MUSEUM'S NEW CD-ROM TO LINK PAST, FUTURE

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The National Plastics Center and Museum's NPE exhibit boasts more than the requisite artifacts and students doing experiments — visitors to Booth E11118 also get a glimpse of the future in this, the final NPE before 2000.

NPCM is showing an early version of its CD-ROM. When completed, the animated CD-ROM will bring history alive at the museum in Leominster, Mass. In the future, visitors might be able to access the data through the Internet.

``It won't be completed for NPE, but we'll have a preview of it,'' said Valerie Wilcox, executive director. The CD will showcase ``what we do in-house, our van program for national outreach, the exhibits, our historical mission, a section on the Hall of Fame, and how you can help.''

The technology could breathe life into the Plastics Hall of Fame. In Leominster, the museum now explains the hall with a static display of photographs of each inductee. A monitor displays a video, ``It Didn't Just Happen,'' that explains the hall. A menu allows visitors to print out a biography of any member.

``Hopefully, it will be more interactive with CD-ROM and color with a big screen, eventually,'' Wilcox said.

Media Stream LP of Goffstown, N.H., is developing the CD-ROM program. At NPE, Media Stream is sharing exhibit space with Graham Engineering Corp. in Booth E9342. Media Stream President Paul Bradicich said computer-based interactive technology can make a technical field, such as plastics, understandable to a nontechnical audience.

The key, according to both Wilcox and Bradicich, is drawing together all facets of plastics — people, innovation, technology and end product — with a heavy dose of how the products fit in with society overall.

Wilcox thinks the Plastics Hall of Fame will benefit from future museum technology.

``What we have now is a big help, but I think it needs to evolve to the point where it's big and colorful. What we've got now on the computer is good. I think we need more of it, and improved. We'd like in some way to make it three-dimensional,'' she said.

One way to make the display 3D would be to incorporate actual products. For example, the museum already has a plastic guitar designed by Mario Maccaferri, who died in 1993 and was inducted into the hall in 1996. Maccaferri, trained in Italy as a classical guitarist, founded Mastro Industries Inc., bringing joy to scores of children with the company's plastic instruments. The museum's guitar is a working model for adults.

``That's a for-instance of what we'd like to do with as many people as possible in the Hall of Fame, so that it isn't just a flat thing on a wall,'' Wilcox said.

Bradicich said the sky's the limit — literally — for museums in the coming new century.

``One thing that will happen is, with the low-orbit satellite, you're going to have direct, online, full video teleconferencing,'' he said.

The Internet provides more opportunity. The Leominster plastics museum has a Web site: http://www.polymers.com/npcm.

But the site is limited to basic information.

A plastics museum in Italy has taken the next step — a Web site walk-through tour, without leaving your computer. Sandretto Metalmeccanica SpA, an injection molding press maker, sponsors a Museum of Plastics at its factory in Pont Canavese, near Turin. By clicking on a map, visitors can see items displayed in seven rooms in the museum. The site is http://www.agora.stm.it/sandretto/ esandret.htm.

Wilcox said she has toured Sandretto's Web site and likes it.

Not all museum innovations are high-tech, however. A concept called ``science theater'' is gaining popularity. Actors portray industry leaders — or factory workers — from the past.

``I'd love to do that featuring some of the people in the Hall of Fame,'' Wilcox said.