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Vibrant MSI energy exhibit helps understand options, issues

Quinton Rose,11, of Plainfield, putts on "solar panels." A new Museum of Science & Industry exhibit, "Powerful: African Americans in Energy," features a miniature golf course and will help Chicagoans learn more about oil, natural gas, wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear power, and at the same time, about the achievements of African Americans in the energy field. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

What does America’s president and a new Museum of Science & Industry exhibit that opened in time for Black History Month have in common? A spotlight on energy.

“Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union address. “But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.”

The new exhibit at the South Side museum, “Powerful: African Americans in Energy,” can help those seeking to decipher the president’s options and the attendant public policy issues.

Part of the museum’s annual Black Creativity program, the exhibit, which opened Jan. 25, a day after the president’s address, takes visitors on an exploration of energy sources, over landscapes covering natural gas, oil and coal, biomass, hydropower, and solar, wind and nuclear power. Running through April 15, the exhibit’s not somber.

A miniature golf setting allows visitors in a fun and interactive way to play through each energy source’s landscape, learning the route to conversion and delivery of electricity or fuel, as well as its environmental impact.

“We pared it down to the basics, what it is, where it comes from, what are the pros and cons,” said the museum’s Angela Williams, who designed the vibrant, 7,000-square-feet landscape – where an eighth hole covers conservation and a ninth allows viewers to choose the most prudent energy strategy Obama himself might pursue.

“It’s not only about energy, of course. It’s also about technology, and about conservation, and policy,” said Williams, as school students scampered here and there, learning, for example, that the largest urban solar plant in the U.S. is in Chicago’s West Pullman community, generating enough electricity to power 1,500 homes a year.

Or, that out of 104 functioning nuclear power plants in the nation, the six that are in Illinois produce more than 10 percent of the nation’s nuclear power – more than any other state.

Along the way, visitors learn the achievements of African Americans in the energy field from the biographies of some of the nation’s leading scientists and CEOs – from ComEd’s retiring chief Frank Clark to particle physicist Herman White of Fermilab and several others.

Entering its 41st year, the Black Creativity program – sponsored by Allstate, ComEd, Fifth Third Bank, Abbott, ITW, Peoples Gas and US Cellular – includes a series of lectures and workshops and a juried art exhibition of African American artwork running through Feb. 29. Those wanting more information can visit msichicago.org.