By Nicholas Wurm and Sam Rowland
Some 600 parents and children visited the Long Island Science Center (LISC) in Riverhead outside weekend hours last week, for the opening of the “Fun with Physics” event, which lasted until February 23. The event showcased self-guided experiments demonstrating principles of motion.
The opening took advantage of Presidents’ Day and the Riverhead School District’s midwinter recess. In the Center’s MakerSpace, a freeform collaborative area, four hands-on stations introduced practical examples of movement. Children experimented by rolling balls of various sizes down pre-made tracks, creating custom tracks using flexible plastic tubing, exploring magnetic motion on metal trays and coloring their own thaumatropes, paper discs spun to create the illusion of blended images.
“There’s something to children in how they’re accepting of things at a very young age,” Cailin Kaller, the center’s director said. Encouraging interest for kids in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) is one of the Center’s primary goals,” she said. “You hope that if you start to get [children] thinking these things can be for them, they’ll continue to pursue them as they get older and feel less intimidated.”
The visitors could explore the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci through augmented reality iPads that brought the machines to life with the scan of a QR code.
“We loved the Da Vinci, it showed us things we had no idea he did,” Patricia Whipple, who was visiting with her husband and two children, said. “With the iPad you actually see it moving.”
Augmented reality technology was on further display in the Augmented Reality Sandbox, which was geared to teach kids about topography with colored light that changed at different heights.
“The sandbox is fun, you can make bodies of water and land,” 10-year-old Bianca Whipple said.
Seated in chairs just outside the MakerSpace, the kids could also visit other worlds with their virtual reality headsets.
“We have five different programs [kids] can look into,” Stephanie D’Gracia, a volunteer at the LISC, said. These include Ocean Rift, which allows visitors to venture into 12 unique underwater environments, and The Dinosaurs, where they learn about 12 of the massive beasts.
“I think it’s cool, I think it’s great that the kids should be involved with it,” Kristen Meyer, a science teacher visiting from Nassau County with her two children, said. “There’s not a lot of science in the classroom until they get to high school where it’s mandated.”
Most of the work the Center does in the community is in partnership with schools from Manhattan to Fisher’s Island. Field trips visit throughout the week and the LISC also brings its exhibits into local schools — in Riverhead and surrounding towns.
“The Science Center has always concentrated on hands-on experience,” Kaller said.
On February 14, the Long Island Science Center received a $775,000 grant to help, in part, with expansion efforts as it plans to relocate into a larger space. Kaller says the Center is working hard to serve the community, including providing STEAM education and offering free admission to homeless shelter residents.
“The idea of STEAM being accessible and equal to all is a big part of what we’re doing and what we see as the future of the Science Center,” she said.