Feel the Need

Back in the 1940s and ´50s, Air Force Colonel John Paul Stapp just loooooved being a human guinea pig. One time, he flew in a airplane at 570 miles per hour, with the top down – just to see if it was safe for humans to do. Another time, he helped build a “human decelerator” that would go really fast down a railroad track and use 45 sets of brakes to stop. Often, he would volunteer to ride on experiments in this machine, once decelerating from 632 mph to 0 mph in 1.4 seconds, thus withstanding 45 G’s of pressure. The force caused bruises on 90 percent of his body, including the inside of his eyelids. Twice during experiments, Stapp broke his wrist. But his research affected the transportation industry: he helped design harnesses in aircraft, and his findings are largely responsible for the triangular, nylon shoulder-and-lap seat belts that we know and love.

The Museum of Discovery and Science (401 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale) explores the power of speed in its new exhibit, “SPEED: The Science of Going Fast,” which opens Saturday, February 4 and runs (not walks!) through April 30. In addition to providing more details about Stapp’s lab project, the so-called “fastest exhibit ever” lets guests build their own roller coasters to find out how different designs impact speed; allows them to race cars on a slippery surface; and invites them to climb into bobsleds for simulations of the push of gravity. A number of special events will coincide with opening weekend: Split Second Timing will be on hand to show off state-of-the-art equipment that is used to time races; Gary Hall, Jr. will explain how he won five Olympic gold medals in swimming; and pilots who fly high-speed planes that simulate the experience of weightlessness in outer space will talk about their work. Admission costs $9 for adults, $7 for kids. Call 467-6637, or visit www.mods.org.
Feb. 4-April 3