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Exploring the world outside of the park

It Blinded Me with Science

As a native resident of Orange County, California, I have driven on the I-5 freeway past the cube hundreds of times. I bet you have too: that giant metal cube jutting out of one corner of a building, like a crash-landed Rubik‚s Cube made of Erector set scaffolding (above). What the massive geometrical shape connotes is not math, but science: this is the Discovery Science Center.

And discovery, really, is the point of the place: to combine fun and interactivity (Erector set), with scientific puzzles (Rubik) that are really about education (cube). The official motto is „An Amusement Park for your Mind,š which could be understood to mean that science and learning don‚t have to be serious Ų they can be fun! Lose yourself in being a child (whether you are one or not)!

Does the center live up to all this hype? I think so. At least if you bring children with you. There are dozens of exhibits here, and every last one of them is interactive. If you have ever been in a nonprofit science museum, you have seen similar displays with levers to pull, buttons to push, and wheels to turn, all to generate some physical response in the display. Helpful signs nearby explain what‚s happening, and why it‚s important.

The two-story center is divided into themed areas, including these highlights:

Perception Ų Make a cannonball‚s displacement of air launch a tennis ball. Leave your mark on the wall of pins. Lie down on an actual bed on nails (supervised, of course). Stare, entranced, at a marvelous structure that uses counterweights to send Ping-Pong table tennis balls down four different courses; it‚s like the Mousetrap game, but seven feet tall. And you don‚t have to build anything.

One of the Center‚s most popular exhibits, the pin wall (above) encourages creative, if disembodied, expressions of body art.

Dynamic Earth Ų Watch a miniature tornado form, and use your hands to move or destroy it. Push on a table with a hole and puff out giant smoke rings of generated fog. Witness the effects of wind on sand dunes, go rock climbing, and get your hands wet in a model stream demonstrating erosion.

Move your hands in the vicinity of the funnel cloud (as shown above) and you can affect its shape or size. Get too close, though, and it dissipates.

Quake Zone Ų Jump up and down to shake the seismograph. Build small Jenga-like structures on the quake table and watch them tumble down. Or, if you‚re brave, step into the Shake Shack and feel firsthand what a 6.4-magnitude earthquake feels like at its epicenter.

Exploration Station Ų Prance around the musical walkway, where you step on colored areas to trigger snippets of music or sound effects (a lot like the technology at the Imagination Pavilion‚s ImageWorks in Epcot, back before the new ride ruined the whole pavilion). Best of all, spend hours „building a better mousetrap,š by using metal ramps and tunnels with a magnetic wall to send a plastic ball on a gravity-driven journey.

Principles of Flight Ų Fly a model airplane in a wind cage, or pilot a virtual one in the simulator. Don‚t forget to puzzle over the beach ball magically balanced on a jet of air.

Human Performance Ų Test how high you can jump vertically. Attempt to balance as long as you can on a precarious platform. Test your reaction time. See how fast you can throw pitches. And play that annoying „hot wireš game, where you try to maneuver a metal ring through curved metal without touching it, for once without having to pay extra for the privilege.

Space Exploration Ų Pull yourself up on a chair using various pulleys. Build a space station out of component parts, or experience different gravitational situations.

The Center also boasts a KidStation for very young children, where they can build with large blocks, dress up for the moon, or use touch-sensitive computers. A stage and a larger gallery are used for special events and promotions, such as the show in early April called BubbleFest, where visitors can witness very large soap bubbles created in multifarious ways by the international „soaperstarš Fan Yang.

Other promotions include Gross Me Out, a stage show exploring „the fascinating world of burps, snot, farts and other gross-but-vital products of our body.š And in June, a show called „Whodunit?š explores the science behind criminal forensics, such as fingerprints, DNA analysis, and even entomology (bugs like to plant eggs in dead bodies, and kids for some reason love to hear about maggots).

Here‚s a MousePlanet exclusive for you: The Center is planning an exhibit on „Planes, Trains, and Automobilesš (tentative title) later in the year. The Center tries to keep things fresh by offering new events every three months.

Clearly, though, the highlight for many visitors is the 3-D Laser Theater, where a 20-minute show about the importance of the ecosystem entertains but also informs. The show can be a very long multi-media slideshow, featuring 3-D color slides of cartoon people and places, with multi-colored lasers providing special effects and even animated characters (shown below). It‚s an awful lot like „ViewMaster meets Laserium,š which is an odd concept just to imagine, let alone behold. Your $1.00 ticket to this show is easily worth the price.

Bizzare as it may sound, the unique visual presentation of „The Web of Lifeš is worth a look.

The Discovery Science Center has the requisite gift shopųwe even found a rarity here, something called „hand blasters,š small balls that give off minor explosions like cap-guns when struck togetherųas well as the ubiquitous fast food. The combined Pizza Hut and Taco Bell is popular with kids, and in fact Taco Bell is the sponsor of the whole enterprise: its real name is the Taco Bell Discovery Science Center.

The crowds are manageable on weekdays, but weekends get very busy, as do summers and holidays. The Center caters to schools and field trips, and even rents out the facility for parties or conventions Ų anything from 10 to 1000 people can arrange something. Occasion for such parties, they offer a „Questš Ųa cross between a game and a scavenger hunt, where they use the exhibits to get answers. Hmm, sounds suspiciously like MouseAdventure to me!!

Just down the freeway from Disneylandųperhaps three miles awayųthe Discovery Science Center is close enough to visit for anyone local to the area or vacationing near the Disneyland Resort. While it is comparable to other science centers, it has some unique exhibits that warrant a visit.

There is one important caveat to mention, however: the similar California Science Center in South Central Los Angeles is both larger and free, while this Discovery Science Center in Orange County carries a not-insignificant entrance fee (listed in the sidebar). I believe parents with children should find the fee bearable, considering what the family gets out of the experience. Adults without children may find it less worth the cost of admission, but your mileage may vary (and it is nice to have such a science center close by). Annual memberships, particularly for families, can be well worth the investment.

As an „amusement park for your mind,š the Discovery Science Center delivers. It is hands-on in every respect, and should thus not be confused with a museum. After all, in what museum can you lie down on a real bed of nails for fun, in perfect safety?

(The author [shown above] knows better than to get up while the nails are raised; it is the distribution of weight that makes this bed safe!)


NUTS & BOLTS:

Admission / Fees:

Adult - $11

Child 3-17 - $8.50

Child under 3 - Free

Seniors - $8.50

3-D Laser Theater - $1

BubbleFest - $2

Parking - $3

Open: 10 AM to 5 pm everyday except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year‚s Day.

Address: 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92705

Phone: (714) 542-2823

Official Website: http://www. discoverycube.org/

CUBE FACTS:

It is 108 feet tall from base to tip, and 64 feet per side.

It is made of 2636 struts (steel tubes 5 feet long and 5 inches to 9 inches in diameter)

It is held together by 667 nodes (round balls anywhere from 5 inches to 12 inches in diameter).

These two components make up a "space frame" design

There are 464 photovoltaic panels on the southwest face of the Cube, which receives the most sunlight. Each panel measures 26 1/4" x 48 1/2" (66.7 cm x 123.2 cm)

The photovoltaic panels can convert sunlight into as much as 20 kilowatts of energy, which is being used within Discovery Science Center. (On average, one house uses about 2 kilowatts.) It will save the center approximately $8,000 annually on its electricity bill.

The Cube is supported at three points; one point is on the ground and the other two points rest on science center building. These points are supported on two steel A frames.

HOW THE CUBE WAS CONCEIVED

There are three perfect three-dimensional geometric shapes in nature: the sphere, the pyramid and the cube. Architecturally, the sphere has been built at Disney World and the pyramid has been built at the Louvre, the Luxor in Las Vegas and the Long Beach basketball arena in Long Beach, Calif. The Cube has not been built before. Thus, Discovery Science Center architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica thought that The Cube would be the perfect icon for Orange County's science center. The Board of Directors concurred and it was incorporated into Discovery Science Center's plans.

HOW THE CUBE WAS ENGINEERED

The design/build construction firm, Advanced Structures Inc. (ASI), took Fort-Brescia's idea and "translated" it into a 64-foot-on-a-side structure. In other words, they first designed a computer model of The Cube, then by applying the design parameters, they determined the size of the more than 3000 members (the struts and nodes). The calculations to do this were so numerous that they would be three feet high if printed out on legal paper.

HOW THE CUBE WAS BUILT AND INSTALLED

Because it is such a huge structure, The Cube was assembled by hand, by a few men, on the ground in subsections at ARB (a steel construction firm) in Lake Forest. Some of the struts weigh as much as 200 pounds each and most of the pieces were assembled, the subsections were transported from Lake Forest to Santa Ana on flatbeds and a crane hoisted them into position. The assembly took approximately four weeks.

The array of photovoltaic panels was designed by Solar Design Associates and produced by BP Solarex.
It took approximately two weeks to install the panels.

Above information compiled from press releases

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN ORANGE COUNTY:

Knott's Berry Farm
8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

This is the nation's oldest theme park. It includes 165 attractions in multiple themed areas such as Calico Ghost Town, Mexican Village, Indian Trails, The Boardwalk and Camp Snoopy. (714) 220-5200


Hard Rock Cafe
451 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach

One in a chain of 104 Hard Rock Cafes around the world. You are paying for the honor of sitting under the autographs of rock stars. The highlight of the decor is the garish suit worn by Prince in the film "Purple Rain." (714) 640-8844


Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

Watch "knights" engage in jousting and other forms of mortal combat while you eat dinner. Paper crowns (a la Burger King) included. (714) 521-4740


Movieland Wax Museum
7711 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

An elaborate collection of movie and TV memorabilia, including authentic costumes and sets and more than 200 lifelike replicas of famous stars. Open Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Admission $6.95-$12.95. (949) 522-1154 or visit Movieland Wax Museum online.


Rainforest Cafe
3333 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa (In the Sears wing of South Coast Plaza)

A themed restaurant with a jungle motif. Includes animatronic creatures, indoor thundershowers, live parrots, talking trees and a large saltwater aquarium. (714) 424-9200


Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum
7850 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

"The odd, the unusual and bizarre from nature and man." Open Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Admission $5.25-$8.95. (714) 522-7045 or visit Ripley's online.


Wild Bill's Wild West Dinner Extravaganza
7600 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

Watch dancing Indians, lariat-twirling "cowboys" and singing cowgirls while you eat dinner. (714) 522-6414


Wild Rivers Water Park
8770 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine

A water theme park with over 40 water rides and attractions, on the site of the late lamented Lion Country Safari. (949) 768-9453


Intrigued by this abbreviated list? Click here to visit Douglas's more complete list of significant locations in Anaheim, including including HISTORICAL SITES, MUSEUMS, SEASIDE ATTRACTIONS, GARDENS, SHOPPING, JUST FOR KIDS, and MISCELLANEOUS FUN categories.

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