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Power to the Children

New Science Center exhibit takes the mystery out of storms and quakes.


The shaking, rattling and rolling are reminiscent of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

But this is no aftershock, nor is it one of the tremors that frequently rock Mammoth Lakes. This is an interactive earthquake display, one of the most popular attractions at the newly open "Powers of Nature" exhibit at the California Science Center.

As part of the hands-on activity, which opened Monday, visitors can stand on a replica of a coastal road that looks like Pacific Coast Highway. Using a pump, they build pressure under the road until it splits beneath their feet.

"I like the earthquake [exhibit] because it feels like an earthquake," said Sean Brown, who visited the Science Center on Monday with his sixth-grade class from Altadena Elementary School. "I like earthquakes 'cause you get to miss class when they happen."

Developed by the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia and sponsored by Subaru of America, "Powers of Nature" is an 8,000-square-foot hands-on exhibit that explores the science behind everyday and extreme natural phenomena.

"Powers of Nature" is divided into two sections. "Anatomy of a Storm" is devoted entirely to storms: what they're made of, how they're formed and what combination of elements can produce the most violent weather. "Shake, Rattle and Roll" is a series of displays that illustrate how and why the earth quakes.

"Anatomy of a Storm" focuses on thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, snow and giant hail. It lets visitors experience the ferocity of a twister and the flash and bang of lightning and thunder in rainstorms.

Using interactive kiosks, live radar and satellite devices along with video presentations and storm-beaten artifacts like a telephone pole pierced by a plastic straw during a tornado, visitors can see how weather is formed. They also get a chance to hear videotaped and recorded stories of those who have survived some of the biggest disasters of the century.

Each display features how-to information about the storm in addition to hands-on exhibits that provide the opportunity to make a thunderstorm by filling a cloud with water, create mock snow drifts and simulate a tornado funnel cloud in water.

A lightning exhibit illustrates how light travels faster than sound. One portion of the exhibit simulates a storm, giving visitors a chance to count the time lapse between sight and sound. The other portion features video of satellite images from the National Lightning Detection Network that show lightning striking as often as 25,000 times an hour.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the cockpit of a P-3 airplane. A video presentation inside the plane re-creates the sights, sounds and intensity of an airplane flying into the eye of a hurricane.

"Powers of Nature gives children and adults the opportunity to learn more about how weather events happen," said Jeffrey Rudolph, executive director of the Science Center, adding, "Earthquakes are of special interest locally."

Quakes are of so much interest that the exhibit dedicates an entire section to the movers and shakers. The "I Feel the Earth Move" display features a large stone slab that's hooked up to a seismograph. Visitors can kick, jump and pound away at it to see how much they can make it move. The force is measured in waves on the seismograph.

The earthquake section also includes an exhibit that lets people build structures out of wood blocks on an earthquake table. The table then shakes forcefully, providing a glimpse of what it takes to erect a structure that can withstand an earthquake.

"This is a great exhibit for kids because there are so many hands-on activities," said Sophia Zuniga, who took her fourth-grade class from Pacoima's Haddon Avenue Elementary School to the exhibit. "They can put their hands on the weather and really experience it."

Weather and disaster experts say the "Powers of Nature" exhibit can be used as a tool to help kids understand phenomena, such as earthquakes, so that they can be better prepared when they occur.

"Going to an exhibit like this can help lessen a kid's fear so that a disaster like an earthquake is not as scary when it happens," said Tom Viscount director of emergency services for the American Red Cross of Santa Monica. "Instead of being this big mysterious thing that they don't understand, the disaster becomes something that makes sense."


Powers of Nature at the Weingart Special Exhibits Gallery at the California Science Center, 700 State Drive, Exposition Park. (213) SCI-ENCE. Free. Parking, $5. Reservations suggested. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Feb. 28.

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