MOD. shocks with pain chairs, futuristic babies and Josh the robot


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By Melissa Keogh

A lifelike robot head modelled on a real-life teenager, modified silicone babies, and a room dedicated to testing the perception of pain – welcome to the Museum of Discovery (MOD.).

The interactive public science and creativity space’s director, Dr Kristin Alford, says the museum has already attracted up to 6000 people since opening in May this year.

The futuristic museum of discovery, housed in the University of South Australia’s $247m health and research facility, aims to inspire young adults about the world of science and technology.

MOD. sets out to help shape people’s understanding of the world and explore possibilities of the future.

“We’re here to inspire young adults aged 15–25 about the potential of science and technology for their futures, whether that’s to keep them engaged in science and tech for their careers or just keep them engaged in, enjoying and appreciating science,” Dr Alford says.

“We will need science for most careers of the future.”

Josh the robot ‘wakes up’ when approached.

Spread over seven galleries across two floors, the rotating exhibitions at MOD. change every six months.

Among the exhibitions is a lifelike robot head placed in the corner.

Approach ‘Josh’ – modelled on a real life 18-year-old Adelaide man – and he will speak, 14 small motors under his skin controlling his expressions to match his words.

But to reach Josh, visitors must stroll past Transfigurations, a conversation starter by Agi Haines that explores surgical enhancement of babies to adapt to future conditions.

One of the baby’s heads features extra folds of skin allowing for greater ventilation to adapt to global warming, while a feature on another baby allows for faster absorption of caffeine.

Visitors wander through each of the silicone babies that have surgically enhanced features to help them cope with future conditions.

Another of MOD.’s highlights is the ‘pain room’ – a dark space dedicated to exploring the human perception of pain.

Two armchairs in the middle of the room invite daring visitors to sit, before they’re distracted by pictures and given a minor electric shock.

MOD.’s permanent exhibition is the Universal Gallery’s first Science on a Sphere – an Australian first featuring a large sphere hanging from the ceiling.

At the touch of a button the sphere can be transformed into planet Earth, the sun, moons, and other planets, and is currently set up to explore astronomy with Aboriginal stories.

Data can also be projected onto the sphere, showing weather movements and other data.

MOD.’s Universal Gallery is a permanent exhibition.

Dr Alford spent two years collaborating with researchers, artists, the public, students and government to build the futuristic museum, which she says is attracting about 1500 visitors a week.

Among the visitors who have so far stuck in her memory is a teenager who spent more than two hours exploring MOD. with her family.

“I went into the Universal Gallery on opening weekend and there was a 14 year-old-girl, she was wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘don’t talk to me’,” Dr Alford says.

“She just laid back and cried, ‘I love this place!’.

“She and her dad and sisters were still there two hours later exploring everything.”

Dr Alford has lived in SA for over a decade and is originally from Brisbane.

When she arrived in Adelaide she admits that things “felt a bit flat”.

MOD. director Dr Kristin Alford.

“I could see that there were lots of exciting things under the surface because as a futurist that’s what you’re looking for,” she says.

“I think there was a lot of discussion around that time around advanced manufacturing and there was a desire for things to move on but yet to see the traction.

“In the last 10 years I think we’ve seen that traction … with the work that’s being done at Tonsley (Innovation District) and there’s a whole lot of work that’s going on in creative industries and technology, co-working spaces, and software development.”

Dr Alford says Adelaide’s small size makes it the perfect place for entrepreneurs, artists and scientists to make connections fast.

“You can quickly find interesting people doing really interesting things,” she says.

“If you want to connect with an artist or a scientist to explore something it’s not hard, it’s probably two phone calls away.”

MOD.’s current exhibitions will remain until November when new installations will move in.

Entry to MOD. is free and it’s open every day except Mondays.

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