Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dynamic Earth

Putting some miles behind us, we arrived in Sudbury, Ontario, to explore the town’s nickel and copper mining industry. We couldn’t swing a tour of the active mining operations, but were able to simulate the experience at Dynamic Earth, a science museum focusing on the area’s geology. (

The museum has two main exhibit galleries. The lower level has a children’s activity area and an interactive station for controlling mining machinery that mimics a radio-controlled mining operation. The upper level has a permanent display of gems and minerals and room for temporary exhibits. The traveling exhibit Diamonds recently premiered in the temporary gallery. Nadia, a geologist who had worked on diamond exploration expeditions, was on hand to answer any of our questions. It was a pleasure to have someone with industry experience on the museum floor to offer explanations and anecdotes. More museums should invest in content-area specialists for their floor interpreters.

Although the exhibits are interesting, the real draw to Dynamic Earth is its simulated mine. I have toured numerous mines – both real and constructed – across Europe and North America, and I have to rank Dynamic Earth’s simulation near the top. An elevator takes you down a 65-foot cut into the rock. After donning hard hats and passing through an airlock chamber to separate the mine’s ventilation system from the museum’s, you arrive in a cut drift. The guided tour takes you through one hundred years of mining history. Beginning with a 1900s mine, it shows the evolution of mining technology, from hand tools to pneumatic hammers, to radio-controlled electric machinery.

Sudbury mines 10% of the world’s nickel, and the active mines still have at least 100 years of life in them, but the current economic outlook is grim. The local mines are laying off employees and instituting 4-6 week mandatory shut downs.

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