Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction

Saturday morning family time was here again, and after deliberating between a number of different possibilities, we settled on the feature exhibit Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction at the ArtScience Museum. Our girls have a 'thing' for dinosaurs, as seen by the books that they've chosen from second-hand book fairs, and of course, their reactions to previous visits to dino-themed exhibits (click HERE for a report on our visit to the Singapore Science Centre's Titans of the Past exhibition). The exhibition at the ArtScience Museum ends on 28th of July, and it would've been a pity to miss it.

It's amazing what goes through the mind of children when they come face to face with a dinosaur.

We got there right after it opened at 10 am and got ourselves a family package for two adults and two children at $64. The staff guided us with the download of their interactive app. The app required us to look out for and scan the colour-coded markers along the way to unlock interesting information and games relating to that time-period (as suggested by the title 'dawn to extinction') along with other interactive activities.  The ticket stubs also functioned as Coca-Cola redemption coupons, a nice surprise for a warm day. Before heading into the galleries, we stopped by at the cafe for a chocolate croissant.

Be sure to bring along your Singapore Citizenship card if you want to be eligible for the discount.

There were some interesting workshops for children, but we only intended to make this a half-day affair. We managed to participate in the 'Tooth-Tales' workshop at 12.30 pm before lunch. More about that later.

We arrived way before the first guided tour, and decided to give this a miss. However, we did chance upon a group during our walk and I must say the information provided by the guides was presented with enthusiasm. 

Imagine what it would've been like to walk among these giants! 

We were thankful for some very nice pastries at the cafe. Just in time for Mummy's brunch. 

The app had a camera view finder in the centre of a clock-face and  nine icons to unlock by scanning colour-coded markers scattered throughout the gallery. It was not easy finding all of them, and we even had to back-track a couple of times to find the more elusive ones. Hint: the final icon is outside the gallery, and the orange one is inside the booklet that comes along with a purchased photograph from the photo-booth.

To tell you the truth, the ignorant me was initially apprehensive about how 'scientific' this exhibition was going to be. Was it simply a dino-themed art exhibition? Was there going to be real fossils or was I going to be disappointed by just another collection of replicas and casts? Soon after we browsed the first few galleries, I knew I was not going to be disappointed. While scientific in nature, its presentation was combined with an artistic flair that stirred the imagination of visitors young and old.

A shadow animation greeted us as we entered the dark gallery.

Mummy sharing information with the girls at one of the galleries.

Checking out reconstructions of some of the most bizarre reptiles ever imagined!

The presentations were a creative amalgamation of art and science. Here, an animation projected on the wall illustrates step by step computer reconstructions of the animal by adding layers of muscle and skin onto an initial skeleton.

A screenshot of the muscle structure layered over the skeleton.

There were a number of hands on booths targeted at the younger audience. Here, we got to touch and feel reconstructions of what scientists think the skin textures of various kinds of  prehistoric animals were like.

Being a paleontologist is very much like being a detective, and a keen eye to solve mysteries is needed to put the correct bones in their place. The children had a chance to experience this concept through a dabbling with puzzles of different difficulty levels.

Matching the information boards to the corresponding pictures.

Talk about bizarre: these reconstructions are thought to be of 'mammal-like' reptiles. Think a cross between a crocodile and and lion! The stuff nightmares are made of.

A reconstruction of a crocodillian predator attacking a sauropod. Can you spot the app marker on the right? Scanning it unlocked animated and interactive activities on your phone that can be replayed even after leaving the museum.

Mummy and the girls were dwarfed by the magnificent models.

Fossilized flora imprints paints an impression of the greenery during the days of the dinosaurs.

Another example where art meets science: in this narrow doorway to the next gallery, a smoke curtain becomes a screen for a laser-like image of a dinosaur. Children had a kick out of walking through the image over and over again.

A relative of T-Rex presented artistically with a tilted mirror providing a birds' eye view of the skeleton.

There were a number of 'touch-me' exhibits.

We left a little something behind. This station invites you to doodle your dino impression. The girls had fun both drawing little story boards and flipping through the sketch-book 

That's my dino!

Using a little bit of detective insticts and gut feel to put the different parts together to get the big picture; just one of the many skills required of a real paleontologist. Here, the kids exercise these skills through play by trying out a large magnetic puzzle activity.

Listening in on a documentary.

An innovative spin to dinosaur exhibitions was to combine technology of the future with science of the past. In this next gallery, visitors are introduced to how we bio-mechanical simulations unveil characteristics about dinosaurs to give us a better picture of how they moved and lived.

Where science meets techonology. The girls had fun playing with this touch-screen interactive game which required you to accomplish some tasks with your long-neck dino. The catch is, the dino is limited by the structure and flexibility of its neck vertebrae.

A metal dino sculpture

This mechanical skeleton demonstrates the gait and movement of the two-footed predators. The display was accompanied by synchronized animation of top and side views of the animal, showing how the tail swings left to right to balance the heavy creature as it moved. 

Fanciful lights outline the dino footprints.

"Triceratops Triceratops on the wall, who's got the prettiest horns of them all?"

Informative videos accompanied the exhibits.

An impressive scene from the past enhanced by realistic landscaping.

Our paths crossed with a guided tour as we approached the end of the exhibition. The presenter was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable. However, I was happy we decided to proceed at our own pace as it allowed for more interaction with the kids.

This is what an app marker looks like.

What does my skin look like under magnification? It looks like the surface of Mars!

Investigating the difference in mass between mammal and bird femurs. Birds have light-weight bones that are easier to carry through the air!

Mummy and the girls do what they do best: browse the gift shop! There were many items going cheap, perhaps because the exhibition was in its final weeks.

At the end of the gallery walk, we chanced upon the workshop venue in a somewhat obscure corner. It was already about 12.20 pm, and the children's workshop "Toothy Tales" was about to start in ten minutes time. The kids signed up for the activity, but Mummy had to sit-in as was required for children under six. Daddy made his way back through the galleries with Mummy's mobile phone to search for app markers we missed.

It's story time! The workshop began with a dinosaur tale by our lovely facilitators.

Each child was given a transparency printout of their favourite dinosaur to colour using the markers provided.

The finished products were transparent dino puppets that we took home. The girls were so inspired they made many more straw puppets once they reached home. 

After we made our way out of the souvenir shop and redeemed our Cokes at the merchandise gallery, we suddenly realized how hungry we were having walked for a couple of hours. Perhaps it was the cold of the air-conditioning in the museum that triggered the hunger pangs. Right outside the museum was a Pita Pan outlet that the girls liked the last time we were here for the Titanic exhibition. Since Daddy hadn't tried it, we decided to order a variety of dishes to share. It turned out to be a feast, with enough to takeaway for tea later in the day. Mediterranean cuisine is not something we try very often, but the unique flavours and fragrant aromas were just awesome. Another thing we like about going Mediterranean: foods that are engineered with ingredients that are minimally processed. A yummy and healthy way to end the day out.

Red and green shakshuka still sizzling in the pan. The red version is a meaty  tomato base topped with half-done eggs, and the green version is spinach topped with cheese.

The Pita bread went great with the white shakshuka (similar to the red shakshuka but instead of eggs, it is topped with cheese). We ordered a bowl of sweet-potato fries that were hot out of the kitchen.

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