Touch the Tic-Tac rainbow

The current Hands-On science exhibit at the Chico Museum is interactive fun for all ages

BALANCING ACT <br>Harrison Carter explores the mysteries of the fulcrum at the Hands-on: Interactive Science Exhibit II at the Chico Museum.

Harrison Carter explores the mysteries of the fulcrum at the Hands-on: Interactive Science Exhibit II at the Chico Museum.

photo by Tom Angel

Like San Francisco’s Exploratorium?

Then you’ll love the Chico Museum’s new exhibit, “Hands On: Interactive Science Exhibit 2,” sponsored by the CSUC Center for Math and Science Education.

As the name implies, this is the second such exhibit—you may remember the first was held at the Chico Museum in 1996-97. To enjoy this exhibit, you won’t have to drive to the bay or search hours for parking (though you might spend a few minutes circling the block), and it’s free, I tell you, free! Not that you can’t donate a dollar or two.

Anyway, “Hands On” has filled the Chico Museum with low-tech, hand-involving activities for all ages. The Saturday we stopped in, we found eight youngsters and a few oldsters (parents and assorted guardians) trying out the various optical illusions, puzzles, spinning tops and wheels and generally having a good time. You’d hear a crashing sound, a kid gasping, and a parent saying, “That was cool!” Not your typical museum soundtrack.

Would you believe a square wheel rolls freely, if on the right surface? Did you know chains can dance? Some of our favorite activities included: playing with the ball bearings on the super-powerful magnet ("Warning! The magnet is very strong and will ruin credit cards if they are held too closely."), the kaleidoscope-of-mirrors room, the shadow catcher room, and the large drum that, when hit with open hand, caused the air to move 10 feet away, as evidenced by a display of rippling cobweb catchers. A Tic-Tac mint candy box was transformed into a rainbow under a polarizing filter.

Many puzzles could be solved in a fairly short amount of time—memories from extra-credit brainteasers in elementary school—but some stumped even the most seasoned of us bigger folks (really, how do you fit all those blocks into that cube-shaped box?). I’m not going to go into the six-piece set of hexagons with the animal cutouts that, placed in the right position, leave the outline of a bunny for all to see. Thank the French for that little frustration.

It’s so rare to go to a show where you are encouraged to touch things. This is something to take advantage of, and not just for the hour or two of free air-conditioned luxury. You’ll learn about friction and gyroscopic motion, play with pendulums, pulleys, spinning disks and plasma spheres. All this and no cleanup required. I dare you to go and try to stand aloof. Better yet, plan a field trip and teach your kids or yourself that real interactive fun doesn’t exist only on Sony PlayStations.