As Joe Adams walks past what will soon be a new exhibit at the Discovery Cube, he imagines kids crawling through a maze of lasers, trying to not break any of the beams.
“That’s just one of our real adventures,” said Adams, chief executive of the Santa Ana science center that features the iconic, freeway-close Cube.
Like much of the rest of the state, Discovery Cube Orange County is getting ready to re-open following a stretch of pandemic-induced hibernation. The science center took advantage of the closure to undergo a $10 million-plus renovation. On May 28, it will welcome the public to a remodeled attraction, with several new exhibits and revamped old ones.
One example is the laser maze, inside the “The Vault,” which is part of a new physics-themed area that will include several exhibits. One of those exhibits features “The Raceway,” where kids and adults can build small cars, experimenting with different weights and tires to race on various tracks. In another, guests design airplanes, launch them through hoops, and learn what happens to the forces that guide flight. In another, children can learn about the distribution of mass by laying on a bed of 3,000 nails.
“That’s science in motion,” Adams said, recently, pointing to the mass-themed exhibit known as “Can you survive the bed of nails?”
“The idea here is that if there’s one nail, and you’re standing on it, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to puncture you… (But) when it’s 3,000 nails, and you’ve spread your body weight across them, that’s less than half a pound on each nail. All of a sudden, it feels like a massage because your weight is now distributed.
“It makes kids think: ‘How does that work’?”
The cluster of physics-related exhibits is one of the center’s four new themed areas, each of which features several exhibits and scientific activities. Others include: an early-learners’ area featuring a stationary hot air balloon surrounded by a video screen that helps participants imagine that they’re flying; an organic waste lab, sponsored by Orange County Waste Recycling, that will have interactive game, lots of worms, and lessons on composting; and a new virtual Science of Hockey area, which is sponsored by the Anaheim Ducks and the Samueli Foundation.
The overriding goal is to spark thought through hands-on exploration and experience. If an exhibit can prompt visitors to slow down and consider questions about what they’ve just seen and done, that’ll be a success.
“We don’t want them to just check it out and run off to the next thing,” Adams said. “We want them to have more time to explore, experience the science.”
In keeping with new concerns raised by COVID-19, the renovations also took hygiene and cleanliness into account. Bathrooms were redone to include touch-free faucets and hands-free door openings, and hand washing stations have been added throughout the museum. Also, when it reopens, the center’s capacity will be limited to 50%, or less than 1,600 people at a time.
Hygiene and cleanliness issues even extend to the types of materials used in some exhibits. Adams said the cars in The Raceway, for example, are made of plastic, instead of wood, because plastic is less absorbent and cleans better.
“With Covid, we had to think about how do you clean it? That was important in the new design.”
In designing exhibits, which are all in both Spanish and English, Adams said they also looked at what experience could have the greatest impact.
“If you make science more relevant to kids, help them understand it, or how it might be of use in everyday life, then that’s a better exhibit,” he said.
Adams calls it “an impact pyramid,” saying the best exhibits draw in children and encourage them to spend time playing and thinking.
One long-standing such exhibit, Discovery Market, allows visitors to take a shopping cart and scanner to learn about nutrition by reading food labels and making choices that are healthy and good for the environment. Kids can accumulate points during six different shopping adventures and, if they get enough points, get their photo displayed on a screen.
“What kid doesn’t like a selfie?” Adams said.
In addition to upgrades and new exhibits, the museum is getting a fresh coat of paint, new carpets and new heating and air conditioning units. This summer, the center will revive the popular Bubble Fest, which is usually held in the spring but, after COVID-19 closures, will be held this year July 2-18.
Tickets are on sale for the May 28 opening and can be purchased online at oc.discoverycube.org. Meanwhile, in the next round of upgrades, the Discovery Cube’s popular Dino Quest, which features life-size dinosaurs, will get its own rehab. Those changes, Adams said, are coming the summer of 2022.
Source: Orange County Register