MOST people don’t spend much time thinking about light beyond what we ordinarily notice.
So when the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore decided the second floor needed something new, officials considered that an opportunity to expand visitors’ understanding of what light is.
“What we’re seeing is just part of the light spectrum,” said Sam Blau, external program manager at the science center.
But other kinds of light are part of everyday life, Blau said.
“Microwaves, infrared … ultraviolet, X-rays. Gamma rays are really the only thing that we’re not interacting with on a regular basis, unless you’re an astronaut,” she said.
So a new permanent exhibit, “Science Aglow”, explores a variety of light forms.
“People have heard of X-rays because you go to the doctor and you get an X-ray taken, but you don’t think about that as being light,” Blau said.
At the science centre, kids can pretend to be X-ray technicians by placing images on a light table.
“Basically the X-rays are going to move through the fleshy bits of your body, but they do bounce off the bones. So that’s what the image is,” she said.
On a recent visit, sisters Addison Plourde, 10, and Kamryn Plourde, seven, of Bel Air, Maryland, took a close look at a side X-ray of someone in a feet-over-head arch. It offered an amazing view of why the arrangement of human ribs is called a cage.
But the girls quickly headed for the part of the exhibit that kids will probably find most interesting: the tunnel. The area shows off some cool aspects of light better seen in the dark.
Visitors strike a pose in front of a wall covered in fluorescent paint, which glows when it absorbs energy from light. After a flash of light, they can step away and see that their body has cast a lingering shadow by temporarily blocking the light from hitting the fluorescent paint. The wall is large enough for group-shadow silliness.
Another station features a diorama that lets kids push buttons to compare the way humans see light with how animals see it.
“There are certain insects, like bees, that can see all the way through the ultraviolet spectrum – which we can’t see – and that actually helps them, because flowers will have ultraviolet-emitting petals,” Blau said.
The hands-on activities in “Science Aglow” also include funhouse mirrors, heat-sensing (or infrared) cameras and an ultraviolet-light drawing board. It’s just a small part of the experience at the Maryland Science Center, but it’s a stop that kids are likely to find entertaining and, yes, enlightening. – Text and Photos by The Washington Post