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Playing science: Nets, slides, water-screw show space, time concepts

A damp, chilly Thursday didn't stop students - bused in from two Brooklyn elementary schools - from enjoying themselves at the annual spring opening of the Science Playground at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The playground, which first opened in 1997, features many hands-on exhibits which in one form or another demonstrate basic physical and scientific principles. In all, the playground sports over two-dozen different attractions. It remains open through Nov. 30.

The bitter weather and even an intermittent drizzle couldn't dampen the children's enthusiasm.

Second-grader Melissa King from PS 262 said she enjoyed the Climbing Space Net, a latticework of strong, flexible tethers, even though, she said, "it was kind of scary to climb." (A 6-inch-thick rubber mat lies protectively below). She also liked the twin sliding ponds.

Jonathan Jones, a PS 208 second-grader, said between descents that he also was enjoying the slides, and that with all his running around, he hardly even felt the low-40s temperature.

Even the slides demonstrated the physics of time and space; one of the slides is curved, the other straight. Both start from the same height. A timer shows children which slide gets them to the bottom faster.

Similarly, another piece of standard playground equipment, a standing spinner, demonstrates the laws of angular momentum and potential - stored - energy. Children stand on the rotating disc and hold a handle in the center. By leaning in, they can spin faster than when leaning out.

A large, moving sculpture, shaped somewhat like a flattened-out DNA double helix, demonstrates wave formation when a rope is pulled.

Mechanical water devices abound, most notably Archimedes' water screw, which when turned can lift water from a trough.

Softball-sized rubber balls run through a long, Rube Goldberg-like contraption, showing aspects of movement and time.

A pair of "Whisper Dishes" demonstrates the principle of sympathetic vibration - how a structure can pick up the vibrations given off by a similar structure, even when in this case, they are about 80 feet apart.

A giant seesaw evocative of a ship deck encourages a better understanding of balance. More than a dozen kids must stand on it to make it move.

A hanging balance illustrates the principles of leverage. Children pull on ropes attached at various points to a large lever arm which is balanced at the other end with a 200-pound weight. The kids learn first-hand that the longer the lever arm, the easier it is to lift the weight.

On sunny days, a solar-powered windmill seat moves a seat up and down. Children can also sit on the seat, moving the windmill.

In another area, water in a Plexiglas cylinder lets children create a proto-tornado with a hand-crank.

The playground remains open during regular hall hours through Nov. 30. Admission is $2 per person (in addition to the hall admission), and is open to kids 6 years or older accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 699-0005 or visit the website: www.nyhallsci.org.

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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