Think of it as every science experiment you ever did or wanted to do in high school, only bigger and all in one building.
The Great Lakes Science Center is one of those day trips that fit the "stay-cation" mold: A round trip will take less than a single tank of gas; it's nestled between Cleveland Browns Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a well-maintained Cleveland waterfront district; and the three floors of hands-on exhibits are guaranteed to have experiments to captivate kids of all ages, even mine.
Yeah, I know, museums are supposed to be boring and no place for kids.
Photo special to the Tribune Chronicle / Melissa Cole
Sebastian Cole, 15 months, reaches for a spray of water as Alex Hartman controls the knob on the outdoor deck at the Great Lakes Science Center. In the background is the William G. Mather. Sebastian is the grandson of Tribune Chronicle Assistant Metro Editor Burton Cole.
But the Great Lakes Science Center isn't like going off to visit Old Aunt Mable, who's constantly harping, "Don't touch that! Why are you kids making so much noise!" It's more like Mr. Wizard set out all his neat toys at once, said, "Let 'er rip," and stepped out of the room. But he's still right there in case you want to know how to lift the wrecked car even higher, piston the bowling ball at the tempered glass even harder or how to glop even more gooey slime that suddenly transforms to a solid and then back again.
To test the family friendliness, during my recent vacation this month, three generations of us squeezed into a Jeep and went: There was my 15-month old grandson, Sebastian; his two big people, my daughter Melissa and her other "baby," Alex, both in their mid-20s; and my wife and I, certified grandparents.
Sometimes we congregated around the same toys, uh, demonstrations - such as playing tunes on PVC pipes, light-activated pianos and drum kits in a maze of demonstrations of vibrations and sound.
If you go
WHAT: Great Lakes Science Center
WHERE: North Coast Harbor, 601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland
SIZE: Several hundred hands-on exhibits and experiments in 165,000 square feet, plus the steamship William G. Mather docked outside at the harbor
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas); the Mather, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily June to August, and weekends May, September and October
ADMISSION: Either general, OMNIMAX or marked special exhibits: Each $9.95 for adults, $8.95 seniors and $7.95 youths 2 to 18; the Mather: $6.95, $5.95 and $4.95; pick any two items" $14.95, $13.95, $12.95; pick three: $17.95, $16.95, $15.95; pick four: $21.95, $19.95, $18.95
PARKING: Attached 500-car indoor garage; Burke Lakefront Airport
SCIENCE CAMPS: Day and overnight camps for children. Call 216-621-2400
INFORMATION: www.greatscience.com; 216-694-2000
Other times, we split up, such as when Sebastian held court in the Polymer Funhouse, my wife Terry intensely studied the Renewable Energy Exhibits attached to a 150-foot wind turbine, I worked on landing the lunar module on the moon in a flight simulator at the new NASA Glenn Visitor Center (I scored high marks on lining up the approach, but my descent rate probably smashed a new crater into the surface.)
Even normal things become exhibits. The escalators have glass sides so you can see the underside of the conveyor belt and FINALLY see where all those steps go when they disappear from sight.
The Great Lakes Science Center houses hundreds of hands-on exhibits, experiments and scientific wonders in a three-story, 165,000-square-foot building that includes an OMNIMAX Theater, the Gund Wintergarden and outdoor exhibits and dining decks. Plus, there's a walkway to the dock and another exhibit, the William G. Mather, a 1925-built steamship that used to carry cargoes of ore across the Great Lakes and that now is open for bow to stern exploration.
One of the newest exhibits is called "Strange Matter," in which visitors are invited to "touch it, twist it, smash it. Explore the hidden secrets of everyday stuff."
Just past the lobby with a display and video by Arcelor Mittal that explains how raw materials are turned into steel is "Strange Matter" in the Reinberger Hall Special Exhibitions Gallery.
The very first demonstration you see is battering a bowling ball against tempered glass. The object - see how many times the ball on a pendulum can be sent flying into the reinforced glass before it breaks. When I left, the counter was up to 553,614 attempts. But shattered glass lay at the bottom of the exhibit to let you know that eventually, it will happen. Just keep smashing.
Of course, several accompanying exhibits demonstrate how glass is tempered, the theory for making it so tough, and slow-motion videos of regular and tempered glass being smash.
Among the other strange, everyday matters one encounters in the hall are magnetorheological fluid that turns solid next to magnets, amorphous metals and ways to jumble their structures, the "memory" metal nitinol used in robotic arms, a crystal garden, foam, touch tables, structures and defects, a microworld, blacklight and paint, and slime, among other "playthings."
"Strange Matter" will be on display through Jan. 3.
Personally, the exhibit that fascinated me was another new one, the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, named for John Glenn, a native of Champion who took his first airplane ride at age 6 in Warren.
Right up front was the actual Apollo command module used in the Skylab 3 mission from July 28 to Sept. 25,1973, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Seeing the command module right there, with all the burn marks and gouges from re-entry in earth's atmosphere, I immediately was struck by one thought: "They crammed three guys in there?"
Peering inside, I saw that yes, they did - and they better be on speaking terms because there was no place to hide among cot-like seats and banks upon banks of switches, lights and dials.
The exhibit was packed with models, videos, flight simulators, demonstrations and experiments ranging from the Apollo missions from when I was a moon-struck kid to concepts for future travel. There even was a table full of Keva planks so "kids" could build models of what they believed lunar base stations would look like. Some of those "kids" on the building blocks were older than I am - because the Great Lakes Science Center encourages "kids" to play to learn.
How entertaining was it? Before we left, the grandma of the group was dragging her feet, and then figured we'd run through the place in a couple of hours and probably be bored silly. When closing time came and we still were there, I think she wanted us to leave her and come back next week - she wasn't done yet.
On the other end of the age spectrum, grandson Sebastian didn't care much for the science of things. He just wanted to play with "lightning" in a tube, a Bernoulli Blower air spray that can keep beach balls aloft, a bridge of "fire," water sprays, polymer balls and gears, and the resonation of lights and vibrations.
Somewhere in there, he was being exposed to scientific principles. But he didn't mind. He was on vacation. All of us were. Don't let us know we actually learned something until school is back in session this fall.