Plastic trinkets, chocolate yogurt piled with marshmallows and merry-go-rounds have at least one thing in common: science. For a daytrip experiment of your own, consider this cool summer science option:
Trip type: Indoor, outdoor, kids, play, science
Total time: Three to four hours, plus drive time
Stop 1: Palouse Discovery Science Center
The Palouse Discovery Science Center was the inspiration behind the trip. The center opened an Innovation Lab in April, a grant-funded project sponsored by Disney that gives kids access to technological tools and software — a 3D printer among them. Once the kids heard that was on the table, they were in. Secretly, I was curious to see the process too — printing an object sounded as magical and absurd as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
It turns out 3D printing is quite different from pulling a rabbit out of a hat — there is a “pen” that extrudes a tiny strand of melted plastic, much like a glue gun. It slowly builds a shape vertically as it layers plastic strands into a recognizable shape. Kids use an iPad to select and then customize the objects they want to print — medallions, bracelets and figures are among the current options. The printing itself is slow: It took about 45 minutes to print a small medallion; a small Taj Mahal replica, printed by a previous visitor, took four hours to print. Plan to pick your item up at a later date.
The lab also includes a green screen for imaginative video and camera work, as well as some engineering challenges. The engineering challenges don’t look glamorous — think plastic cups and wooden blocks and popsicle sticks. But it was a favorite with the boys who spent almost an hour building and rebuilding structures. It was the activity that inspired the line, “I thought this would be boring, but it’s not.”
Besides the new Innovation lab, the center has favorites that have been there a while, including the anti-gravity mirror, nanotechnology corner and Little Learners lab, containing more activity and learning than any kid could fully soak up in a day. Our group loved the Animal Hall (still trying to explain that no, we are not getting a pet chinchilla) and spent a lot of time in the Brain Hall that explores optical illusions and other brain functions.
Admission to the center is $7.50/person ages 16-54, $5/person ages 2-15 and $6/person for 55 and older.
Stop 2: Sweet Mutiny
If you’ve never thought of fro-yo as a science lesson, you’re just not trying hard enough. Sweet Mutiny offers both cupcakes and cake pops (prices begin at $2.75 and $1.50, respectively) and fro-yo (45 cents an ounce) — or both for those who can’t decide between the two. Our group was weighted heavily towards the fro-yo.
And speaking of weight, that’s where science comes in. All those toppings you add to your frozen yogurt, they have different densities, which will affect the overall weight — and therefore cost — of your treat. You can play with (and then eat) some science by selecting toppings according to estimated density to see if you can affect the final weight.
Stop 3: Sunnyside Park
Your basic playground is practically made of science — gravity, levers, centrifuges and pendulums provide hours of fun.
When we arrived at the park, the kids made a beeline for the merry-go-round. This has become increasingly rare. I guess getting so dizzy you puke isn’t what it used to be. With that in mind, I promised $20 to anyone who puked at the park, adding that they owed me $20 if they puked in the car. We had a near taker. Doubtless, if we had consumed more sugar prior to arrival, we would’ve had greater success.
A merry-go-round is a physics experiment at its best. Kids learn that standing, without holding onto anything, is easiest when you are in the center and that if you want the most intense spinning sensation, you have to get your head as far from the center as possible. Kids also learn that the merry-go-round does not necessarily go faster with more people spinning it.
And finally? It takes approximately 8 minutes of spinning before someone stumbles off and says, “I’m going to toss my cookies.” Also, it takes less than a minute before said person gets back on.