The Thinkery's new "Earth, Wind, Inspire" exhibit puts weather at your fingertips.
Want to know how tornadoes work? A series of fans from above and the sides simulate what happens when currents of warm air start to rotate. The exhibit asks you what will happen if you block the air flow. You do, and the exhibit's miniature tornado disappears.
How does Barton Springs work? A cylinder of sand and water explains how water flows through sand to well up to the surface like it does in Barton Springs. Kids can control the rate of the flow and watch as the surface of the sand gives way to water.
The exhibit opens Saturday and will be in the revolving exhibit space at the children's museum for about a year. It replaces "Ready, Set, Roll," which has had several different appearances throughout the museum's years, including when it was Austin Children's Museum.
"Earth, Wind, Inspire" was originally an exhibit from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, but the Thinkery has modified it to include photos of natural elements found in Austin and other Texas locations, such as the fog that forms under the Pennybacker Bridge or the dunes of Monahans Sandhills State Park between Midland and Fort Stockton.
Portions of the exhibit were on display at Rodeo Austin this spring, and kids had fun seeing how fast they could turn the water spinner to make a parabola. How high can they make cloud rings soar when they push down on a black ring where the clouds begin to form? Can they make the sand in the tectonic basin shift in a way that would cause an earthquake if this were the actual Earth?
The exhibit shows how the ocean's waves change as the wind increases, how fog forms, how water carves channels into mountains and how sand dunes are formed by wind. A turbulent orb representing Earth shows how storms form. The exhibit has a geyser that could blow at any moment if you make it and a tornado that is spinning and spinning until you stop it.
Unlike other areas of the Thinkery, this exhibit does have a lot more signage, including more things to read. It asks big questions: Can you predict when the next geyser eruption will be? What happens to the shape of the sand dune when you turn the wheel? What patterns do you see in the shifting sand? Parents can help by asking the questions and reading the material for those who don't yet read.
Kids will enjoy seeing the instant cause and effect of their actions, and maybe some knowledge of Earth's weather phenomena will take hold.
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