Our entire economy hinges on our ability to get little kids to
like science class. That makes Omniplex not just a fun place for a
field trip, but a valuable tool for improving the economy. And the
fact that the science museum hasn't changed much over the last
quarter century may turn out to be a good thing.
A big change is coming - not just at the Omniplex, but
nationwide, said Max Ary, president of the Kirkpatrick Science and
Air Space Museum at Omniplex.
The importance of science is that it leads to the fields of
engineering and technology, which is the base of all small business,
which is the base of the whole economic system, said Ary. Other
places, like Japan, totally understand the importance of teaching
science. But we've lost that.
Though the United States led the world in science education
during the 1960s, today America's students rank 25th in the world in
scientific aptitude, Ary said. A big part of the problem is that
very little science is taught in elementary schools - the crucial
age at which to introduce the subject.
Studies show that if a child is not turned on to science by the
fifth grade, you've usually lost them, said Ary. Science museums are
going to have to find new ways to get the attention of the potential
scientists of tomorrow, he noted.
During the early 1990s, three times as many people attended
museums each year than attended all professional sporting events
combined, Ary said. But over the last few years, attendance has
decreased by 20 percent, causing a number of science museums to
close their doors.
There has been a change in public perception after 9-11, Ary
said. People expect something different out of museums than they
used to. Something has changed, and we're desperately trying to find
out what that is.
Not much money has been spent on (Omniplex) in the last 25 years,
but a major change is about to occur in the museum field, and we're
in the perfect position - both in timing and location - to be on the
front edge of that change, to lead the nation.
Around the same time the Omniplex was being built, Ary was
helping to found the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in
Hutchison, Kan. Ary spent 27 years as president and CEO of the
Cosmosphere, the longest tenure of any director of a major museum in
the United States.
During that time, Ary became known as one of the nation's
foremost experts on the history of space exploration. He directed
the assembly of one of the largest and most significant collections
of American and Russian space artifacts in existence. Ary is
credited with initiating and overseeing virtually every major space
artifact restoration program ever conducted, as served as technical
consultant on numerous Hollywood films, including the Academy Award-
winning Apollo 13 and the Emmy Award-winning television series From
the Earth to the Moon.
Almost my entire professional life was spent there, said Ary. I
thought I would retire there. It was my love, a first-class
(facility). It took something really special to pull me away from
Omniplex' management pursued him, he said, and the science museum
provided challenges Ary was ready to tackle. (Charles Shilling, who
served as executive director of Omniplex from 1998-2001, also used
to head the Kansas Cosmosphere from 1991 to 1992). …