D’s new STEM Hub series. Curt backs up his case with arguments for:

1. Beauty: An exposure to the magical results of great technology and great art.

2. Emotion: An understanding of art and its emotional appeal.

3. Eccentricity: An ability to create things that are new and different.

Continue reading …


Total Lunar Eclipse

A total lunar eclipse will be visible in the early morning of April 4. A total lunar eclipse occurs only when the sun, Earth and moon are perfectly lined up. Our own Planetarium Coordinator and Staff Astronomer Paulette Auchtung recently discussed lunar eclipses with radio host Frank Beckmann on WJR. Learn more from Paulette in her interview and visit us for Astronomy Weekend, April 24 – 26!


Fascinating Frescos

The Michigan Science Center is proud to host a limited availability lecture and workshop by renowned Detroit artist Hubert Massey on March 28! This event is organized in conjunction with the Detroit Institute of Arts’ exhibit, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit.

Massey will speak to MiSci guests about the scientific discoveries that inspired Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry. His lecture will be followed by a fresco-making workshop. Both are included with general admission, but space is limited for the workshop – just 30 seats are available. Call 313.577.8400, Option 5, to make a reservation.

Hubert Massey’s installations can be seen at the Museum of African American History, Paradise Valley Park and Campus Martius. He is a graduate of Grand Valley State University and has studied at the University of London, Slade Institute of Fine Arts. He studied with Stephen Dimitroff and Lucienne Bloch, apprentices to Diego Rivera, and is one of few African American artists painting in the true Buon Fresco style.

Hear from Massey himself in this video featuring his work as a Kresge Fellow.

Hubert Massey , 2011 Kresge Artist Fellow in the visual arts from Kresge Arts in Detroit on Vimeo.

Your Guide to the Detroit Sky

By Paulette Auchtung
MiSci Planetarium Coordinator and Staff Astronomer


The night sky has captured our attention and imaginations for centuries. The ancient Greeks looked up into the night sky and used the stars in constellations to tell stories of Gods and Goddesses, heroes and villains, and monsters and pets. Every culture throughout time has stories that went along with patterns in the sky.

Today, we are more disconnected from the night sky. We have television and video games to hold our attention and we aren’t able to see very much of the night sky because of light pollution. Light pollution is mainly caused by very bright city lights.

Detroit has a lot of city lights, and though they help keep us safe, they also block our view of the night sky. To get away from the city lights, you have to go about 100 miles outside the nearest city, but here in Michigan, there are plenty of places that you can go nearby. To find a dark sky near you, visit the Dark Sky website.

However, if you are interested in star gazing in your backyard, there are still objects that you can see from Detroit. Right now, shortly after sunset, the bright stars in the winter circle are visible in the southern sky and can be seen from the city. Betelgeuse and Rigel in the constellation of Orion the Hunter are bright, and visible almost due south shortly after sunset. The brightest star Sirius is close by.

You are actually able to see more than just stars in the night sky. Shortly after sunset, two planets are visible in the western sky. If you look close to the horizon, you will see Mars and Venus. Venus is the brighter of the two, but both are fairly bright. Venus is so bright that you can see it in the daytime if you know where to look. After the sun sets, but before it gets really dark, you should be able to see a very bright object – Venus – in the west. A lot of people mistake it for a UFO, or unidentified flying object. Along with Venus and Mars, another really bright object is visible in the east-southeast. You’ll notice Jupiter starting shortly after sunset and for the majority of the night. Even if you don’t have a telescope, some of these objects are visible with a pair of binoculars.

To learn more about the stars and constellations that you can see here in Detroit, or to learn more about space, come visit us at the Michigan Science Center for Space Week, March  11- 15!