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Friday 1 June 2012

Lawrence Hall of Science

Time to cross another place off the "Bay Area with Kids" list...

A few weekends back we visited Lawrence Hall of Science here in Berkeley. 
Lawrence Hall of Science is actually part of the University of California Berkeley - let's call it Cal for short. Being a university town, a major part of Berkeley is made up of the Cal campus. And it is huge. 

Cal not only offers a learning environment for college students but is home to a large array of family friendly, community venues from Botanical Gardens, to sporting venues and science museums.

I wasn't really sure what to expect at Lawrence Hall but I had heard from other parents at pre-school that it's a hit with kids around Ava's age. Well, it certainly was a hit with Ava too!

Lawrence Hall is full of fun, interactive science exhibits that kids can get involved in. 

First up we made paper planes and attempted to fly them through targets. I say "attempted to" as I don't think we actually got any through the target! We had fun though and that's the main thing. 

This one looks like it might go through...

Maybe they'll fly better if I throw them together...

KidsLab is an area devoted to fun for the smaller children. Here Ava and Lola played in a kaleidoscope, made ball tracks on the gravity wall, played with giant foam blocks and spun balls on the vortex funnel (like one of those coin spinners for donations).

Mirror, mirror on the floor...
Lots of Lolas and ping pong balls

Playing with the oversized pin boards was pretty popular with most of the kids. Ava enjoyed making self portraits such as the one below. She obviously couldn't read the sign warning not to put your face into the pins!

Ava's self portrait in the pins

The "Bernoulli Blower" was pretty popular with lots of kids too. As the "blower" part of the name suggests this machine blasts out air which beach balls balance on.

Ava looks pretty excited about the "Bernoulli Blower"
Balancing beach balls on the "Bernoulli Blower"

The highlight of our visit to Lawrence Hall had to be making rockets in the Ingenuity Lab.

With a little help, the girls made (and decorated) paper rockets that we would later launch into the air. We rolled paper into tubes and cones, stuck them together, added paper tail wings and decorated them with markers.  Once our rockets were complete it was time to test them in the wind tunnel to make sure they would fly straight. When we got the go ahead from mission control it was off to the launch pad.

We launched our rockets inside first off. Ava's rocket blew apart on the first two attempts and on the third it failed to go anywhere. Lola's rocket however took off nice and fast on its first go. Let me just point out here that I made Lola's rocket and Kim made Ava's. Now let me also point out that Kim painstakingly rolled the nose cone of Ava's rocket to get it just right and then taped it all down very, very carefully while I made Lola's rocket at the very last minute in a slapdash rush!

That said, I shouldn't brag too much as the roles were reversed later on when we took our rockets outside to launch them into the air. Ava's rocket took off straight up into the air while Lola's rocket blew apart! The nose cone did fly a short distance though :)

Projects in the Ingenuity Lab change on a monthly basis. This month the project will be Marble Machines followed by Spinning Tops in July.

Ava's rocket featured the whole family peeking out of windows
Lola's rocket looks a little like the Concord

Future NASA engineers?

Ava and her rocket

Lola shows off her rocket
The girls watch Lola's rocket in the wind tunnel

The Animal Discovery Room is home to snakes, frogs, lizards, bugs, spiders... All safely behind glass of course. On Saturdays children can meet various scaly and fluffy animals up close and personal. We didn't have quite enough time to partake in this as we spent so much time "perfecting" Ava's rocket. Next time maybe. The girls did love looking at the animals in their terrariums though. Lola was especially taken by an albino snake. I guess they were colour coordinated together!

Lola loved looking at the snakes in the Animal Discovery Room

Outside in the plaza there is more science based fun to be had. Kids can climb on the life size model of a whale, climb through a DNA sculpture, experience the earthquake simulator and erosion table of the "Forces that Shape the Bay" exhibit and, on nice days, splash in the fountain.

The Plaza outside the museum features a life size whale model 

Whale riders

One of the highlights of Lawrence Hall isn't actually within the museum itself. Perched high in the Berkeley Hills, Lawrence Hall boats a spectacular view over the San Francisco Bay. We were lucky to visit on a clear day and the view was amazing. We have a similar view from the roof of our apartment building, however as we live down the bottom of the hill our vantage point just isn't quite as good.

The view over Berkeley and San Francisco Bay from Lawrence Hall of Science.
Must remember to take the zoom lens next time.

Lawrence Hall is also home to a planetarium however the ages requirements restricted Ava from going in. We'll have to wait a year or two for that one. In the meantime there is a 3D Theater screening documentaries for a small extra charge.

This weekend we'll be heading back to Lawrence Hall of Science for a special event.
Stay tuned for more...

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