Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SpectrUM Discovery Area

Last weekend, we crossed off #22 on my 101 in 1001 list by visiting the SpectrUM Discovery Area on the University of Montana campus. If you happen to be on a road trip and passing through Missoula, MT when SpectrUM is open, it would be a fun break for the kids. They are only open Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, but it's a reasonably priced ($3.50 for ages 4 and up) activity for the kids.

SpectrUM is set up in an un-used lab on campus, so it's small (we brought the stroller for Secora, and ended up leaving it in the hallway), and everything is very hands on for the kids. What appear to be students (the director is part of the honors program, so I'm guessing these are older honors undergrads) staff the area and explain the science behind the activities to the kids. The "exhibits" change out a bit, but you can check on the website and see what's going on.

First things first, it's in the Skaggs building on campus, which is pretty easy to find, but once we got there, we had a little trouble finding SpectrUM. There aren't very obvious signs. So here's a picture of the building from the parking lot You need to follow that pink arrow I drew in and wrap around the back of the building. There's a loading dock back there and the first door you come to (on the left) takes you to the SpectrUM area. It appears you're supposed to get a visitor's parking pass, but we just took our chances and didn't do that.

Here's Sierra learning a bit about the conservation of angular momentum (hold a spinning wheel while standing on a movable disc, when you tilt the wheel, the disc you're standing on turns)
Fun at the giant turn table. Here they got to learn first hand that since the table is all connected (all moving at the same speed), an object closer to the center of rotation will move slower than an objects farther from the center of rotation
I highly doubt Sedona got it, but she had a great time turning weights loose on the table anyway!

One of their recent activities has involved bubbles, and what kid doesn't have fun with bubbles? They could use pipe cleaners to make different shaped wands and see what happened (Sedona didn't make either of those, they were left by other kids)
Sierra had the most fun with the flight simulator (and later, learning what makes a longer flying paper airplane)

Sedona was allowed to help one of the staff get all the pennies out of the gravity well (those things were the coins spiral round and round and round) and then proceeded to sit there and feed all the pennies back into it.

Then she got a turn on the flight simulator. She really put the physics of that fake plane to the test. Barrel rolls didn't go so well. Once she learned to be gentle she actually did pretty well. One of the staff members asked her if she might want to be a pilot when she grows up and she said, "I suppose I will go to outer space". Sorry kid, you might have to get into lobbying and fund raising first if you want to get involved in manned space flight.
They also had an animation station set up, and some fun aerodynamic experiments, like little paper cups and scissors provided so you can try to create the cup that would fly the best over a large fan. It appears they are fund raising to open a larger space in Southgate mall, but that hasn't happened just yet.

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