Stranded In The Southland

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Discovery Science Center in Orange County

I finally managed to check out the Discovery Science Center, with its giant cube standing out front. It's right along I-5, which I have to take down to my favorite Miata mechanic in Costa Mesa. I'm a science geek, anyway, so I knew it wouldn't be long before I gave in.

It's a nice little museum. I'm delighted to see that someone has built a new science museum without an IMAX screen (oh, but that's another rant), and, while they seem to have a lot of Exploratorium-derived exhibits, they had a few interesting ones I'd never seen before.

As I walked in the front door, I noticed one of the cool martini-shaped geysers from the Exploratorium. Sure, they just bought it, but it is one of my all time favorite exhibits. That, and they have the biggest vertical pin-press exhibit I've ever seen. Woo hoo.

Further along on the bottom floor, they have a climbing wall (not much science there, but lots of fun). The best part, though, is a cool (if not entirely practical) stream exhibit in which water flows down though three different sandy courses, allowing visitors to play with erosion to see what kind of patterns are formed. Finally, amidst a bunch of earthquake exhibits I've seen before at the San Jose Tech Museum, they have a fun (if, again, light on science) tilt the platform to guide a ball into a hole game; this is especially cool, since it is big enough that even my 200-pound self had to really work to move the platform with my body weight.

Upstairs were some more pleasant surprises, including an ultrasonic height measurer, a series of pulley demonstrating mechanical advantage, some neat aeronautical exhibits, and some fun strobe light stuff.

The ultrasonic height measurer didn't do all that much, but it was interesting to see. The same with the device that measured the speed you could huck a wiffleball.

The pullys were a great learning opportunity. The docent seemed to be suggesting that the 2x, 3x, and 6x mechanical advantages of the setups reflected our weights on Mars and the moon and someplace else, but I'm pretty sure he was flat-out confused.

Right next to it was a wind tunnel that I could stand it, and some foam wings I could strap on to play with lift. This didn't really teach me much, but I enjoyed it, and, again, it was something I hadn't seen before. The same went for the RC model suspended in a windstream on which visitors could manipulate the rudder and elevators. Primitive, but fun. The static, full-sized reproduction of a Lillenthall glider was inspiring -- it is amazing what one enthusiastic guy can do!

I didn't wind up playing with it, but there was a giant metal wall with a series of chutes and other impediments that could be stuck to it to guide metal balls down in whatever pattern you desired. It looked to be incredibly popular with the kids -- I know I wished I'd spent some time with it.

There were also a few interesting strobe light exhibits that let visitors play around with a spinning string. Depending on the period of the strobe light (adjustable by the user), you could get all sorts of fascinating patterns out of a simple string!

Finally, there was a fun little stop-animation station that let you move objects a little, then take a picture, then string a series of pictures together to make a movie. This wasn't news to me, but it sure was a blast to play with!

All in all, the museum was a little small, and it could use some more exhibits, but I think that the exhibits they have are well chosen and fun. I was especially happy to see a bunch of new stuff. Woo hoo!