Cape Town - Green fire, bubbling beakers and cracks of exploding sound are keeping kids busy this winter at the Cape Town Science Centre.
“Can I paint the air?” Detlef Basel asks. “No!” shouts a room full of primary school pupils. Basel then shoots blue smoke rings from a makeshift cannon and cheers fill the room.
The experiment is part of a science show, one of the centre’s initiatives for the holidays. Activities range from camera obscura tours and photography classes to Newton plays marbles (physics in disguise) and techno sculptures, where kids take apart old computers and get creative.
“It’s about making kids think there are more important things than playing on their cellphones,” Basel said, adding it was not just about getting kids off the street, but also getting them interested in something (namely, science). “We want to show them it’s not this mystical thing that only nerds do.”
Basel said the centre tried to cover a wide variety of activities to pique the interests of everyone.
Seth Pluke, six, said even though he didn’t like the sounds it made, his favourite part was when Basel bust a can open.
“I like when things explode,” he said.
His cousin, Gemma Kearns, five, preferred the exploding foam that erupted from dish soap. Basel told her she could do it at home by putting Mentos in Coca Cola. “The only way they’re going to learn is by seeing it in action,” said Deidre Pluke, who brought the two cousins. “The possibilities are endless.”
Basel, who usually runs a mobile science centre that visits schools in the area, said it was important for children to be a part of experimentation because they usually didn’t get a chance to use equipment.
Organised activities aside, the centre is a destination of its own. A construction site playground, complete with foam building blocks and wheelbarrows, is surrounded by interactive exhibits on everything from knot tying to mirrors to viscosity. There’s a spacecraft and a BMW. A bottle rockets shoots across the top of the room after children fill it with compressed air and set it off.
Noelle Pottier said she often brought her grandson, Tau, and his friends to the centre. “It’s a great place for Cape Town winters.” Given the choice, she said that Tau, nine, would choose the science centre over Ratanga Junction. “That speaks volumes. They have fun learning and they don’t even realise they’re learning. They never get bored.”
She said the centre was always changing so there was always something new.
“It opens up their minds,” she said.
Laura Britz, Pottier’s niece from Durban, was visiting the centre for the first time with her 3-year-old son, Connor.
“It’s very unusual and completely different,” she said. “It teaches kids about how things are made and where they come from. It’s educating them with respect to what’s going on in the world.”
“We’re showing them that they’re never too young to get involved.”
Before his last experiment, he asks another question: “Am I doing magic?”
“No!” come the shouts.
“I’m doing science,” he smiles.