Tee off and choose your energy future in a unique, hands-on miniature golf experience in this year’s Black Creativity featured exhibit, Powerful: African Americans in Energy, at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) from Jan. 25 to April 15, 2012.

Grab a putter and ball, and “hit the links” in this hands-on, miniature golf course designed to resemble a diverse energy landscape with eight different energy lands, each representing a specific resource: natural gas; oil and coal; solar power; biomass; wind power; hydropower; nuclear power; and conservation. Maneuver through the twists and turns of the energy landscape, while scoring the pros and cons of each resource and discovering how it affects your life and the planet.

While “putting” through the exhibit, you’ll learn some of the following information at each energy land that, in the end, helps you decide which combination of resources is best for our energy future.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a hydrocarbon fossil fuel composed primarily of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which formed millions of years ago from decaying plants. Trapped underground, it can be pumped to the surface from gas fields beneath the earth. In industrial facilities, burning natural gas heats water to create steam, spinning generators that produce electricity. Natural gas can be piped directly into buildings to heat furnaces, stoves and water heaters.
Oil and Coal
Coal is a solid fossil fuel dug up from deposits that are deep under the earth. Oil, also known as crude oil or petroleum, is a liquid fossil fuel drawn from beneath the Earth’s surface by drilling. Both resources were formed from plants that died millions of years ago. These two resources are the most commonly used fuels; in fact, coal provides approximately half of the U.S. electricity produced today. Oil is refined to create gasoline for cars, and its ingredients are used to make many of our everyday products, such as medicines, cosmetics, clothes, food and plastic toys. Illinois is one of 26 states that mines coal and leads the Midwest in oil-refining.
Solar Power
Solar power is a natural resource that comes from the Sun’s energy. Due to the gravitational pull inside its dense core, hydrogen and helium atoms are crushed and fused together—resulting in a giant ball of hot gas that is continuously changing in composition. By harnessing the Sun’s rays, or solar radiation, we can capture this energy and convert it into heat and electricity that can power individual homes or entire cites. Photovoltaic (PV) devices, or solar cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. The largest urban solar plant in the U.S. is located in Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood. It generates enough electricity to power 1,500 homes a year and eliminates greenhouse gases equal to the emission of 2,500 cars.
Biomass, a renewable, biological energy source that comes mainly from plants and animal waste, is more common than you might think. If you’ve ever built a fire, the wood from the tree is an example of a biomass energy source, and an everyday cooking supply, like vegetable oil, can run a car or heat a home.
Wind Power
Wind power is a part of nature and is typically captured through turbines on wind farms. Wind blows the strongest across wide open spaces, so oceans, flatlands and gaps between mountain ranges are prime locations for wind farms. When the wind blows, it turns the blades on the wind turbine, which is attached to a generator that produces electricity. These wind turbines, spinning in unison, send electricity to a grid network that disperses it to homes and businesses. While this may seem like a modern technology, wind power has been used for centuries to pump water and drive machinery. Even explorers traveled the world on giant ships powered by wind.
Hydropower is an energy source that relies on the natural cycle of water. Water falls as rain or snow, flowing into rivers, lakes and oceans, and the energy formed by the natural ebb and flow of these bodies of water produces electricity. Hydropower provides approximately 20 percent of the world’s energy needs today; more than half of the hydropower produced in the U.S. comes from Washington, California and Oregon. In other countries like France, England, Canada and Russia, the energy from ocean waves and tides is harnessed to produce electricity.
Nuclear Power
Nuclear energy lives in the nucleus of a uranium atom, and once this energy is captured, it can be used to produce power. How does it work? Nuclear reactors split the uranium atoms, and once they’re split, these atoms spit out particles that run into other atoms in a chain reaction—releasing an enormous amount of heat. The hot steam from this reaction powers turbines that spin to generate electricity. Currently, there are 104 functioning nuclear power plants in the U.S., six of these being in Illinois. In fact, more than 10 percent of our country’s nuclear power is produced right here in Illinois—more than any other state.

Putt the Vote
At the ninth and final hole, “putt the vote” and choose between three future energy scenarios: “Goodness, Greenness!”; “A Balanced Diet”; and “You Know the Drill.”

Our Thoughts: My children love to spend the day, morning, afternoon, an hour, basically any amount of time I let them at MSI. We visited MSI on the opening day of their newest exhibit, BLACK CREATIVITY ENERGY, and it does not disappoint. We traveled through each 'green' and spent the next hour learning about energy. We are homeschoolers so this was a school day for us. Every opportunity to educate my children, I oblige. My children explored and putted through the eight different energy greens while I explained each energy source, their impact on our planet and the pluses and minuses of each energy source. At the end, my children each voted for their future energy source. Two to one: A Balanced Diet to Goodness, Greenness. Go check out the Black Creativity Energy Exhibit now at MSI and putt your vote!

The 2012 Black Creativity program runs through April 15; the exhibit is included in general admission, but requires a free, timed-entry ticket available at the exhibit entrance only; related events are also included in Museum general admission. General admission is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and $11 for children 3-11. City of Chicago residents receive a discount as follows: $13 for adults, $12 for seniors and $9 for children 3-11.

Illinois FREE DAYS in January and February
The Museum will offer free general admission to Illinois residents on Jan. 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31; Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.

Informational post, all information from MSI, Chicago.