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KID STUFF

THE MALLS OF SCIENCE : Discovery Museum's New Pad Launches Learning in Displays at Crystal Court

June 17, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

"I got 125!"

"Check this out!"

"Stand back! I'm gonna nail this guy!"

Bracketed by electronic blips and rapid-fire thumps, the shrieks spilling from the top floor of South Coast Plaza's Crystal Court in Santa Ana last week were enough to curl the credit cards of unwary shoppers.

What in the name of Lauren was going on? Had this haven of haute couture been infiltrated by-- gasp! --a video game room?

Fear not, sweet shopper. The din echoing across Crystal Court's gleaming floors came not from the Mario Brothers, but from Launch Pad, an interactive science center for children that will open to the public on Sunday.

Housed in a former high-end sporting goods store, Launch Pad features 30 interactive exhibits that are designed to teach scientific principles to youngsters 6 to 16. The center will also offer a preschooler's area filled with educational toys and games, a gift shop and regular scientific demonstrations on such topics as combustion, kitchen science, liquid nitrogen and the physiology of reptiles, a session that features the center's resident six-foot boa constrictor.

A program of the Discovery Museum history center in Santa Ana, Launch Pad is a preview for the Discovery Science Center, an 88,000-square-foot facility organizers hope to open near the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, also in Santa Ana, sometime in 1997.

Launch Pad exhibits, most of them created by the popular Pacific Science Center in Seattle, invite varying degrees of viewer participation. For example, by keeping a plastic ball afloat on a stream of air, children are introducing themselves to the Bernoulli principle. Whacking an "air cannon" reinforces a lesson in air turbulence; testing themselves on the "grip strength" meter demonstrates muscular capability.

The exhibit lineup will be changed and expanded in the coming months, and special workshops, including next month's series by "Mr. Electricity," Robert Krampf, will be imported on a regular basis. For school groups, tour packages can be customized to tie in with curriculum. And to make the center accessible to as many children as possible, organizers plan to offer bilingual tours and will approach local businesses to underwrite costs for groups unable to afford the admission price.

Launch Pad itself carries a $500,000 price tag, which has been partially offset by funding from the McDonnell Douglas Employees Community Fund, the National Science Foundation, the Segerstrom family (which helped underwrite first-year operating costs) as well as a number of Orange County corporations and individuals. Helping to steer the effort is a volunteer board of directors drawn largely from the county's science and technology industry.

During a June 6 preview, fifth-graders from two area schools--Greenville Fundamental School in Santa Ana and Irvine's Vista Verde School--gave Launch Pad a unanimous thumbs up.

One of the first stops for 10-year-old Claire Broderick was a giant stuffed doll that unzipped to reveal a variety of cloth "organs," which she proceeded to pull out and attempt to identify in rapid order. Although she had previously rated sciences as "just OK," when asked whether she liked this kind of interactive learning, Claire ("Please don't forget the 'i'; everybody does") nodded her head so vigorously that her headband flew to her chin.

"It's no fun to just sit down and learn things," she declared, scanning the room for her next stop. "But it's lots of fun to play with things and learn things that way."

Anthony Nguyen, 11, was a little disappointed by the center's lack of a real dissecting stations ("I like cutting frogs and stuff . . . and I like squishing bugs and looking at what's inside"), but he had no trouble finding other ways to test his science savvy.

At the air cannon exhibit, Anthony, who one friend described as "a human encyclopedia," took a moment to explain the concept of air turbulence to one clueless adult. After aiming the open end of a large drum toward a classmate standing against a wall of thousands of interconnected plastic loops, he whacked the drum head and watched as the rapid air current caused the wall near the other child's head to ripple, much to that classmate's glee.

"Basically, it depends on how hard you hit the cannon," explained Anthony. "When the cannon vibrates, the air coming out is moving, too. That's turbulence."

* What: Launch Pad science learning center.

* When: Opens to the public on Sunday, June 20. Operating hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

* Where: Crystal Court shopping center (third floor), 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Bristol Street and drive north. Turn left on Sunflower Avenue, then left on Bear Street.

* Wherewithal: Admission is free on Sunday, June 20, only. Regular admission is $5 for children age 3 and up; accompanying adults are free. Children under 12 must be with an adult. Group rates are available.

* Where to call: (714) 540-2061.

MORE KID STUFF

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IN LAGUNA BEACH: JUDY BLUME TALE

Peter has a Fudge problem. Fudge is his baby brother in "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing," being staged by the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre beginning Friday, June 18, at the Moulton Theatre (606 Laguna Canyon Road). Tickets: $6 to $9. (714) 494-8021.

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