Pocatello museum aims to educate about the West's water - East Idaho News
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Pocatello museum aims to educate about the West’s water

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POCATELLO — One of eastern Idaho’s museums is putting together an exhibit that will educate current and future adults about one of our most valuable resources — water.

The Idaho Museum of Natural History is seeking donors to complete its funding for the “Waters of the West” exhibit, which will go in what was previously the Discovery Room. Robert Gay, education coordinator for the Idaho Museum of Natural History, believes that it will help to educate the public about the water system and their place in it.

“Water is used as a natural resource both in the natural world but also within the human world, and these can be complementary uses,” Gay said.

This room is free to the public and will remain so once the new exhibit is complete.

It will cover a variety of topics relating to water, including how Idaho’s relation with it has changed through the ages, the state’s native aquatic species and how the interconnected nature of the water system works.

At this point, the museum has raised around $50,000 toward the “Waters of the West,” and the whole exhibit will cost $300,000, according to Tabatha Butler, the Idaho State University executive director of philanthropy. Some of the exhibit has already been funded, but the museum is still looking for grants.

Some aspects of the exhibit are already in the room, like a model of the Helicoprion shark, better known as the buzzsaw shark. This 270-million-year-old creature was the largest predator of its time, and the greatest number of its fossils have been found in Idaho.

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In the room’s preexisting cabinets, there will be dioramas on display that depict Idaho’s water system, starting when it was covered in an ocean teeming with buzzsaw sharks to the present day. These models were created by the students of ISU Academy NExT.

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The museum will also keep its magnet wall in the room but add 3D-printed magnets that educate kids on the variety of native species that rely on Idaho’s water system.

The exhibit will feature a number of hands-on displays that educate museum-goers about how the water and the land interact with each other.

“Water is a big issue here in the West and in Idaho, and we want kids to start to engage with that idea as early as possible,” Butler said.

AR Sandbox
A design of an augmented reality sandbox. | Courtesy Idaho State University

One display will be an Augmented Reality Sandbox, which will allow people to learn more about how topography affects the flow of water. As people shape the sand on the table, a projector will project an elevation map onto it and simulate the flow of water.

“People will be able to adjust the terrain and then see what happens to waterways,” Gay said. “You can also actively increase or decrease the water by sprinkling your fingers over something, and it creates a thunderstorm.”

There will also be a stream table, ran by a museum professional, which will be able to show even more direct comparisons to Idaho’s topography.

Stream Table
An example of a stream table. | Courtesy Idaho State University

This table circulates water that can actually erode landforms, rather then simulate it. The museum will also 3D print dams to demonstrate how they affect the water flow.

Another feature of the stream table is that it can simulate stream gauges based on data from the United States Geological Survey and visualize what that change in flow looks like.

“It allows us to bring these things that people may have been aware of … and get a broad picture,” Gay said.

The exhibit will also feature a water table that will be custom built to represent the Snake River, all the way from the source in the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. This table will allow kids to adjust the water level and divert some of it away, simulating drought and floods and show how irrigation works.

Water Table
An example of a water table. | Courtesy Idaho State University

Gay said that although people have many different opinions on how to manage water, the water table will help children form their own opinions.

“Instead of us giving them some sort of top-down perspective, we’re inviting them to form their own opinion on the best way to manage the water going forward,” Gay said.

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Gay thinks it’s important children form their own opinions about water management, because they’ll be the ones making future decisions.

“We need to make sure that our population is water literate so that we can continue to succeed as a society here,” Gay said.

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Idaho Museum of Natural History
What the room currently looks like. | Logan Ramsey, EastIdahoNews.com