Science Still Can Be Fun

Back in the day, science was a fun endeavor with folks like Don Herbert (aka Mr. Wizard) around

One of science’s greatest strengths is also, ironically enough, one of its weaknesses.

Science essentially is humanity’s way to seek out the how and why of the world at large. Of course, when humans don’t know much about a certain process, theories (essentially a “best guess”) are given as to why it happens. Typically, further research is conducted and more information is gathered, which either strengthens, refines, validates or debunks those theories.

But life is complicated, and there are a plethora of things which still sport a ton of uncertainty on the how and the why. That uncertainty leaves the door open to a number of theories, some sporting more credibility than others.

The ongoing pandemic has been a prime example of this, and has probably led to a lot of science fatigue for many. Theories and policies related to how COVID spreads, its virulence, and appropriate prevention measures have been modified based more and better information, or as the virus itself has mutated (at this point, there’s a contingent of Greek-letter-based virus variants spread throughout the world.)

However, a loud minority has taken these changes as distrust, or even lies. Like the snake oil salesmen of yore, people have been touting cures from the iffy (hydroxychloroquine, silver-based solutions and Ivermectin) to the natural (such as Vitamin C, D and Zinc, in various combinations) to the plain bizarre (the rather scary cure of bleach.) Some have even ventured off into conspiracy land, claiming that experts are in concert with Big Pharma and what not to ruin the fabric of America over something no worse than a cold (never mind the fact that a lengthy stay in the hospital, a fate of quite a number of the world’s residents, will line the pockets of Big Pharma similarly nicely as well.)

Doubts about science theory have been prevalent throughout history. Perhaps one of the more famous ones resided in the generally accepted notion that the Earth was the center of the universe. The Heliocentric Theory (where the Earth rotated around the Sun), brought forward by such scientists as Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, brought them into direct conflict with the Catholic Church, who were firmly in the then prevailing theory camp. It wasn’t until decades later when further work by scientists like Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton were able to convince both the Church and many others that the Sun was the center of our universe.

But befitting science’s nature, even generally accepted/proven theories like Heliocentrism have their detractors. In this case, this lies mainly in those who still believe in the Flat Earth theory. This theory essentially argues that all celestial bodies are rotating “above” the flat disc that is the earth, the Arctic Ocean is the center of this disc and that Antarctica acts as a wall to prevent people from falling off said disc.

Despite some seemingly obvious problems with the idea (for example, how do you get Antarctica and the Arctic region to stay dark for several months at a time during the year with everything floating “above” the disc), a stubborn minority still holds this view. Some have even cited things like religion (via the Bible) to support their belief; interestingly, there are folks in the religious sector (such as the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) who discount this line of thinking altogether.

Perhaps that’s one thing science cannot account for – the lens of the human brain. That lens can be as imperfect as anything, bending truth, half-truths, and plain old wrong information to cater to an individual’s personal preferences, biases and faults.

With all that said, science can indeed be fun, and a place like Columbus’s Center of Science of Industry (popularly known to locals by its acronym COSI) made me feel at home.

Admittedly, I would’ve love to have visited a place COSI during my elementary and high school years. But back then, I was still firmly ensconced on the West Coast, and nerdy attractions like UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, or the San Francisco-located Exploratorium (then at the Palace of Fine Arts) and the California Academy of Sciences (both at it’s pre- and post-Loma Prieta Earthquake locations) were the prime destinations.

Established in 1964, COSI has been a hub for all things science related in Central Ohio for nearly 70 years. Originally set up in Memorial Hall downtown, the center was relocated to the former Central High School location across the Scioto River in 1999. Looking at the facility from downtown proper, one would not suspect the Classic Revival architecture of the 1924-built school sported a futuristic facade on the opposite side where you enter the building.

The view of COSI from Downtown Columbus (above) and the Franklinton-side entrance (below)

What was a throwback for me of sorts (an early destination for me and my equally nerdy wife while we were still dating was the previously mentioned California Academy of Sciences) proved to be a true throwback for our guest this day. A longtime friend of my wife back from college days was in town, who had the privilege to work for COSI for several years from the 1990s into the 2000s. With several of her colleagues still working for COSI even now, their combined perspective on what had been and what had changed gave us a bit of a behind the scenes aspect that we truly appreciated.

One thing that has changed is the staffing – like attractions around the world, the pandemic has had a profound impact, and in COSI’s case, they’re trying to do as much as before with many less people. It is a notable challenge, but one the folks are handling as best they can.

Thankfully, COSI’s strength is in its interactivity. Kids (and even us adults) are naturally drawn to exhibits and contraptions that eject, spin, illuminate and otherwise do all sorts of cool things. Some are pretty spectacular (sphere shooters and magnets are always popular) while some others take some patience (COSI’s rendition of a Foucault Pendulum, which if you wait around long enough will knock off a peg perched along the surrounding circular rim.)

Still, COSI staff members are still used for person-to-group demonstrations, such as the Electrostatic Generator live demonstration (which sends volunteers’ hair to new lengths and, for the brave ones, a shocking conclusion) as well as the highly popular Rat Basketball (both these demonstrations brought back fond memories for our friend, who was Involved with hosting both these shows back in the day.)

Flip that switch, and what do you get? Electricity, Electricity!

Exhibits in this rather expansive building ran the gamut. The ¡Cuba! (covering the culture and wildlife of Cuba) and the Life Exhibits (all manner of anatomically-oriented displays) seemed more geared toward older visitors, while the WOSU (with a distinct leaning towards the station’s kid-oriented programming) and the Little Kidspace were definitely aiming for the youngest visitors. However, most everything there could be enjoyed equally by people of all ages, whether it be The Planetarium show, the Gadgets section (we found ourselves here for quite a bit of time), the eternally popular Dinosaur Gallery.

We got a good chuckle from the exhibits of yore, including the Progress section (our friend said it had changed its flavor over the years, from an exhibit with live volunteers that pitted one era against another or provided more of a straight-up informative picture of that era) as well as the Coal Mine Elevator (something of an old school version of the virtual reality rides you see at modern amusement parks.)

Here, we realized what the pandemic had done to COSI. Several exhibits that our friend was involved with in the past (Hocus Pocus with a Science Focus, Chemistry LIVE!, and the High-Wire Unicycle) are either not running or listed as seasonal. Our friend said she’d be willing to do the unicycle if they’d let her (she was among the first to run the exhibit back in the day), but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Closed for now, but at the ready for future daredevils

Still, there’s plenty enough in COSI to entertain you and the kids, and we didn’t even mention things like the outdoor-located Big Science Park (where anyone can do their best Superman routine and lift up a car) or the Space section of the building. We three didn’t quite get to everything – I guess aging muscles and simple physics (you need energy force to get our masses to a certain acceleration, which leads to achy feet and joints) contribute to that, but that didn’t detract from the pleasure of base model COSI.

Science can still be fun…indeed.

Center of Science and Industry (COSI)/333 W. Broad St (Downtown), Columbus, OH 43215

Tel: (614) 228-2674/Instagram: @cosiscience/Website: cosi.org

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