By Amy McKeever
August 13, 2015
Rendering Courtesy The Franklin Institute

Get ready to race a Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver or the Philly Phanatic mascot this fall at the Franklin Institute. On October 24, Philadelphia’s popular science- and technology-focused museum will unveil the SportsZone, a 3,600-square-foot exhibit devoted to exploring the “science of sport.” SportsZone replaces the 15-year-old Sports Challenge exhibit, and a press release says that it will offer “21 interactive experiences” that illustrate the science behind sports performance.

SportsZone’s most notable new feature is called Athletes in Action, where museum visitors will be able to “race” some top American athletes on a 40-foot track set against a video screen. Choose your own racing competitor from among sports stars such as Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews, inline speed skater Brian Talley, Paralympian athlete Tatyana McFadden, marathoner Dawn Grunnagle, and the Philly Phanatic, whose previously filmed performances will run on the screen next to the track. To further curry some hometown favor, this part of the exhibit will also be narrated by Eagles play-by-play radio announcer Merrill Reese.

The new SportsZone exhibit will also examine how sports drinks and other energy fuels affect performance, as well as how the design of equipment from shoes to skis to bicycles can make athletes more efficient. Visitors will have the chance to study their own pitching technique (and how to improve it) as well as learn whether they have a dominant hand in sports. The exhibit also takes on one of football’s top concerns, preventing head trauma, with a station that demonstrates the force of a hit on dummy heads with and without helmets.

Some of the old Sports Challenge activities will remain part of the SportsZone in updated versions, too. As the Philadelphia Inquirer points out upon taking a tour of the new facility, these include the Surfboard Balance challenge that explains how center of gravity affects stability, and Jump Momentum, which tests just how high visitors can jump to block a basketball.

After a few days of VIP and museum member previews, SportsZone officially opens to the public on October 24. The renovation cost $3.1 million and, according to the release, “is the first of several Franklin Institute exhibits planned for complete redesign and refurbishment in the coming years.”