Tinkering Around with Tinkering

Linda Meyers, Assistant Director, Arkansas Discovery NetworkLast month, a number of staff and directors from our partner museum attended a Tinkering Workshop at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It was a week filled with exploration, playing, experimenting, observing and learning.

From the Exploratorium’s Tinkering website:

“Why Tinker?

tinkering april 2011

Museum of Discovery Educator Lennie Dusek Tinkering with Automata

“Many great inventors like Thomas Edison, Stephen Jobs and Art Fry, the inventor of the post-it note, as well as educators such John Dewey have noted the great value of open-ended exploration. Tinkering, focused activity with the right materials in the right environment, can lead to great new inventions, but more importantly builds self-confidence, critical thinking skills, and crucial attitudes that scaffold people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. It teaches students and families that they too can create new inventions, that they can dream new things, then actually build them, can ask bold questions and answer them through focused exploration.”

The Network is partnering with the Exploratorium to bring to each member’s community a permanent Tinkering exhibit in 2012. These exhibits will offer visitors opportunities to tinker themselves, and discover their inner inventors and scientists.

One of our favorite activities was Automata. Check out the Exploratorium website to learn more, but first check out this video of Lenore Shoults, from Arkansas State University Museum, and her Automata creation:

To see more videos and pics of our Tinkering adventures, see our flickr page and our YouTube channel.

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Keep on Truckin’ with the Race for Planet X

Derrick Warren, Outreach Educator for the Race for Planet XGreetings all!

Planet X at "Keep on Truckin" 2011

The Race for Planet X at "Keep on Truckin" 2011, Mid-America Science Museum, Hot Springs

Derrick Warren here to tell you about the Race for Planet X’s visit to the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, AR, to “Keep on Truckin’”!

Keep on Truckin’ is an annual event put on by Mid-America Science Museum that allows children, and those who wish they were children again, to explore full-size trucks and heavy machinery.

Planet X at "Keep on Truckin" 2011

The Race for Planet X was just one truck people got to see up close and personal.

Patrons were able to sit inside the trucks, climb and crawl inside the trucks, honk the horns, sound the sirens, and even wear some of the gear that the drivers of these huge vehicles have to wear.

Participating in this event were the Race for Planet X Mobile Museum, an ambulance, fire trucks, police cars, SWAT vans, dump trucks, utility trucks, milk trucks, a monster truck named “Fourplay” and many more vehicles.

Planet X at "Keep on Truckin" 2011

More than 500 people climbed on board the Race for Planet X!

The 2nd annual Keep on Truckin’ event was a huge success. It brought in around 1,000 visitors to the museum and more than half of them visited our mobile museum. That was an epic win for Planet X attendance. We have already been invited back to the event next year and we have graciously accepted as long as we’re able to do so. Maybe next time we can arrive in style sitting on 50” rims.

Planet X at "Keep on Truckin" 2011

If you were there, send us your photos so we can share them with the world!

Were you at Keep on Truckin’? If you were, send us your photos (lmeyers@amod.org) and we’ll post them on our blog!

For more information on “Keep on Truckin’, ” see Nicole Herndon’s blog written before the event. Check out www.midamericamuseum.org for upcoming events in Hot Springs!

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What happens to the space shuttle after it retires?

Clotilda BeGood, Consumate Do-Gooder and EngineerHi guys! Clotilda BeGood here. I watched the last launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Museum of Discovery last week and wondered to myself what will happen to the Discovery now that it is retired. So, I googled it and found out. I love the Internet!

Discovery is going to be on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. for you, me and everyone to see. But, before that, it is getting an “autopsy,” so NASA engineers will get to examine it and learn what they can one last time before it is off to retirement.

Space Shuttle Discovery and Crew

The Discovery crew and Discovery at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett March 9, 2011. For more images of the Space Shuttle from Nasa, click on this image.

Right now it is at Orbiter Processing Facility-2, a hangar at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The ship will go through a post-flight processing flow very much like it did after each of its previous 38 trips to space. The shuttle technicians will get to take parts out to study, save for new programs, and to make it safe for public display at the Smithsonian.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said in an article that they can still learn a lot from the space shuttles. For example, they will get the chance to study the hydraulics systems, which they haven’t really had the chance to look at while the shuttle was intact. What they learn will help the engineers produce the next generation of vehicles.

Discovery and its six crew members touched down on March 9, marking the end of Discovery’s 39th and final spaceflight. You can watch a video of the historic launch, which took place on Feb. 24, 2011.

Check out these games and learn all about the Space Shuttle at the same time! I found them on Nasa’s website:


For more information on the space shuttle and its “autopsy,” check out these links:




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We’re not in Kansas anymore… make your own twister-in-a-bottle!

Linda Meyers, Assistant Director, Arkansas Discovery Network

I grew up in St. Louis, and was no stranger to tornados. To me they had mystical powers, knocking a roof off of one house, leaving another house unscathed, and a third ripped all apart. Whenever it would rain my eyes would be up in the clouds, waiting for one to spiral out and touch ground. I never saw an actual tornado, or even heard one, although I did see a lot of dust devils and a waterspout once. I had a healthy fear of tornados, and luckily, in St. Louis, houses have basements so there is somewhere comfortable to go.

Tornado exhibit

See how a tornado forms and breaks apart at the Tornado exhibit

The tornado vortex is one of many types of vortices that occur in our atmosphere. Hurricanes, frontal rainstorms, waterspouts, and “dust devils” are other examples of atmospheric vortices. Air vortices occur in the air around you all the time, revealing themselves only when they capture something you can see. For instance, when you see leaves whirling around on a sidewalk, an air vortex is present.

I never knew the science behind the tornado. What I did know I learned from movies like The Wizard of Oz, Twister, and the local weatherman. At one of the more popular exhibits purchased by the Arkansas Discovery Network for the Good Vibrations collection, you can learn about how the tornado cloud forms and see a mini-twister for yourself.

At the Tornado exhibit, a large mist generator, fans and a carefully-shaped structure produce the tornado you see. Random air currents cause both the creation of the tornado and its temporary cessation. This “tornado” is chaotic and unpredictable much of the time; wandering off the source of the mist, slipping out of the grasp of the shearing winds and presenting a delightful and ever-changing image. The four vertical aluminum tubes lining the sides have holes blowing air. You can blow at the tornado or pass your hand through it, and notice what it does; sometimes it takes a while for the tornado to form again.

Questions for thought (answer them in the comments section and share your knowledge!):

  • What causes tornadoes to form?
  • Which direction do tornadoes in the Northern Hemisphere spin? Do they all travel in the same direction once on the ground?
  • Does the eye of the tornado have a high pressure or a low pressure? Why?
  • What wind speed is considered a tornado? What is the scale used to rate the strength of a tornado?

Try this at home!Here’s your chance to make your own “Tornado in a Bottle.”


  • Two 2-liter soda bottles
  • A Tornado Tube™ plastic connector (available from science museums, science stores, novelty stores, and some scientific supply companies). Or, make your own using a washer with a 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) hole and electrical tape
  • Optional: Small dropper bottle of food coloring and/or bits of paper
Make your own "Tornado in a Bottle"

Make your own "Tornado in a Bottle"

Fill one of the soda bottles about two-thirds full of water. Add a little food coloring or paper bits to the water. Screw the bottles onto both ends of the plastic connector. (CAUTION: Do not screw the connector on too tightly!) Or you can tape the bottles together with the washer between them.

Place the bottles on a table with the filled bottle on top. Watch the water slowly drip down into the lower bottle as air bubbles up into the top. Rapidly rotate the bottles in a circle a few times and stop. Observe the formation of a funnel-shaped vortex as the bottle drains. Also, notice the flow of the water as it empties into the lower bottle.

You can make the vortex with a single bottle by twirling the bottle and holding it over a water basin or the ground to drain, but you lose the water and have to refill the bottle each time you use it.

What happens when you pull the drain after taking a bath? Which direction does the water flow down the drain? What other natural vortices have you seen?

For more details on this activity, go to www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/vortex/

Go to www.fema.gov/kids/tornado.htm for more info on tornados and how to stay safe.

The tornado exhibit is currently at the Museum of Discovery for a few more weeks, before it travels to Mid-America Science Museum for an indefinite stay.

Watch this video footage from FEMA kids:

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On the Road Again

Nicole Herndon, Director of Marketing and Development, Mid-America Science Museum

Nicole Herndon has been at Mid-America Science Museum for two years and is the Director of Marketing and Development. Her favorite part about working at MASM is the fact that I am helping make a difference.

What did you dream of being when you were young? Was it a firefighter, a paramedic, or a police officer?  For me, it started out as a paramedic; I wanted to save lives.  It then quickly moved on to a reporter, standing in front of her live truck getting in on all the action.  No matter what your dream was, chances are, you didn’t stick with it.  But deep in the back of your mind, you may from time to time, wonder what life would be like if you fulfilled that dream.Keep on Truckin' Mid-America Science Museum

Stop for minute and think…why is it that you wanted to be a garbage guy or a race car driver or even a fireman? Was it because the vehicles they drove were out of the ordinary, that mom and dad didn’t drive one, so to you it was “special.”  You could sit there and dream about climbing up that big ladder on the back of the fire truck to put out the flames or catch the bad guy, put him in handcuffs, and then shove him in the back of the cruiser with the sirens wailing.Keep on Truckin' Mid-America Science Museum

On March 19th from 10am-2pm, we at Mid-America Science Museum invite you to make those dreams a reality.   Join us for the second annual Keep on Truckin’ event.  We’ve invited businesses and organizations from all over to come out and let you explore, honk, and even play with the sirens.

Here’s a list of the businesses and their vehicles:

  • Keep on Truckin' Mid-America Science MuseumHot Springs Police Dept.: Police Car and SWAT Truck
  • Lanny’s Cycle World: ATV and XUV Utility Vehicle
  • Billy Ginsburg: Purple 18-Wheeler
  • Piney Volunteer Fire Dept.: Pumper, Tanker & Rescue Truck
  • AR National Guard: National Guard Hummer
  • Garland County Sheriff’s Department: SWAT
  • Kyle Wernette: Antique Truck
  • KTHV: Live TruckKeep on Truckin' Mid-America Science Museum
  • Southwest Dairy Museum: 24’ Miniature Milk Tanker
  • LifeNet, Inc.: Ambulance
  • Garland CO. Road Dept.: Dump Truck, Tractor & Grader
  • Hays Rental: Mini Excavator and Portable Toilet Service Truck
  • City of Hot Springs Sanitation Department: Recycling Truck
  • Arkansas State Police: State Trooper Vehicle
  • WalMart Transportation: 18-Wheeler
  • Arkansas Discovery Network: Race for Planet ‘X’
  • US Postal Service: Mail Delivery & Collection Truck
  • Entergy: Entergy Truck with Cart

Keep on Truckin' Mid-America Science MuseumFor just $5 per person, families can enjoy all the fun of the vehicles, plus the chance to rub elbows with their hometown heroes.  The first 100 kids will also receive a free t-shirt, and lunch is provided by Dominos pizza.

And, in the words of Willie Nelson, “On the Road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again.”

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The Real March Madness

Stephen Ast, Traveling Exhibits Manager, Arkansas Discovery NetworkMarch is a hectic month for the Arkansas Discovery Network. Our Mystery of the Mayan Exhibit will be leaving the Network on the 21st to venture out into the real world and make its way all the way to Ontario, Canada. Do not worry, I made sure all its shots were up to date and its passport is current. Nanotechnology ends its run on the 14th at the Discovery Place Children’s Museum in Texarkana and opens on the 19th at the Arkansas State University Museum. While these two moves are interesting and exciting, the real March madness happens when our Road Trip exhibits rotate starting the 21st and opening the 26th.

For those of you who do not know, the Road Trip is a collection of 7 exhibits related to Arkansas that move every 6 months around the partner museums (http://arkansasdiscoverynetwork.com/RoadTrip/index.html).

As the Traveling Exhibits Manager it is my job to make sure that all goes smoothly. All of the Road Trip exhibits are composed of fun and educational hands-on activities. It is very hard to pick my favorite, but I was asked to write about just one of the exhibits moving this month, so after many long hours of soul searching I settled on Astronomy: It’s A Blast!

Why that one you may ask? Well that is hard to say but the quick answer is that I have always been fascinated with Space and our Solar System. I think that most people in general look up at the sky, day or night and are intrigued or at the very least a little curious. The more direct reason is that it has two of my favorite interactives: Air Rockets and Land the Shuttle. These two exhibits teach and highlight two key principles that real space crafts use. Air Rockets consists of two plastic bottle rockets on guide wires that the visitor can pump compressed air into. When they are released they shoot off to the top of the exhibit.

Air Rockets

Air Rockets

This highlights the principle of action and reaction as it relates to rocket propulsion. Land the Shuttle involves manually guiding a miniature space shuttle on a wire onto a small landing pad. This allows the visitor to test their skill and dexterity while also highlighting how the actual Space Shuttle is really just a huge glider when it lands.

Land the Shuttle

Land the Shuttle

It was a complete coincidence that the timing of this blog falls so closely to the final launch and landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery this month. The shuttle took off on February 24th to deliver supplies to the International Space Station and returned on March 9th. To learn more about this and other real life space adventures check out http://www.nasa.gov/.

Astronomy is opening on March 26th at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff and I know I will be there shortly to “check in” on it. And by “check in” I mean play.

Posted in Arkansas State University Museum, Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, Astronomy: It's A Blast, Road Trip, Stephen Ast, Texarkana Museums System | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can you feel the heat? Not only can you feel it, you can see it…

Linda Meyers, Assistant Director, Arkansas Discovery Network

Have you been to one of our partner museums when the Heat Camera was there? It is definitely a crowd favorite, and it’s fun to watch people discover things about their body they didn’t know.

At the Heat Camera, you stand in front of the screen and see an infrared image of yourself on the screen. The camera is sensitive to infrared light and picks up the heat emitted by your body, and displays this heat as a color image on the large screen.

Warmer objects emit more infrared light than cooler ones. Different parts of your body are often different temperatures, as revealed by the camera.

Check out this video of the Heat Camera in action, then try some at-home activities!

Katie McManners wrote a Museum of Discovery blog entry about this moment she captured at the Heat Camera:

Try this at home!Try these activities and you will “see” heat.


  • Smooth, solid surface to receive heat from hands
  • Water and/or lotion
  • Stove or microwave oven (optional)

Rub a small amount of water or lotion on your hands to make them slightly moist. Quickly rub your hands together to create friction. Place both hands palms downward onto the smooth, flat surface. Hold them there for at least 30 seconds. Move your hands; do you see any evidence of change where they were?

Gently move your hand across the surface. See if you can tell where your hands were originally placed. Were you able to see the original location or did you locate it by feel? Remember you can not see infrared waves.

Next, you will need a heat source such as a stove or microwave oven (adult supervision is required). Carefully pour very hot water into a glass or ceramic cup. Allow the cup to absorb the heat from the water.

Place the hot cup of water into the cool air of the refrigerator. Examine the air surrounding the cup. Are you able to see the waves coming from the hot cup? If these waves were able to increase their frequencies enough they would actually glow and become visible.

Because humans are warm-blooded, they give off invisible heat waves. In the human body, specific areas where there is increased blood flow tend to be warm. The warmer the area, the brighter the color image in infrared. Different tissues handle blood flow at different rates.

By using infrared cameras like the Heat Camera, doctors can determine if specific organs are working properly. The police and the military also use them for different jobs. Searching for people or warm-blooded animals is made easier by using infrared scopes or cameras.

Satellites orbiting in space can monitor herds of cattle, analyze ocean water or river flow and observe surface features on Earth using infrared waves. French fries at most fast-food locations are kept warm by lamps that are mostly infrared lamps.

Questions for thought:

  • Is your hair colder than your forehead? Why?
  • If you put your hand on your cheek, would your cheek get darker or lighter on the screen at the Heat Camera? Why?
  • Who’s the coldest person in your group? (You can figure this out by standing in a line holding hands with the people next to you. Whoever has the warmer hands drop out, then whoever is left will hold hands. Eliminate the warmer hands until you have the coldest person in the room!)
  • Do you know why some people are warmer than others?
  • What would happen to your image if you walk around the room quickly and then stand in front of the Heat Camera?
  • How could this type of image help doctors look for medical conditions where blood flow is studied?

Write your answers in the comment section below! Or if you have questions, ask in the comments and we will get an educator to find the right answer for you!

The Heat Camera is currently at the Museum of Discovery, but will shortly be heading to Mid-America Science Museum.

Posted in Activities, Exhibits, Linda Meyers, Mid-America Science Museum, Museum of Discovery, Try this at home! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment