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Queens Chronicle

Nobel Prize Exhibit Inspires With Cultures Of Creativity

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Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2005 12:00 am

A new traveling exhibit at the NY Hall of Science on the history of the Nobel Prize is aimed at an older audience, who should find it inspiring as well as informative.

Running now through May 30th, it is the centennial exhibition of the internationally famous and highly respected Nobel Prize, given out annually in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.

Not only does the exhibit give an overview of the Nobel laureate recipients and their work, but asks the audience to determine what is creativity, how it can be encouraged and which is more important to the creative process, the person or the environment. It is thought-provoking and visually attractive.

While this theme may sound lofty, it is presented in very human ways. Visitors can see a fancy table setting from one of the prestigious Nobel Prize banquets. There are also framed photos of the two dozen or so women who have won the prize. And you can listen to speeches, some lofty, some funny, given by a few of the recipients in Sweden, where the awards are presented.

There is also a humorous photo gallery suspended from the ceiling of photos of all the winners strung on a moving conveyer belt like one you’d find at the local dry cleaners. They are all laid out to dry.

Lest this sounds trivial, it’s not. You will be inspired by the works of so many individuals from around the world who have made a difference in all our lives.

One of those individuals is Dr. Sherwood Rowland, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995. He was on hand for the exhibit’s opening last week. It’s because of his work and that of two other scientists he shared the award with that we think differently today about the ozone layer and our effects on it.

Dr. Rowland discovered that man-made chlorofluorocarbon propellants from spray cans speed up the decomposition of the ozonosphere, which protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. His and his colleague’s findings eventually brought about worldwide changes in the chemical industry. In 1978, such aerosols were banned in the United States and the United Nations negotiated an international protocol banning the production of ozone-depleting gases in 1987.

A professor at the University of California at Irvine, Rowland was cited by the Award Committee for probably having saved the world from catastrophe. Today, he says the chemical concentrations in the atmosphere have peaked and over the next 100 years should fully recover.

But what about the effects of the Nobel Prize on him? Rowland says the $1-million award was split three ways and once taxes are taken out, “It doesn’t change your life financially, but people treat you differently.

“Most people have heard of the Nobel Prize and once you’ve received it, it’s a distinction,” he added. “How do you top this? You recognize that you can’t; it’s a once in a lifetime thing.”

Rowland, who continues to study the atmosphere, noted that the awards are supposed to be a surprise. The nominations are made secretly by research institutions and every year there are between 250 and 300 nominations in each category.

So, even though his work was already noteworthy by 1995, the award still came as a surprise. “I got the phone call from Stockholm notifying me that I had won,” Rowland said. “We had a big party at home.”

Although Dr. Rowland will not be at the Hall of Science during the exhibit’s run, it’s his kind of experiences that are depicted. There are over 30 presentations of winners and their work as well as displays of Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite and created the awards over 100 years ago.

One highlight is a mini-movie theatre where visitors can watch a split screen of stories of various scientists from around the world. It delves into their work, their approach and creativity. As one of the scientists said on one of the eight films, “My co-workers could care less about how I look or act or even if I’m not such a nice person. If I have something creative to offer, that’s what they are interested in.”

This is the exhibit’s first stop on a North American tour this year. It next goes to the Exploratorium in San Francisco for the summer.

The exhibit is skillfully displayed in the museum’s Great Hall, built for the 1964 World’s Fair. It features an 80-foot ceiling and tiny blue glass windows. “It looks like it was made for this space,” said Dr. Alan Friedman, Hall of Science director.

Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, agreed. “This is a most striking venue,” he said. “And the blue (glass) is the Nobel color.”

Museum officials admit that the exhibit is geared for an older audience than its usual displays. High school and college students and even history buffs are encouraged to see the display, which is based on the contents of the Nobel Museum in Sweden.

Museum hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission to the Nobel exhibit is free with the regular museum fee. For further information, call 718-699-0005.

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