Davie Cooper was struggling to analyze the results of a Thanksgiving Point exhibit on the nature of light.
"Goes," said the 3-year-old, on vacation from Grand Rapids, Mich., and visiting his grandparents in Riverton.
"Goes," he repeated, pointing at a rubber ball small enough to roll under a wooden crossbar.
"Doesn't go," he then said, pointing at a larger rubber ball, too big to roll under the bar.
Davie couldn't read the sign, but he had just learned about the concept of filters. A few feet away, brother Charlie Cooper, 7, was grappling with the idea of convex and concave sheets of colored plastic, and bending light.
"It's very scientific, so you have to be very smart to understand it," the elder Cooper said. He paused, searching for words. "So, sorry about that," he said, abruptly ending the conversation.
The Coopers and other children from around the state, country and world were experimenting in NASA Blast, a child-friendly exhibit that opened this summer at Thanksgiving Point. Twenty or so exhibits are housed in one large room, next to Thanksgiving Point's Museum of Ancient Life.
The common theme in the room is light, its nature and behavior, especially as it relates to space. Dave Stroud designed the educational exhibit.
"I have a funny approach," he said. "I stopped worrying about if people learn something specific about refraction or angles. I actually don't care even if they draw the wrong conclusions. I want them to learn to make comparisons and try things and notice things. We live in a Google world, so if people get turned on by something, they can always find more answers. The real challenge is to make people excited."
A few feet past the Cooper boys, Alisha Coltharp, 35 and a Lehi resident, looked on as her son and others played in front of a screen with colored lights a few feet away, giving children who stood between the lights and the screen shadows edged with red, blue and green.
"It's so educational for the kids, and it's fun," Coltharp said. "There's so much to do. They're young, but I know they are learning vocabulary and gaining knowledge of space."
Elsewhere in the room, children place colored gels on a light box to make colorful striped patterns on a reflective wall. Kids touch a screen to start wall-projected videos dealing with telescopes, planets, black holes, why the sun shines, and photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Parents demonstrate how pictures looked different when viewed through colored lenses.
"My favorite is the shadow catcher," said Lisa Garcia, 13, of Provo. "You stand in front of a screen, and push a button for a light, then you let go, but your shadow stays for a little while. It's fun to do different poses, then see them."
One little girl, about waist high to the grown-ups in the room, made a rainbow with a prism, squealed, then recruited all available strangers to come and take a look. Elsewhere, a boy spoke excitedly in German as he explained to his father why different test-tube encased gases -- such as nitrogen, neon, nitrogen and argon -- all reflected light differently.
Another exhibit asks children to hit a golf ball into a curved barrier, which guides the ball into a hole. It's fun, like miniature golf, but it also demonstrates how satellite
dishes capture signals from space. And one popular exhibit asks the user to look at a black surface, then point a penlight at their eyes, which allows one to see the hidden blood vessels of the eye.
"One of the great things about the lab in the Discovery Room is we had the idea it might be fun for people to see us at work," Stroud said, who had the room's staff work area built with large windows. "What we didn't know is how much we would learn from watching them. I feel like an anthropologist, like Jane Goodall."
Stroud and his workers can watch people using the exhibits -- some rented and some staff-built. They can see which exhibits get the most use and seem to provide the most satisfaction, and which ones people abandon quickly due to boredom or frustration.
"I've been doing exhibits for 18 years, on and off, and I've learned more in the last few months than in the rest of my career. Now we can see if people get it, because their posture changes and their faces light up. We can go out and help them, and we can make improvements to the exhibits."
Two related exhibits are located elsewhere at Thanksgiving Point. In the Farm Country area, gardeners are growing basil plants from two sets of seeds: one that orbited the earth and one that did not. Potted basil plants in a small greenhouse are labeled as "control" or "space basil."
And a few miles to the northwest, in the Thanksgiving Point Gardens, a garden space walk offers perspective on the distance between planets. A large yellow arch represents the sun. With each foot of garden equalling a million miles of space, a tiny post-mounted globe of planet Mercury is 3.6 feet away. Venus is another three feet beyond Mercury, and a swirling blue-green Earth is 2.6 feet from Venus. Jupiter, the largest planet and the largest globe, is 32.1 feet farther, then comes Saturn, almost as large, 38.1 feet on down a grassy slope. Outer planets require an even longer hike. Each planet has an informational sign with interesting science facts.
The NASA Blast exhibit is free with admission to the Museum of Ancient Life, a much larger multi-room exhibit that includes areas depicting fossil excavation; real fossils and dinosaur bones and eggs, which visitors are allowed to touch; 50 interactive displays; 60 complete skeletal displays (believed to be the world's largest dinosaur exhibit); a working paleontology lab; and an extensive display of fossils found in Utah.
Also in the Museum of Ancient Life, children can enjoy an interactive water display, which allows them to move sand and objects and see how items are buried, moved or uncovered by erosion from flowing water.
"I believe artists and scientists are closely tied," Stroud said. "Both are people who notice things, but who explain things in different ways. I believe kids are like that naturally, so we just give them opportunities to notice, and open their minds to the possibilities."
NASA BLAST AT THANKSGIVING POINT
GETTING THERE: Drive south on Interstate 15 and take Exit 284. Turn west, then immediately south, onto Thanksgiving Way. Thanksgiving Point is at 3003 Thanksgiving Way, on your right. From Ogden, the drive takes about one hour, 10 minutes (depending on traffic). HOURS: ADMISSION: WHAT TO SEE AND DO: WHERE TO EAT: * On site -- Harvest Restaurant, Deli and Bakery, Ice Cream Shop * Off site -- Iceberg Drive In, just off Exit 284 ACCESSIBILITY: SPECIAL EVENTS: INFORMATION:
GETTING THERE: Drive south on Interstate 15 and take Exit 284. Turn west, then immediately south, onto Thanksgiving Way. Thanksgiving Point is at 3003 Thanksgiving Way, on your right. From Ogden, the drive takes about one hour, 10 minutes (depending on traffic).
WHAT TO SEE AND DO:
WHERE TO EAT:
* On site -- Harvest Restaurant, Deli and Bakery, Ice Cream Shop
* Off site -- Iceberg Drive In, just off Exit 284
INFORMATION:801-768-2300 or www.thanksgivingpoint.orgFamily nights, children's farm activities, gardening classes, cooking classes. Click on "calendar" on the website.Exhibits are wheelchair-accessible, except for parts of the solar system exhibit.NASA Blast Light Exhibit, Museum of Ancient Life dinosaur exhibits, films shown in museum theaters, Farm County, Thanksgiving Point Gardens For NASA Blast and the Museum of Ancient Life, $10, $8/ages 3-12 and seniors. There are additional costs for films and access to other areas of Thanksgiving Point. A one-day see-it-all flex pass (excludes films) is $20, $16/children and seniors.10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, through Dec. 31, 2011