Franklin Institute’s new SportsZone offers plenty of challenges

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The Phillie Phanatic doesn’t appear to be the most athletic individual around.
After all, the big belly is better suited to make fun of the Los Angeles Dodgers than getting on the track.
Well, it turns out the Phanatic can run. It also turns out you can race the Phanatic every day inside the revamped SportsZone at the Franklin Institute.
“Because Philadelphia is such a steadfast, loyal sports city and world-renowned science hub, the decision to design an exhibit on the science of sports was a no-brainer,” said Larry Dubinski, President and CEO of the Franklin Institute. “The technological advances in all areas of science overlap in all areas of sports. From the latest designs in athletic gear and equipement, to the rise in concussions and increased awareness in health and safety, this exhibit is an important and relevant one to bring to our visitors.”

When: Exhibit is now open. General museum hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Day.
Where: The Franklin Institute, 222 N 20th St., Philadelphia.
Info.: For admission rates and more information, check www.fi.edu or call (215) 448-1200

Right in the center of the SportsZone is Athletes in Action, 40-feet long race track challenge where the Phanatic, as well as other athletes, stand ready to race. Also appearing virtually are Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews, marathon runner Dawn Grunnagle, Paralympic Blade Runner Richard Browne, Paralympic wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden and Inline speed skater Brian Talley.
After the quick countdown, it’s time to race down the track.
“The goal of SportsZone is to showcase how science connects to the human body through technical innovation and the laws of motion,” said Dubinski. “In addition to the run, there are 21 interactive experiences that illustrate the impact science has in preparation and performance in all athletes.”
The old SportsZone exhibit was one of the most popular in the museum. It was routinely filled with youngsters trying to score a goal in soccer or stay on a surf board.
The revamped area has some of the old, but much more of the new.
“SportsZone is a $3.1 million project,” said Dubinski. “This exhibit was designed and developed by our in-house science and design team. The team here has spent years making this opening a reality.”
SportsZone is broken up into three parts.
First there is “Ready. How does the body become ready for physical activity? Through the balance of energy, nutritional and physiological needs,” Dubinski said.
Among the interactive exhibits is the challenging “Drink Analysis.”
At the start, the runner has an equal balance of water and sugar in the body. As the race starts, those fluid levels start to dip. The challenge is finding the correct balance of water and sweet drinks to reach the end before crashing. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
That’s followed by Set. “How are the new developments in materials and equipment in design and technology allowing us to improve our performance,” said Dubinski.
As a sign of the times, there are two different kinds of helmets lined up under glass. A push of a button shows the impact each takes when there is a blow to the head. There is also a ski slope where it is demonstrated how the shape of the ski can make it easier or harder to get down the hill.
Finally, and what will sure to be the most popular part of the exhibit, is “Go.”
There is a spot with basketballs like up at different heights. A quick run and jump shows just how high you can knock down a highlight-level dunk.
“Go” also includes the Body Mechanics Lab where a larger-than-life Mo’ne Davis, the little league pitcher from Philadelphia, overlooks your pitching technique. After a short video instruction, it’s time to throw the ball. Afterward, there’s another video comparing that pitch to a professional’s.
The old surfboard is still there challenging everybody to learn how to keep balance when the big wave hits.
After all that, racing the Phanatic becomes a little more problematic.

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