Get ready for a ‘hamster wheel’ for humans at Science City

Kids might not leave all the lights in the house on if they appreciated how hard it can be to generate that power.

That’s one of the things they will learn in a new exhibit taking shape at Science City called “Unplugged.”

Conceived by students at Olathe North High School, the exhibit explores the science of energy and our relationship to it. The centerpiece is a 9-foot “hamster wheel” for humans that will reveal how many calories you’re burning as you run and how many light bulbs that energy can illuminate.

If you can light up the “Unplugged” sign above, you’re doing well.

Jeff Rosenblatt, director of Science City, expects the wheel to be one of the most popular activities at Science City when the exhibit opens March 8.

The idea for “Unplugged” won the top prize in the secondary school division in the 2011 Battle of the Brains competition sponsored by Burns & McDonnell. Part of the students’ prize was seeing their work translated into a new exhibit in the science center at Union Station.

“It’s not exactly what they designed,” said Rosenblatt, “but I feel we took the heart of what they had and kept it and made it work.”

Burns & McDonnell engineers worked with the students, who also made site visits. The engineering company and Milbank Manufacturing Co. are contributing more than $1 million in cash and in-kind services to create the exhibit.

In addition to the power wheel, the exhibit will include stationary bikes you can use to charge your cellphone. Miniature wind turbines and solar panels can be manipulated to light up parts of a floor display of Kansas City. A giant wall of touch screens will provide the global energy picture.

The exhibit is part of a push to reinvigorate Science City’s mission to promote education in science, technology, mathematics and engineering.

On Wednesday, workers maneuvered the power wheel into position in preparation for hoisting it to the upper level of Science City. The new exhibit will occupy a prominent place, where the old weather center used to be.