Cause and Effect

Project:  A simple idea, easily accomplished.  The purpose of this display is to give small children – infants really – the opportunity to experience cause and effect.

Challenges:  Everyone experiences cause and effect everyday, of course.  For this project, I needed to make the cause and effect more striking than that which is normally experienced by infants.  Further, the display had to be arranged so that an infant could “accidentally” active the system and then easily repeat the experience if so inclined.  Also, the look of the cabinet was important in that it was a part of a larger under-seascape.  I worked with one of the museum’s other designers so that she could add embellishments that would blend with her design and the brilliant mural she painted for the Infant Area.  She also chose the stain – basically a watered down blue paint – that turned out beautifully.  This is one of those exceptional projects in which carpentry, mechanics, and wiring all figured prominently.

Solutions: To make the cause and effect striking, it needed to have two qualities: 1) the effect had to be very conspicuous, and 2) the cause and effect needed to be very closely related in the temporal sense.  The first was easy: I just made some seaweed (or stag-horn coral, however you wish to interpret it), or unicorns, or little fish wave, spin, or jump.  The objects that are put in motion in the display are cut from brightly colored clear Plexiglas, are large compared to an infant, and are just a few inches from the operating infant’s face as they move.  (One way to make a very noticeable effect is simply to have a loud noise.  Small children find this off-putting, however, so this was not an option.)  The second problem was also fairly easy, with a small twist.  The motion starts the moment the switch is pressed, simple enough.  A problem arose with the initial mechanism is that the component would continue to move for a brief time after the switch was released due to the motor’s coasting down.  This was unacceptable for the purposes of the display.  It was easily fixed by driving the components with a low-geared gearhead motor, which winds down so quickly that there is hardly a detectable delay between the switch’s release and the cessation of motion.  Another aspect of cause and effect displayed by this device is that a particular cause relates to particular effect.  Each of the square buttons is a different color and causes a different thing to happen.  Contrariwise, the second and fourth buttons are the same shape and the same color and cause the same thing to happen.  (They do not cause any motion in the cabinet but, rather, light up the entire display.)

Finally, the display is physically situated in the space (only a few inches above the floor mats) so that an infant in the act of pulling him or herself up will frequently hit one of the rather large, pressure sensitive switches.  The switches are so large that, once the infant is in the standing position, they can barely help but to press them at one time or another.

This display has been extensively refurbished.  Click here to see the updated entry.