New Coca-Cola Space Science Center exhibit to help young scientists’ imaginations take flight
November 9, 2023
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center launched a new exhibit to inspire aspiring young scientists to study aerospace flight and exploration principles. The exhibit, developed fully in-house by the center’s educational team, was made possible through support from Pratt & Whitney, a global leader in propulsion system design and engineering.
The interactive exhibit, “Guzzle Vortex,” is designed to spark conversations with young visitors about the aerospace principles of flight, planets around other stars, and life in the universe. Its maze of suction-powered tubes gives kids the chance to chart the pathways their colorful “Noulie delights” squares of fabric — the name a take on Bernoulli’s principle — will take before they are jettisoned at the end of their flight.
“Our newest exhibit — the ‘Guzzle Vortex’ — is designed especially for our preschool- and elementary-aged visitors to have a good time with their families while learning about the principles of science,” said the center’s director, Dr. Shawn Cruzen.
Exhibit signage provides conversation starter prompts for the center’s education staff, K-12 teachers and families. Topics range from aerodynamic principles and interstellar travel to exoplanets and the possibility of life on other planets.
Annually, nearly 40,000 visitors from Columbus and around the world benefit from the Coca-Cola Space Science Center’s mission to inspire and educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, and science educators and communicators. Most of those visitors are from elementary and middle schools — including the 17,000-plus Columbus-area students who study at one of the Muscogee County School District’s 44 elementary and middle schools.
INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS
As schoolchildren learn about the stars, Columbus State students pursuing degrees in the sciences and science education are deepening their aerospace knowledge. In that regard, the center is a vital resource for CSU’s Department of Earth & Space Sciences — housing its astronomy courses and supporting student and faculty research. In partnership with the Department of Teacher Education, Leadership & Counseling, the center provides future science educators with practicum experiences as they prepare to teach the next generation of space explorers.
The “Guzzle Vortex” exhibit is an extension of Pratt & Whitney’s ongoing and long-time partnership with the Coca-Cola Space Science Center. The company’s support of this and other university initiatives focuses on the long-term goal of developing a highly trained, technically skilled and competitive workforce.
“As we pursue our goals as a university, we don’t do that by ourselves. We do it with our community partners, and we have no better partner than Pratt & Whitney,” said Dr. Pat McHenry, interim provost and executive vice president. “They’ve been with us close to three decades — making their expertise available to us as we have grown and expanded our STEM programs in computer science, Earth and space science, and robotics engineering.”
Cruzen noted that the company’s influence and ongoing support can be seen throughout the center — from the ceiling where inflated models of planets float overhead to the center’s central galleries where its extensive Space Shuttle collection is on display.
“It’s hard to look around the Coca-Cola Space Science Center and not see Pratt & Whitney’s hand at work,” he said. “They model what an education-focused, corporate-university partnership looks like, and we are grateful for how they invest in our mission of broadening an appreciation of science and technology.”
That partnership has ranged from single exhibition projects like the “Guzzle Vortex” to annually supporting the center’s Summer Academy for students ages 9 to 18. It also includes volunteer service by employees of its Columbus Engine Center throughout the year as they share their expertise with center visitors and staff.
Like the center, Pratt & Whitney is invested in programs that develop the next generation of scientists and foster tourism and economic development in the region. With the Columbus Engine Center’s recent $206 million expansion and the 400-plus new jobs that expansion will create, GTF Operations Director Kelley Carillon of Pratt & Whitney’s Columbus Engine Center noted the benefits of its ongoing collaboration with Columbus State.
“We partner so strongly with [the Coca-Cola Space Science Center because] we need a very talented, technical workforce,” Carillon explained. “[That means] intervening very early in elementary school and getting these kids interested in these careers to create our pipeline. The [Coca-Cola Space Science Center] does a really good job of reaching out to a broad, diverse group of students.”
Cruzen emphasized that, through its Muscogee County School District partnership and the other groups that visit the center, around 40% of its school-aged visitors fall into minority groups historically underrepresented in STEM careers. Many of these students lack home access to technology for educational purposes — making the center’s programs and exhibits like the “Guzzle Vortex” that increase these students’ comfort levels with scientific themes crucial to developing future technically minded professionals.
The center didn’t go far to develop “Guzzle Vortex.” Instead of purchasing a frequently expensive off-the-shelf exhibit, the center’s newest addition was conceptualized and designed in-house — created by assistant planetarium director Lance Tankersley and system administrator Chris Johnson. Tankersley relied on his museum studies degree from Johns Hopkins University to design an engaging and captivating exhibit, while Johnson’s graphic design and electronics know-how helped bring the exhibit to life.
In addition to exhibitions like the “Guzzle Vortex,” the center’s 7,500 square feet of gallery space is populated with more than 300 NASA artifacts documenting the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Its Space Shuttle collection is the most extensive of its kind in Georgia. It includes the only Space Shuttle Main Engine Nozzle found outside a NASA or Smithsonian Institute museum — this one having flown to space on nine NASA missions. The gallery also includes four flight simulators and numerous interactive displays — both of which Cruzen pointed out are quite popular with school-aged students.
ABOUT THE COCA-COLA SPACE SCIENCE CENTER
The Coca-Cola Space Science Center has been inspiring visitors of all ages to look to the stars since opening in 1996. As Georgia’s only science center and museum facility dedicated to providing experiences for students and public visitors in astronomy and space science, its galleries, aerospace artifacts and science education programs have fostered an appreciation for science and technology, as well as advanced scientific literacy throughout our local and academic communities.
Outside its galleries, cornerstones of Coca-Cola Space Science Center’s programming include its Omnisphere Theatre planetarium and its Westrock Observatory. The planetarium includes a full-dome digital projection system frequently featuring documentaries and constellation-mapping events. The WestRock Observatory is one of Georgia’s premier public observatories and home to a research-grade telescope. Complementing it and the center’s stargazing programs is a fleet of over 20 portable telescopes, a portable planetarium system, a van for providing mobile programs, and a remotely controllable solar observatory.
An outreach program of the university’s College of Education & Health Professions, the Coca-Cola Space Science Center serves as a training site for Columbus State students pursuing degrees that lead to careers in the sciences and science education. CSU alumni who have served in the center’s educational program are now employed at NASA, Teledyne, The Planetary Sciences Institute, Axiom Space and Blue Origin — to name a few.
For more information about the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, visit ccssc.org.
Michael Tullier, APR, executive director of strategic communication + marketing, Columbus State University, 706.507.8729, email@example.com
Wanja Ngugi, assistant director, Coca-Cola Space Science Center, 706.649.1486, firstname.lastname@example.org
Related news coverage:
What's a Guzzle Vortex? Find out here (Nov. 10, 2023, Ledger-Enquirer)
CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center unveils Guzzle Vortex gallery exhibit (Nov. 8, 2023, WRBL-TV)