Alumna brings museum exhibits to life

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Andrea Durham has helped create presentations ranging from a prehistoric flying reptile hovering above T. Rex to the Apollo Command Module.

“I have the best job on the planet,” says Andrea Durham ’83 (packaging science). “I hate to gloat, but it’s true.”

As director of exhibit development and conservation for the Museum of Science, Boston, Durham has helped create presentations ranging from a prehistoric flying reptile hovering above T. Rex to the Apollo Command Module renovated for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.

With more than 550 interactive exhibits, the museum attracts more than 1.5 million visitors annually.

Durham’s current focus is a renewable energy exhibit that will explain how 154 solar panels on the museum’s roof power the Theater of Electricity’s famed lightning shows. Durham also co-led installation of the rooftop Wind Turbine Lab and recently spearheaded the transformation of the popular New England Habitats into “our greenest” exhibit with labels printed on wood and energy-efficient lighting.

“It’s all part of a powerful story for our visitors,” she explains.

The focus on green initiatives is a natural for the museum and for Durham. On a co-op job at IBM in 1982, she helped develop a more environmentally friendly package for photocopier toner. After graduation, she worked at Polaroid Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., where she oversaw packaging design for 50 film products. Prior to joining the Museum of Science in 1996, she worked at Arthur D. Little and at Mercer Management Consulting. She earned an M.B.A. from Babson College in 1989.

Developing a museum exhibit is a complex process that can take three years or more. Durham works with a team of more than 30 exhibit planners, designers, curators, fabricators, maintenance staff and others who make an idea come to life.

The process can also be costly. “Since museums usually create things that are one-of-a-kind, installing a new exhibit can easily cost $3 million,” she says. She’s constantly writing grant proposals and helping to find sponsors.

The exhibits must entertain as well as educate. As a part of the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative of six leading museums, the museum exhibit team developed the 2005 Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit, which is traveling around the world.

It’s not difficult for Durham to figure out what appeals to youngsters. Durham and her husband, Karl, an engineer, have a daughter, Erica, 12, and son, Alec, 10.

And while many activities and exhibits are attractive to children and families, grownups are not left out.

“It’s a popular Friday-night date destination,” Durham says.