Mak­ing light work of sci­ence for kids

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

MOST people don’t spend much time think­ing about light beyond what we or­di­nar­ily no­tice.

So, when the Mary­land Sci­ence Cen­tre in Baltimore de­cided the sec­ond floor needed some­thing new, of­fi­cials saw that an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand visi­tors’ un­der­stand­ing of what light is.

“What we’re see­ing is just part of the light spec­trum,” said Sam Blau, ex­ter­nal pro­gramme man­ager at the sci­ence cen­tre. But other kinds of light were part of ev­ery­day life, she said.

“Mi­crowaves, in­fra-red, ul­tra­vi­o­let, X-rays. Gamma rays are re­ally the only thing that we’re not in­ter­act­ing with on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, un­less you’re an as­tro­naut,” Blau added.

So a new per­ma­nent ex­hibit, “Sci­ence Aglow”, ex­plores a va­ri­ety of light forms. “People have heard of X-rays be­cause you go to the doc­tor and you get an X-ray taken, but you don’t think about that as be­ing light,” Blau said.

At the sci­ence cen­tre, kids can pre­tend to be X-ray tech­ni­cians by plac­ing im­ages on a light ta­ble.

“Ba­si­cally, the X-rays are go­ing to move through the fleshy bits of your body, but they do bounce off the bones. So that’s what the im­age is,” she said.

On a re­cent visit, sis­ters Ad­di­son Plourde, 10, and Kam­ryn Plourde, 7, of Bel Air, Mary­land, took a close look at a side X-ray of some­one in a feet-over-head arch. It of­fered an amaz­ing view of why the ar­range­ment of hu­man ribs is called a cage.

But the girls quickly headed for the part of the ex­hibit that kids will prob­a­bly find most in­ter­est­ing: the tun­nel. The area shows off some cool as­pects of light bet­ter seen in the dark.

Visi­tors strike a pose in front of a wall cov­ered in flu­o­res­cent paint, which glows when it ab­sorbs en­ergy from light. After a flash of light they can step away and see that their body has cast a lin­ger­ing shadow by tem­po­rar­ily block­ing the light from hit­ting the flu­o­res­cent paint.

An­other sta­tion fea­tures a dio­rama that lets kids push but­tons to com­pare the way hu­mans see light with how an­i­mals see it.

“There are cer­tain in­sects, like bees, that can see all the way through the ul­tra­vi­o­let spec­trum – which we can’t see – and that ac­tu­ally helps them, be­cause flow­ers will have ul­tra­vi­o­let-emit­ting petals,” Blau said.

The hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties in “Sci­ence Aglow” in­clude fun house mir­rors and an ul­tra­vi­o­let-light draw­ing board. It’s just a small part of the Mary­land Sci­ence Cen­tre ex­pe­ri­ence, but it’s a stop kids are likely to find en­ter­tain­ing. – Washington Post

A ta­ble that spins makes im­ages re­flected in the mir­ror ap­pear to be mov­ing. PIC­TURE: MARY­LAND SCI­ENCE CEN­TRE

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