The Bakken

The what?

Ever heard of Earl Bakken?  I had heard the name, but I didn’t know anything about him.  The Bakken Museum is all about electricity and magnetism.  Earl Bakken was one of the founders of Medtronic.  When Bakken started Medtronic, the pacemaker already existed.  But it was about 40 pounds, very large, and had to be plugged into an electrical outlet.  In 1957, Earl made it the size of a sandwich.  In the photo, there is a current pediatric pacemaker on the top of the box for comparison.


The thing that struck me was that Earl didn’t invent the technology.  He took what already existed and made it better.

The Bakken serves about 10,000 students per year.  Primarily they are in grades 1 – 6.  Since 4th grade is where they learn about electricity, that is the most common age group.  Pretend you’re 10 years old.

There are three kinds of electricity: current, static, and bio.  Bio-electricity is the electricity in your body (heart & brain).  The picture shows a couple of EKG machines.  I’m sure you can tell which is the older of the two.


There were many interesting, hands-on activities in the museum.  The Mindball game was pretty neat.  It measures the alpha and theta waves of your brain.  The person that can relax the most wins.  Their ball eventually scores a goal on their opponent.  Alpha and theta waves are the ones that you have control over.  Think about when/if you ever meditate.

Over the course of history, electricity has been used to help with pain.  It numbs pain because it interferes with neurotransmitters.  2000 years ago, they used a type of fish that gave an electric shock when agitated.  More recently, you could use a machine like the one in the picture.


The higher you turn the crank on the right, the more electricity you feel.  It’s that prickly feeling that you get if your foot falls asleep, or something like it.

Bakken first got interested in electricity and the human body from the story of Frankenstein.  Because of this, they do a few different things related to the story of Frankenstein.  By the way, Mary Shelley was just a teenager when she wrote it and it is considered the first science fiction book.

The presentation that we saw told the basics of the story.  Victor Frankenstein creates this monster.  He’s so hideous that Victor abandons him.  Monster has a horrible time of it and does bad things.  Monster eventually finds Victor and wants him to make him a mate…

Students are asked, ‘who is the bad guy?‘ in the story.  Remember, you’re 10.  Answers range from the monster, the scientist, people for treating the monster poorly, etc.  The important issue that is brought up is Scientific Responsibility.

“Just because we can, does that mean that we should?”

The docent planted that question in our heads, just as she does with those 10-year-olds.  That’s a good question for a lot of situations.

The Bakken has workshops that can be done with students.  They’re like really hands-on science experiments.  They are geared mostly at elementary students.  With each workshop is a tour of the museum and they also get to take home a project.  They have something called “Finding Frankenstein” that is geared toward grades 7-12.  Mostly language arts teachers bring students to that one.  But it can also be done as an assembly at your school.

I thought the Bakken was really cool.  It was very interesting and brought back memories for me of learning about batteries and circuits in elementary school.  It seems like their activities are geared toward a younger group than what I teach.  But I do think that their emphasis on inventing things could spur on some interesting science fair projects.


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