||Your Science Center experience begins when you arrive at the newly configured entrance, which faces the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In an outdoor patio called Science Plaza, you find the California Gate, a 13-foot-tall granite structure that is actually an outline of the state of California.
Once inside the plaza, you can sit on the DNA Bench, a sculpture representing a cross-section of the DNA strand, that surrounds a fountain of fog. You can gaze up at the Aerial, a mesmerizing sculpture of 1,578 gold and palladium balls, viewed in magenta light filtered through dichroic glass, that hangs overhead like brilliant stars and planets. If you inspect the bench on which youre seated, you can be inspired by engraved quotes from poets ranging from Maya Angelou to Lao-tze.
A giant whisper dish lets Ragan Burns, 6, hear from across the room.
Words of wisdom from scientists and philosophers are also etched on stone tablets embedded into the patio, such as this from Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
When you enter the building, you find yourself in the 112-foot, glass-ceilinged atrium of the Science Court. Looking up, you can witness Hypar, a computer-directed, hyperbolic paraboloid that gracefully expands and contracts from 15 to 50 feet. This 5,000-pound hanging kinetic structure, invented by Chuck Hoberman, is like a star twisting in around itself.
Also in Science Court, you can watch other visitors brave the High-Wire Bicycle, or try it yourself if you dare. The bicycle is counterbalanced so you can tip from side to side and not fall, but a sturdy-looking safety net hangs underneath just in case.
Then you head upstairs to the two exhibit halls The World of Life and The Creative World and the real fun begins. Many of the exhibits will entice you to punch buttons, twist knobs, tear things down and put them back together.
Reflecting current thinking in science education, the curators believe that visitors, especially kids, learn best through an interactive format such as exhibits in the style of video and computer games, or models that you can put together and pull apart. All the exhibits are also accompanied by written or oral scripts for those who want to know more.
Backseat drivers watch a friend in the drunk driving simulator.
In THE WORLD OF LIFE, exhibits convey the commonalties of the living world, from single-celled bacterium to 100 trillion-celled human beings.
As you walk through the 55-foot-long Life Tunnel, you pass images depicting the processes that all life forms have in common. In the Cell Lab and Cell Theater, you can view different cells through microscopes and find out how these life processes work. At the Chicken and the Egg exhibit, you or your child can press your faces against the glass, hoping to see an egg hatch and a baby chick wiggle out.
In Blood and Hearts, you can compare your heartbeat to that of a mouse (or an elephant) and see how much pressure it takes to make the various hearts pump. If you wander to Brains on Parade you can examine a real human brain and the gray matter of other creatures, such as an insect or an octopus.
Some of the exhibits in these areas seem to capture attention through their gross out factor. But deputy director of education Ann Muscat says these exhibits were chosen for their realism, not for cheap thrills.
We think these things are beautiful and amazing, she says. We wanted people to have as much experience as possible with the real thing.
Proving that the fun isnt just for kids, four adults watch a giant nerve ending react to stimulus.
At the Human Miracle, one of the most moving exhibits, you can observe the growth of embryos from five weeks old to 38 weeks old. Donated by the USC School of Medicine, the fetuses were collected from pregnancies terminated due to natural causes.
A lot of these kids dont know about the beginning of life, how a baby develops, says Sixta Limas, who accompanied her son, Ricky, on a special preview tour for public school children in the neighborhoods surrounding Exposition Park and USC. The kids say, That was me? And I say, Yeah, thats you, thats the way you guys began.
The World of Life also includes several exhibits that teach kids about topics important to their health and well-being, including HIV causes and prevention, the effects of drunk driving, cigarette smoking and cancer, and the benefit of a healthy diet.
THE CREATIVE WORLD focuses on the environment humans build to meet their needs for structure, transportation and communication, showcasing the wonders and consequences of human invention, from computer technology to earthquake-resistant buildings.
You enter the Creative World through Technoscapes, which describes the main ideas of the exhibition through laser animation flashing across a three-dimensional city street sculpture. Some fairly realistic-looking replicas of cars, buildings and people create the sculpture; they were cast from plaster molds of real objects and people. Curators used laser, video and audio imagery to inspire exploration into the connections between science, technology and our daily lives.
At the shake table in the Structures Gallery, for instance, you might build your own structure and learn how to brace it to prevent earthquake damage. Theres also a table featuring emergency items you would need in case of such a disaster. You can jump on a replica bridge and learn why flexibility is a key to its strength. Or you can digitally build your own skyscraper or suspension bridge in an interactive exhibit that teaches how to make it strong.
In the Communications Gallery, you can learn about different ways to send and receive messages. For instance, you can get your family into a game of virtual volleyball or soccer. You can pretend youre a rock star and play a guitar, keyboard or drums in a Digital Jam Session. You can send a message on a giant computer thats hooked into the Internet. Or you and a friend can sit inside Whisper Dishes and talk to each other from opposite sides of the hall.
Twelve-year-old Jacob Knobel celebrates his birthday with a little virtual reality volleyball;
Ever wonder what youd look like if you were drawn in charcoal or colored pastels? At the Digital Imaging Center you can pose for a portrait, then view how the image changes with different artistic styles and media.
And just outside the Creative World is one of the centers most popular attractions: the Space Docking Simulator, a preview to the planned Worlds Beyond exhibit hall. Like a real NASA astronaut in training, you can find out what it feels like to be in outer space as you try to retrieve a damaged satellite in a zero-gravity environment. Just strap yourself in and have a blast.
The California Science Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days. The IMAX Theater is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
For information, call 213-SCI-ENCE (213-724-3623), or visit the Science Center website at www.casciencectr.org.