Who remembers the thrilling, sometimes stomach-churning, carnival ride, the Gravitron? You might not have realized it at the time, but the magic holding you against the wall actually was centrifugal force. And this summer, kids can experience that for themselves at Kohl Children's Museum's new exhibit, Spin: The Science of Rotation.
The exhibit, developed by the Catawba Science Center in North Carolina, uses 15 different interactive areas to teach kids about the science behind spin-and it's much more than playing with a few plastic tops.
Fittingly, the exhibit's centerpiece is the Human Centrifuge, a scaled-down version of the amusement park staple. Kids sit in a "tub" and turn a central wheel to explore how inertia works and how their effort affects the movement.
"Three-year-olds aren't going to say, `I understand centrifugal force,'" says Kohl President and CEO Sheridan Turner. "The whole idea is getting kids excited. 'There will be different levels of understanding and comprehension.'"
Turner says kids also will get to explore spinning in other forms, from racing objects down a track to shooting laser beams at far-away objects to experimenting with "air thrusters," which NASA uses. (We told you it was more than tops!)
Although the Human Centrifuge is an early pick for the kid-favorite exhibit area, Turner also thinks the Coriolis Fountain, which combines spinning with tubes that shoot water, will be popular.
"There are a lot of really interesting concepts that are brought down to levels that are easy to engage in," Turner says. "It really starts to bring home in a very easily comprehensible way some things we deal with in day-to-day life."
Although spinning's natural connection may have to do with physics, Turner says it goes beyond that, connecting spinning to meteorology, astronomy, engineering, life science and even art.
She hopes kids' imaginations will be sparked and they will want to know more. The goal is that they'll start making connections, not only to other parts of the Children's Museum, but also to things in their own homes.
And maybe even the amusement park.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.