- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

The recently remodeled Maryland Science Center offers a planetarium and three floors packed with science exhibits, hands-on activities and great views of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

“We hope there is something for everyone — from infants to 90-year-olds and up,” says Chris Cropper, spokesman for the Maryland Science Center.

Infants?

Yes, there is a special infant and toddler play area in which wee ones can play on waterbeds and stack big, soft blocks. A room for preschoolers and school-aged children features Legos, water play and pneumatic tubes through which children can send each other messages across the room.

All the fun and games have a purpose though, Mr. Cropper says.

“We want to show children that science can be a lot of fun,” he says. It is made fun when children can take an active role, he says, by touching objects, playing and conducting experiments.

“We ask questions and let them come up with the answers on their own,” he says.

Most exhibits take the term “hands-on” to a new level.

The “Dinosaur Mysteries” exhibit on the first floor, for example, gives visitors a chance to become junior paleontologists. Several fake rock formations are covered with sand. Once the museum visitor, wearing borrowed goggles, removes the sand with a tiny brush, a large fossil appears. The fossils include the jaw of a Tyrannosaurus rex and the tibia of a ceratopsian.

Visitors even can try their hands at electric chiseling, which is used to break up rocks around fossils. Another exhibit area allows visitors to put together the entire skeleton of an ancient champsosaur. The skeleton pieces are laid out on a table, surrounded by tiny chairs. The table features a drawing with the correct outline of the skeleton as a guideline.

The exhibit also features live animals, such as the African bullfrog and the salamander, that were contemporaries of the dinosaurs.

Visitors can learn that Maryland’s largest meat-eating dinosaur about 120 million years ago was the acrocanthosaurus. A full-size reproduction is on display alongside a vegetarian contemporary, the Astrodon johnstoni. Both stand next to a window with panoramic views of the Inner Harbor.

The first floor is also the home of “Newton’s Alley,” another hands-on exhibit, which features experiments and demonstrations of Sir Isaac Newton’s principles. Children can, for example, lift their own weight with the help of pulleys.

The second floor houses a Titanic exhibition, which features artifacts from the wreck, including a deck door, a warped gilded chandelier and a small porthole — the Titanic had 2,000 portholes.

The exhibit also shows reproductions of first- and third-class cabins. The luxury of first class was expensive — the average first-class ticket was $2,500 (approximately $43,860 today). For those who desired more luxury, there were two suites with their own private promenades for $4,500 (approximately $78,950 today) one-way.

Each of the exhibit’s various rooms has a unique mood. A room that showcases examples of fancy dining room items and intricate jewelry worn by passengers plays waltzes and other upbeat music.

A room with a giant ice block — which visitors can touch to get an idea of how 28 degrees (the air temperature the night Titanic sank) feels — is dark and solemn, as is a room with lists of all the survivors and those who died. The lists highlight that those who paid for luxury had a much better survival rate. Of those in first class, 199 were saved and 130 died. In third class, 174 were saved and 536 died; 214 crew members were saved and 685 died.

Also on the second floor are exhibits on outer space and the human body. The third floor, aside from the Kids’ Room — of which the infant and toddler area is a part — is home to exhibits on blue crabs, fossils and women’s health, which includes a section on body image and eating disorders. This exhibit, too, is interactive. Women can leave notes with their views of the “ideal” body. Some of the messages are on display.

The museum also has an Imax theater, various demonstration stages and a planetarium.

“We’re well over 100,000 square feet,” Mr. Cropper says. “You can easily spend an entire day and not see everything.”

He says he hopes, though, that the Maryland Science Center’s brand of “hands-on” activities and wide range of exhibit topics — temporary exhibits are on display from three months to six months — will inspire visitors to come again. (“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” and “The Changing Face of Women’s Health,” are temporary exhibits. The rest are permanent.)

“We want their visit here to be an active pursuit, not just looking at something behind a rope. … I think that’s appealing to everyone.”

When you go:

Location: The Maryland Science Center is located at 601 Light St. in Baltimore.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 95 to Baltimore. Once in downtown Baltimore, take the exit for Interstate 395. Follow signs to the Inner Harbor. Make a right onto Conway Street. Make another right onto Light Street. Make a left onto Key Highway. The Maryland Science Center is on the left.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Parking: Limited metered street parking. Various pay parking options nearby.

Admission: $14.50 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 12 for the basic packages, which include exhibit halls, planetarium and demonstration stages. Additional charges apply for Imax movies and special exhibits, such as the current Titanic exhibit.

Information: 410/685-5225 or www.marylandsciencecenter.org.

Notes: The Maryland Science Center features frequent children’s events. General admission applies.

Upcoming August events:

• Preschool Storytime — 11 a.m. Tuesday and Aug. 23 and 30 and 2 p.m. Friday and Aug. 26. This event will feature stories, music, science activities and hands-on projects.

• Infant Storytime — 11 a.m. Thursday. This event is open to children up to 18 months old and will feature music, movement, stories and songs.

• Super Science Sundays — 2 p.m. today and Aug. 21 and 28. These events feature hands-on activities, including crafts and experiments. Today’s program, “Opposites Attract,” will explore magnets and their unique powers. On Aug. 21, “The Science of Fizz” will feature talks and activities about acids and bases, how they interact and react. On Aug. 28, “What Comes in Must Go out” revolves around food and the human body.

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