Inside HMNS Sugar Land: Why the Body Carnival exhibit is a sensory party you must attend

Just like all of our exhibits, there’s plenty to see. But a better question might be, “What is there to DO in Body Carnival?

This special exhibit is packed with lots of fun, interactive stations that give each visitor just a little bit of a challenge!

When you walk through the exhibit’s entrance, your vision, perception and balance come into play as soon as you see the “Wacky Wall.”  It’s easy to find since the entire wall is covered with narrow black and white vertical stripes. With a gentle tug, the wall swings side-to-side, and suddenly, you have to think about staying in balance! 

Lift one foot off the floor and see what happens, then switch and raise the other foot. Is it easy to go from one to the other? Is it hard? I’ve been in the exhibit many times and I hate to say it, but adults really do start to lose their balance as they get older. 

A few days ago I noticed a family in front of the “Wacky Wall.”  The kids were nearly hopping from foot to foot, laughing at how cool the wall looked. Behind them, the father was wobbling just standing in front of the wall while the mother couldn’t balance on her left foot. All of them were laughing like crazy! 

Obviously, each person has a different reaction based on their sense of balance and ability to process visual puzzles. Accept the challenge and see how you do.

Photo credit: ClassicMommy.com

Speaking of balance, there are several tests in this exhibit to check yours. 

A fun one for both kids and adults is “Walk the Plank.” First, you walk across a slightly raised 3-inch-wide bar, then a 1.5-inch-bar and finally a tight rope. Sound easy? If you can walk all three short planks slowly and stay on each one all the way to the end, you’ve got great balance! 

I didn’t have any trouble with this one, but the tight rope can be tricky, depending on your shoes. You can make things a little more interesting by adding a small wrist weight, from the nearby bin, to just one arm. Is it still as easy with one side of your body a bit heavier than the other? You’ll probably have to lean over farther to the opposite side or find another way to even the weight distribution. 

Photo credit: ClassicMommy.com

The “Dizzy Tunnel” and “Goofy Goggles” are two more stations that will keep you on your toes, so to speak, with more balance and visual acuity tests. Come give them all a try and see how well you do!

You can also experience how levers work in our bodies. Wait a minute: The human body has levers?  Aren’t those just for wheelbarrows and pulleys? 

At Body Carnival, you can check out how your elbows and shoulders serve as levers, making it easier to reach, pull and pick up items every day. Wheelbarrows and pulleys only magnify what the levers in your body already do! 

To see this in action, visit the “Hang Time” station and see how long you can hang with your hands about 12 inches apart. Can you make it 10 seconds or longer?  A chart on the station gives you an idea of how good your arm strength is in comparison to others your age. The real lesson comes when you switch your hands to the position 24 inches apart.  That moves the levers — your shoulders — farther apart, making them less efficient and your hang time shorter. 

I used to be the champ on the monkey bars in my much younger days — until I grew up and put on about 100 pounds. I figured I’d do miserably on this one, but I actually made it longer than average for my age group and it even made my creaky neck feel better (although I think that had more to do with me needing a good stretch than the lever effect). 

There are several additional stations in the exhibit about flexibility, arm span, joints and height. You can also explore the concept further with the levers and pulleys found nearby in the Discovery Works Hall.

On Thursdays, healthcare providers from Next Level Urgent Care stay in the exhibit to help explain the concepts in the exhibit to patrons and kids.

These are just a few examples of the fun things to both see and do in Body Carnival! Come explore all 14 stations and check out your physical abilities.  

I’m also looking forward to our Teddy Bear Clinic on August 14. Little ones are encouraged to bring in their favorite stuffed animal, don a lab coat and “assist” while their lovey gets a check-up — just in time for back to school. Check the website for details and come see the exhibit soon!

Educator How-To: Mimicking weather with convection currents

There has been a lot of strange weather this spring. Temperatures in North Dakota reached -60°F — which is about the same temperature at the surface of Mars, and about 50°F colder than the North Pole on the same day. 

Meanwhile, in Australia, temperatures reached over 120°F! California is at its driest point since they started keeping records in 1849. And just recently, a bout of deadly tornadoes tore through the Midwest.

The rapid changes happening on the surface of the Earth, like hurricanes and tornadoes, and the slower changes happening under the Earth’s surface, like earthquakes and volcanoes, are as awe-inspiring as they can be terrifying.  Understanding the dynamic Earth helps us prepare for the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

On that note, here’s a simple but really cool experiment you can do to get you started on the path to meteorology mastery. With a few simple items, you, too, can create a convection current.

Activity: Convection Currents

Materials:
-Large, clear container with a depth of at least two inches (a Pyrex loaf pan would work)
-Red and blue food coloring
-Ice cube tray and access to a freezer
-Water
-Electric kettle, stove or microwave to boil water
-Styrofoam cup to hold very hot water

Procedure:

  1. Dye water blue using food coloring (make it pretty dark). Then freeze in an ice cube tray. When you have your ice cubes made, move on to the remaining steps.
  2. Begin to heat water in an electric kettle. You’ll use it later on.
  3. Fill a clear container with tap water, and then set it on the table to settle. The water should be as still as possible, so try not to jostle the table.
  4. Carefully place a blue ice cube at one edge of the clear container. The blue ice makes it easier to see what happens to the cold water melting off of the cube. You should notice where the cold blue water goes in the clear container.  View the container from the side — your eyes should be about the same height as the water.
  5. Repeat this process again to make sure it isn’t a fluke! (It’s not…)
  6. The cold water tends to sink down. (It is denser — heavier for its size — than the room temperature water). So what do you expect warm water to do if we added some to the bowl? Let’s find out.
  7. Add several drops of red food coloring to the bottom of the plastic or Styrofoam cup. Pour approximately half a cup of heated water into the cup. Lower the cup close to the surface of the water near one edge of your demo tank, and pour a small amount of the hot red water into the tank. Try to pour it so it runs down the side of the container and try to disturb the water as little as possible.
  8. Does the red water do what you expected?

What’s Going On Here?

So how does this relate to the weather? Well, it’s all about convection!

Convection is the action of warm air rising and cold air sinking. You are using water to model some things that also happen in the atmosphere because sometimes air moves in similar ways to water. You probably guessed that the blue water represents a cold air mass and the red water represents the warm, unstable air mass.

A thunderstorm is caused by unstable air and convection plays an important part. A body of warm air is forced to rise by an approaching cold front. Other things can cause warm air to rise, like a mountain slope. In this experiment, the cold water sinks while the warmer red water rises, or stays higher than the blue.

Can’t get enough of the science of weather and natural disasters?  We’ve got four things to quench your thirst for all things weather!

1. In a new special exhibit open this summer, Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters, you will come face-to-face with the inside of a tornado, create your own volcano and earthquake, and witness the aftermath of several historical disasters. You’ll see why these events happen and how we study to better predict them.

2. On the lower level of the Museum, you can step in front of the camera and join KHOU Channel 11 Chief Meteorologist Chita Johnson for a severe weather update — with you as the weather reporter! It’s lights, camera, action! as you become the star of the show on a replica of the Channel 11 weather set!

3. Are you ready for nature’s fury? Force 5 in the Planetarium is your chance to survive three Category 5 storms — a hurricane, a tornado and a solar eruption — without any rain, wind or dangerous radiation. Discover the causes of weather catastrophes and venture into the middle of the action when nature goes Force 5!

4. For the smaller scientist in your family, check out Calamity Camp for 6 and 7 year olds and Nature Unleashed for 8 and 9 year olds. In Calamity Camp, you will tame a twister, battle a blizzard, hunt a hurricane and much more as you explore and experiment to discover nature’s awe-inspiring fury. Nature Unleashed is an exciting interactive journey to the center of the Earth, where we’ll explore earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and more!

No matter how you explore weather at HMNS this summer, you’ll be blown away!

Educator How-To: Identifying moon phases

The moon’s appearance in the sky follows a 29.5-day cycle. During the cycle, it first appears as a crescent. The lighted portion that you can in the night sky see becomes larger as days pass, growing until you see a full moon. As more days pass, the lighted portion gets smaller again, until no moon is seen. The cycle then repeats. This 29.5-day cycle corresponds to the time during which the moon makes one complete orbit around Earth.

When you see a full moon, Earth is between the moon and the sun, and all of the lighted half of the moon faces Earth. When there is a “New Moon.” the moon is between Earth and the sun, and all of the lighted half of the moon faces away from Earth. When there is a New Moon, you can’t see any of the moon at all.

Materials:
Paper plates
Copies of moon phases (downloadable here!)
Scissors
Glue
Stapler
Jumbo craft sticks

Educator How-To:

Procedure:
Fold a paper plate in half and carefully cut out the middle of the plate with scissors.
Neatly cut out the moon phases and glue them to the rim of the plate starting with #1 in the 12 o’clock spot and working clockwise.
Staple a jumbo craft stick to the bottom of the plate.
Staple or glue the moon phase key to the handle of the plate.
At night, locate the moon. Holding the moon viewer with the stick pointing toward the ground, frame the moon within the center of the plate.  Observe.  Which picture does the moon most closely resemble? Find that number on the moon phase key and you will know the name for the phase of the Moon you are viewing!

Educator How-To:

March 4th and conquer: Camp, that is! Family level member registration for Xplorations Summer Camps opens Monday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: We’re gearing up for our Xplorations Summer Camps, and online registration for Family level museum members starts Monday, March 4 at 12:01 a.m.

That’s right. It’s like Black Friday, except replace the rock-bottom deals on televisions with crazy-awesome intensive science camps. And it’s on a Monday. So, let’s say, Fuschia Monday — perhaps even with confetti.

Thank you, Summer Campers!For those of you who might be unfamiliar, our week-long educational camps run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with before and after-camp care also available for an additional fee) and cover science topics ranging from physics to robotics to understanding the universe in interactive classes tailored for kids ages 6 through 12.

Camps do sell out, so we recommend checking out our full catalog in advance here, and having your picks ready once the witching hour rolls around.

Camps are available at both the HMNS Main and HMNS Sugar Land locations throughout the summer; for a full schedule at both locations, click here.