These white-domed buildings of the Children’s Museum in Muscat are quite eye catching as you drive along the highway (Sultan Qaboos Street) in Muscat. It is mainly a science museum for kids. It was officially opened on the 20th National Day of Oman on November 17, 1990 and has been providing edutainment to about 50,000 kids of all ages per year. It’s open from Saturday to Wednesday, 8:30am-1:30pm, and on Thursday between 9am and 1pm. I have wanted to visit this museum for quite a while but thought it would be silly to enter without a kid, so when my friend, Jonathan, and his son, Joshua, asked where we should go one afternoon, this was the place that came to mind! Pretty cool to finally see how the domed ceiling looks! There are many hands-on types of learning tasks such as this one which introduces the concept of gears to kids. If they set up a series of gears that lock together properly, it gets the toy bird at the top to move. This exercise was to learn about “what’s in a spin“. After spinning around with your arms extended, you are instructed to pull your arms in against your body which results in speeding up due to the property of angular momentum. (When you pull in your arms, you decrease your radius, and your speed increases to keep your angular momentum unchanged.) There is a mirror reflecting that star pattern. The task here requires looking only in the mirror and using the pointer to trace between the stars. If you touch the sides, a tone beeps to signal your failure. This visual effect is called the “after image“. Stare at the red bird for a minute. Close your eyes briefly and then stare at the dot inside the cage. You should see a green bird there! This is a mind trick in Arabic. The same concept is found here in English. Looking through these glasses is like seeing in 3-D. A greatly exaggerated illusion of depth helps you see things that would otherwise be too subtle. How it works is that a survey plane has flown over the landscape, taking photographs at precisely timed intervals. This ensures that each photo overlaps the previous photo by at least 70%. These whisper dishes are pretty cool. They are spaced very far apart from one another and if someone whispers in one, the other person can hear very easily. The special propertor of these reflectors is that all sounds waves originating at the focal point are reflected so they travel in parallel paths. These sounds waves reach the other dish too faint to be heard by the unaided ear. However, because of the parabolic shape of the second reflector, all the sound converges at its focus, forming a stronger sound that can be heard. Which soldier is the tallest? Measure to find out if you’re right. The three figures appear to vary in height because of their location in the system of converging lines. (If you like optical illusions, here is a website with quite a few.) Can you see grey spots where the white stripes cross? (More optical illusions here) Are these cubes black on top or on the bottom? The orange and yellow zones give you two clues. When your eyes go from one to the other, the cubes appear to reverse. Old Woman/Young Woman Can you see two ladies? An old one and a young one? Vase or Faces? How many bones are in your body? About 270 at birth. By adulthood, some have fused together to total 206. More than half of your bones are in your hands, wrists, feet and ankles. Your skull is made up of 22 bones – 14 of them form your face. This area of the museum allows you to look at various things such as hair, a coin, insects wings and other items magnified through a microscope. The science behind snot. Yummy! When you open this panel, a jet of air comes through the hole simulating a sneeze. This model allows children to know different organs of the body as they attempt to put the pieces back in the right places. Here is a quick video of a father and son surgical team trying to put this dude back together again. This sculpture is known as “Homunculus“. It is supposed to represent your brain’s view of your body. Each part is in proportion to the volume of the brain which controls its sensory and motor functions. Why are the tongue, fingers and face so huge? Because a relatively large part of your brain is devoted to their function. These parts have huge numbers of sense receptors, nerves and muscles. They are very sensitive and can make delicate and controlled movements. One of the helpful guides of the museum demonstrating to us how the “reaction time” machines work. What’s the difference between the two sets of wheels? The words on both sets of wheels are largely the same – but why does spinning one set make sense and the other nonsense? If you look carefully at the upper set of wheels, you’ll see that words in the wheels are arranged according to the specific rules of Arabic sentence structure. Although the lower set of wheels contains many of the same words as the upper set, the “sentences” it produces rarely makes sense. Why? There is no grammatical order to the word wheels. This activity, “Land Like a Cat“, is great fun for the kids. You stand on a platform that weighs you, and then you try to land on the footprints painted on the floor. The machine then tells you how “lightly” (or not so lightly) you have landed. This was a popular activity for the boys! I won’t embarrass myself by telling you the speed of my so-called karate chops but there was one small Omani boy who was registering punches up to 100 km/hour! When it comes to blows, karate beats boxing hands down. Why is the pressure of a karate blow so much greater? It’s because the impact is so concentrated in so small an area. When you do a karate “chop”, you lock your shoulder, elbow and wrist to transfer all of your power and momentum over a 10-20 cm area along the edge of your hand. As a result, you can easily shatter bone, tissue, even kill with this “knife hand” blow. Because a karate blow reaches maximum velocity 75% of the way through the motion, you aim your blow at a point several centimetres beyond your target for maximum impact. This was an interesting experiment! In this bicycle, the mechanical energy of your legs is converted to electrical energy by the generator mounted below. A generator is a machine that produces electricity by turning a coil of wire inside a magnetic field. All generators work on this principle, whether the coil is turned by a bicycle wheel, Niagara Falls or the steam produced by a nuclear reactor. Inside this glass sphere is a blend of rare gases such as neon, argon and krypton. The small dome in the centre of the sphere is a tiny radio transmitter, broadcasting high-frequency energy. This energy tears atoms in the gas apart, transforming the gas into a plasma; not a solid, liquid or gas, but a fourth state of matter. (More on plasma here if you’re interested.) Here is a quick video of one of the guides demonstrating the Plasma Ball. Red, blue and green are the three primary colours of light. Mixed together equally, they produce white light. All other colours of light also derive from these three primary colours. Visitors are asked to stand close to the wall with their back to the light and then to take note of what colours they see. What makes you so thirsty? Here’s how much water you lose everyday – when you go to the bathroom, when you sweat, even when you exhale: 33% from perspiration and breathing, 5% from feces and 62% from urine. In fact, you replace your body weight in water every four weeks or so. This activity was to check how much water is inside you. You and every other living thing on Earth soak up and release water in a never-ending cycle. Water digests your food, transports your wastes, and regulates your body temperature. You can live weeks without food, but only a few days without water. This is the smaller of the two domes in which there are desks and study rooms available for visiting schools on educational field trips. The offices are also located here. The Children’s Museum is next door to the popular Mumtaz Mahal Indian Restaurant and Left Bank which are just behind the museum on the neighboring hill.
One thing that people might not be aware of is that this incredible Children’s Museum is fully provided through the Ontario Science Museum. I only came to know this when one of the guides asked me where I’m from. When I mentioned that I was from Canada, he got very excited and explained that all of this was provided by the Ontario Science Centre. Go, Canada! :-)