Monday, December 28, 1998

"Fun at the Science Center"

Yesterday "the gang of five" * set off into Phoenix to see the Egyptian show at the art museum. Alas, even though we'd gotten there before the opening time, they were already sold out. We bought tickets for next Sunday. Laura had noticed another intriguing new building up in central Phoenix, the Arizona Science Center. We didn't want to waste our trip, so we all headed over to there. The five story building is quite large, and in a neighborhood with a historical museum as well.

We paid our eight dollars a piece, and they gave us purple paper wristbands as proof of having tickets. Off we went to play. And it WAS play. Somehow, through their clever interactive exhibits, we felt magically transformed to when we were kids. I was ten again. I remember ten. I'd received a microscope for Christmas. I'd put all sorts of wierd things on the little glass strips for viewing, strands of hair, dust bunnies, scraps of fabric, even smushed bug bits and boogers (ugh, nose detritus). We were all ten again, set loose in a giant playhouse.

Laura and I sat on either side of a screen. It was made of alternating clear window strips and mirrors. Aligning our faces just so, we saw in alternating stripes, our facial features mixed. It was funny! In another area, Julia and I sat at connected computers, each with a webcam. Every few seconds, the cams would capture our images and displayed them both on the two screens. Giggling, I'd stick my tongue out at Julia, who was quite ladylike and didn't return the favor.

A large round ring hovering over a contraption of pipes had hand shapes on it, on opposite sides, inviting us to press down on it. Laura and I did, and made fog rings spurt upwards. A bridge with squishy rubber bulbs arranged evenly over it was fun. I walked over it twice, enjoying the odd sensations it produced. A timed maze tested our abilities. Laura demonstrated her ability to trace from 'in' to 'out' in nine seconds. Julia was a little faster at a display about computers, demonstrating the binary system. How knowledgeable both of them are to know which combination of on and off switches make the letters of the alphabet. The exhibit had already coded secret messages for us children to play with, but Laura and Julia didn't need them. Working together, they made a red light display print out the words "JOAN, I LOVE YOU," which made me smile happily. It's a marvel, too, when I consider that all that is coming across this screen to you derives from those combinations of on and off switches.

This room also had a few computers connected to the internet with preset bookmarks (no way to type in your own URL), for the as yet uninitiated to sample what it's like. I, of course, would have left a bookmark or two of my own, if I could. That wasn't possible, but there was a walled exhibit about self-portraits, with three different mirrors and chalk boards at varying height levels, so I left a quick sketch of my features there.

In another area, Laura and I watched a video about communicating with chimpanizees. The 'pygmy' breed has proved most able. One chimp named Kanzi has over 250 words in his lexicon. They are no longer using sign language with primates, for the primate hand blurs certain words that are distinct when signed by the human hand. The full symbol lexicon is there for you to see. This study has had other implications, as well. They are using it with the severely retarded, who cannot learn to communicate with oral or signed language. One twenty one year retarded girl used to have fits of frustration because she had no way to express herself. She was sitting there calmly, happily pointing to the symbols which opened the door between her inner world and that of the larger.

Many other exhibits were about medical discoveries. One display showed all the various replacement parts for the body. Steel hip joints, steel knee joints, tiny silicone finger joints, 'glass' eyes and cornea transplant parts fascinated. My gramma had one of those hip joints put in her, and it was cool to see what it looked like. Also, should my joints ever disintegrate away to nothing, it was reassuring that science is working on solving such problems.

A display in a darkened walled off area had a mannequin of a man laying flat, while a film display shown on him to show what heart bypass surgery looked like. This one was a little too graphic, as I thought of how Laura's chest had been split open and things rearranged in exactly the same way. I quickly moved on.

Laser beams were an instrument in many displays. One let us make cool designs on a wall across the way. We experimented with prisms. Using double prisms, I got another display to show three intersecting circles, with overlapping colors. It must work the same as the computer's RGB monitors, for green and red combined made yellow, green and blue made cyan, blue and red produced magenta, and all of them combined resulted in a white center.

Laura battled our strengths in a wheel chair race. She beat me easily after she'd beaten Julia. My upper arms got so sore. There were so many things, we did not see them all. It was so wonderful, this gift of 'being ten' again.

One simple display involved a large device that was let down into a vat of soapy water and pulled up, with a thin screen of iridescent soap bubbles. So much of life is ephemeral soap bubbles, little fleeting moments of beauty. I want to capture each one and preserve it forever.

This tiny piece of iridescence is a shell fragment that sits on my sewing room window sill.

* - Laura, Julia and I, along with Glen and Mother . . .

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