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Hands-on exhibits planned Electronics museum takes a less technical approach to displays on history


At the Historical Electronics Museum in Linthicum, you'll still find the SCR-270 radar antenna that detected Japanese bombers as they approached Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and a working Edison cylinder phonograph.

But some of the more technical exhibits soon will give way to simpler, hands-on exhibits. The technical displays were fine when the museum was in an office building on Elkridge Landing Road. That building didn't face the road, and most of its visitors were engineers from the museum's chief patron, Westinghouse Corp.

The museum has become more visible since it moved to 1745 W. Nursery Road three years ago and draws more tourists. Those visitors, however, "felt the current exhibits were over their heads. We're going to go back and get more of the background," said Elizabeth C. Hall, 29, director of the museum for four years.

The museum already has a few hands-on displays, including a working telegraph station where visitors can send each other messages. Museum directors want to add more of those kinds of exhibits. Ms. Hall said she hopes some of the new exhibits will be ready for display by the end of the year, with the rest in place by mid-1996.

"We want to encourage children to be interested in science and maybe take some science-related courses in college," she said. "But if they come in and say, 'I can't understand that,' they might not be interested in doing that," Ms. Hall said. "Whereas, if they come in and say, 'That's easy. I can understand that,' they might be interested in going on."

The museum collects, preserves and displays devices that advanced electronics technology. One exhibit, titled "Microwave Theory and Technique Collection," traces electronic advances from huge vacuum tubes to computer chips. Some of the chips are smaller than the head of a pin.

"A chip does what a million of these [tubes] would have done in the 1940s," said Ms. Hall. "That's why we don't have pocket calculators that take up a whole room like these huge ones used to do about 50 years ago."

The museum hasn't yet decided which technical exhibits will be moved and stored. Some of the new exhibits will explore how common everyday household items -- radios, cellular phones, televisions and microwave ovens -- work.

"Most people just put the food in the microwave and push the buttons without thinking about why the food actually gets hot," said Ms. Hall.

Microwaves hitting water molecules in food cause those molecules to move around and vibrate against each other. The resulting friction heats the food, she said.

"You can tell children to rub your hands together and that they are getting warm. That's what happens to your food in the microwave. It's not magic anymore," said Ms. Hall.

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