Fun with gravity
by Charmie Gholson
Last month, when my kids and I dropped in for Sciencepalooza the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum's monthly smorgasbord of hands-on science activities the first table we hit was Be a Nurse. My kids weren't interested, even with the MedFlight guy in his spectacular blue jumpsuit striking poses next to the nurses. The last time we were here, they were equally unimpressed with the chance to See Your Own Fingerprints, where two upright teenage wannabe police officers offered to dust and show them their fingerprints. My children regularly see their own fingerprints on surfaces in our home and vehicle windows, so it's not a new trick. No, instead they wanted to blow things up at the Creative Concoctions table, mixing baking powder and vinegar together. Now there's a trick that never grows old.
The day's activities are staffed by volunteers from the U-M College of Engineering honor society, and these students have a visible brilliance. They all have such delicate hands and mannerisms. At the Invent Toys table, two young students, Foo and Yau, are carefully gluing foam, rubber buttons, paper, and yarn together to things that look like characters from South Park.
A young woman helps my four-year-old turn a crank to convert his energy into electricity, illuminating various lighting equipment and a small fan. This gives me a brilliant idea of my own: hook my kids up at home to a stationary bike or huge hamster cage or something and likewise convert their kinetic energy into electricity. It's worth investigating.
Hands down, the highlight of the day is the egg drop. The purpose of this activity is to create a barrier of materials around a raw egg so that it survives being dropped off the third-floor balcony. Sammy just tapes bubble wrap around his egg, laughing because he knows it'll break. Gabriel and I create a little pouch of bubble wrap, fill it with packing peanuts, and nestle our egg in the center
before taping more bubble wrap around it. An older boy, I'd say about ten, has constructed a parachute out of quart-size Ziploc baggies, straws, and twine. Another uses flat corrugated cardboard to break the fall of his padded egg.
The egg droppers crowd along the railing and take turns shouting "Look out below!" before watching their creations fall down, down, down onto a plastic drop cloth. On the lower level, a volunteer is nervously darting out to retrieve and assess the status of each now-earthbound egg. I wonder whom he angered to receive this assignment.
We drop our eggs and run down to learn their fate. A boy is telling the dancing assistant, "Sorry I used so much tape, mister," and a little blond girl with a kitty on her pink shirt, who has taped six balloons around her egg packet, laughs and squeals when she sees it survived intact.
Sammy proudly shows me his broken egg, while the attendant delicately unwraps Gabriel's egg packet, as if it's a bomb. "Not broken," he announces before skirting another shower of egg, packing material, and laughter.
Sciencepalooza dubbed "Physicspalooza" this month returns to the Hands-On Museum on Saturday and Sunday, April 1 & 2.
[Review published April 2006]