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Interactive museum makes science fun

By Kristine L. Alave
First Posted 21:31:00 08/25/2007

Filed Under: Education, Science & Technology, Science (general)

AT THE PHILIPPINE SCIENCE Centrum in Marikina City, screaming kids, thrilled with the joys of uncapping one adventurous discovery after another, are a normal sight.

Inside the interactive museum where they are encouraged to play with and touch the exhibits, preschool and elementary students cannot contain their excitement and curiosity.

The museum?s board members, seated inside the nearby conference room, have gotten used to the shrieks of excited kids. They wait for the noise to die down before they resume their discussions.

The adults actually love the interruptions. For them, it means the children, generally left alone to explore the wonders of science and technology, are making awesome discoveries.

Visited by 300 to 2,000 schoolchildren depending on the season, the center is located in a colorful 2,500-square meter warehouse inside the Marikina City Riverbanks.

Launched in 1990, the Science Centrum is the flagship project of the Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology. It seeks to draw both children and adults into the world of science and discovery.

Though small and modest compared to its foreign counterparts, the country?s only science center is still an amazing place for children and adults alike.

Dhang Nazar, a 29-year-old who guides visitors around the interactive museum, said the exhibits aim to arouse children?s curiosity. Once inside, kids find it difficult to leave.

Unlike other showrooms, guides at the science center let the children fiddle with the exhibits though at the end of the day, employees check the displays for damage. It is not unusual to see items malfunctioning in the middle of instruction.

?The instruction is through self-discovery,? explained Nazar. ?Kids manipulate the exhibits. There are instructions on how to handle them, with their scientific explanations.?

Guides answer questions and ?rescue? machines from kids trying to disassemble them.

Crowd favorites

Among the children?s favorites, Nazar said, are the cyclone and tsunami machines.

The cyclone machine, using a motor fan and a vapor generator, shows children how cyclones are formed. On the other hand, the tsunami machine uses an aquarium with a shifting rubber ?seabed? to show how a giant wave is produced at the touch of a button.

Results are usually greeted with wide-eyed exclamations of ?Wow!? and ?Astig (Cool)!? Future scientists were easy to spot?they had the most questions, Nazar said.

Another crowd-pleaser is the Van de Graaf exhibit, a large sphere of steel that illustrates the principle of electrostatic electricity. When someone touches the sphere, his hair stands on end because of the strong positive charges repelling each strand. Nazar said children got a kick out of seeing their hair rise, so it was difficult to get them out of the room.

The Wonder House, inspired by an exhibit in a Chinese museum, is another popular attraction, especially among rowdy boys. From the outside, the room appears to be ordinary. But inside, people are surprised and feel disoriented as the room is tilted.

They often feel dizzy or their movements feel heavier. Some feel nauseous.

?The place tests one?s sense of perception and balance. When we say house, we know it is supposed to be flat. But once inside the Wonder House, our brain takes a while to register that it is tilted,? Nazar explained.

Children are often heard shrieking from surprise, delight and possibly, vertigo.

Nazar said it was the top favorite of the more raucous, ?macho? boys. They went inside again and again, as if to prove to their classmates that they were brave.

To date, over 2.9 million students, teachers and adults have visited the PSC. Over 1.3 million Filipinos in the provinces have shared the experience and excitement through the PSC?s Adventures in Discovery and Sci-Fun Caravan.

Traveling caravan

At present, there are two caravans traveling to various parts of the country, stopping in schools and barangay halls to let children and adults in remote areas ?self-discover? the fundamentals of science.
A third caravan is set to be launched in November.

The Riverbanks center has 10 science galleries: Science Works, Mathematics, Lights, Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Vision and Perception, Earth Science, Cyberworks, Body Works and the newest, the Meralco Corner.

The museum also has a DIWA reading corner with computers, learning materials and textbooks.

For children aged 2 to 9, the center has a gallery designed as a playroom. It features activities geared at enhancing motor and social skills. It has a Ball Pit, Pillow Geometry, Build Me Up, Bernoulli Challenge and Rock Wall.

PSC workers said the museum was not only open to students on field trips. It also encouraged families to visit the museum instead of malling.

Mae Pagsinohin, operating manager, said the museum, a privately-held enterprise supported by the Departments of Science and Technology and Education, was increasingly being recognized abroad. Expansion was definitely being planned.

With an annual budget of only P12 million, the PSC makes its own exhibits.

Every year, museum engineers and science experts visit science centers and museums abroad to get inspiration and learn new methods of presenting science in a fun way.

?We make our own exhibits. We don?t have the resources to import. We are creative enough to make our own,? Pagsinohin said.

As a result, she said the museum?s engineers had been commissioned by private educational institutions here and abroad to make set pieces for them.

For the past three years, the science centrum has sent some exhibits to Brunei Darussalam. A company in Kathmandu, Nepal is also exploring the possibility of the PSC helping them with their own fledgling museum.

Science experts from government and private agencies also help make the exhibits.

The tsunami tank, for instance, was a ?baby? of Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology chief Renato Solidum. The project was conceived after the 2004 tsunami that devastated much of the Asian region.

Pagsinohin said they were seeking support from private companies to upgrade the exhibits. She said the museum also wanted to put up displays on biotechnology and information technology in the future.

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