STEAM PARK gallery opens at Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, revealing inner workings of mechanical design

Yesterday the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (AAHOM) celebrated the opening of STEAM PARK, a new gallery designed to inspire the engineer in everyone. 

Made possible through grants totaling $1.5 million from the Toyota USA Foundation and Toyota Motor North America, STEAM PARK consists of 23 individual exhibits that explore simple machine structures, aerodynamics, and more. Created in collaboration with Toyota engineers, the exhibits boast clear plexiglass elements designed to unveil the inner workings of mechanical concepts that would normally be hidden from view.

Exhibits include a first-in-the-world digital roulette curve, which is reminiscent of a classic spirograph, but reincarnated as a logarithmic spiral drawing tool that can be used to create almost hypnotic patterns. A transparent and intricate window maze ball machine is designed to fit one of the museum's large arched windows. Users can sit in and operate a propeller chair to hoist themselves to almost ceiling height before being propeller-powered back down to the ground. And an interactive 17th-century clock stretches from floor to ceiling.

"Visitors of all ages will see that everything is interconnected," says Mel Drumm, president and CEO of AAHOM and Leslie Science and Nature Center, in an email interview. "It is a playful experience where artistic elements and interactive devices combine to create magical mechanical moments in experiences unlike any other."

Drumm says STEAM PARK "provides moments of discovery for visitors of all ages, revealing the awe and wonder of science, technology, engineering, and math through arts-inspired hands-on experiences." He also points to the exhibit's potential for Washtenaw County's future. 

"As a long-term impact, we seek to spark interest in the sciences and inspire youth to explore our vast engineered world, plus plant an important seed to consider STEM and STEAM careers as they progress through school. The young people experiencing the exhibit will soon be our workforce of tomorrow," he says. 

Ensconced in Washtenaw County for over 40 years, Toyota Research and Development has collaborated on several initiatives with AAHOM for nearly two decades. The seed for STEAM PARK was first planted when AAHOM asked Toyota Research and Development employees to share what inspired them to become engineers, scientists, or researchers. The simple question was the first motivation for the company's engineers, who worked for over two years to help create the compelling and comprehensive tactile exhibit as a way to share their enthusiasm and inspire others. 

"It’s not just about providing financial support. Sharing knowledge and collaborating with the community is what successfully propels Toyota’s efforts forward. This long-standing collaboration underscores Toyota’s commitment to the communities it serves while inspiring students to become interested in STEAM," says Praveena Ramaswami, a spokesperson for Toyota, in an email interview. 

Entry to the STEAM PARK is included in general AAHOM admission. With support from Toyota, visitors are being offered $20 off new memberships until Aug. 22.

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at

Photos courtesy of Bodhi Bruder.
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