The car built of cardboard, plastic discs and rubberbands sat on the concrete floor of the Homewood Science Center (HSC) garage, and a youngster watched, waiting for it to zip across the floor.
It didn’t move.
A failure? Not quite. Lauren Matthews, who helped build the car, explained to the youngster, “This is how engineering works. When something doesn’t work, we figure out how to fix it.”
It was only a brief glitch during a day of successful tinkering and good results, but it illustrated that the focus of tinkering is inquiry and experimentation: the joy of the process as much as the end result.
At the other end of the garage, parents and kids were having similar results with balloon racers that involved inflated balloons being propelled by escaping air and traveling along a string suspended across the science center garage.
Some worked, some didn’t, but when they didn’t, kids and parents got to work figuring out why and making adjustments.
The activities were part of the first PopUp Science event hosted at the center and were held in conjunction with Homewood Rail Fest on Saturday, May 21.
Last year, science center volunteers provided tinkering opportunities at village festivals, but now that the former Ryan Funeral Home at 18022 Dixie Highway is starting to take shape as the future science center, the activities have a home.
HSC Executive Director Edie Dobrez said she was very pleased with the turnout and the response from community members and visitors. She said the number of visitors was triple what she expected.
She said feedback was overwhelmingly positive and included good suggestions for future events.
“We appreciate the feedback and will keep tweaking what we offer,” she said. “Many people thanked me and our wonderful community volunteers for providing this opportunity for their family.”
A number of the volunteers were from the HSC Kids Committee, a group of eight students, including Matthews, from Homewood’s James Hart School and Flossmoor’s Parker Junior High School.
Dobrez said the committee formed recently because some of the community’s young scientists wanted to contribute. She believes their ideas and energy will be a great asset to the growing center.
“One of our education committee members mentioned that her daughter really wanted to get involved,” Dobrez said. “Coincidentally, at the National Science Fair, a young man, Jacob Leggette, told President Obama, that he should have kid advisors. I like to think that President Obama got the idea from the Homewood Science Center. But it would be more accurate to say we got it at the same time.”
The kids helped test the activities before the event and then helped families particpate during the event, she said.
Committee members also plan to gain experience telling the center’s story to the community. Megan Tipton, former Homewood-Flossmoor broadcasting instructor and a member of the HSC education committee, is helping them learn how to be science reporters.
At the event on Saturday, Tipton helped Matthews conduct and record interviews with Dobrez and guests. They plan to post brief video reports on the HSC website and Facebook page, Tipton said.
In addition to the tinkering activities, there was a big brain sitting on a table. The conversation-starter is a plastic model that was part of the presentation from The Think Tank, a University of Chicago mobile neuroscience lab and education station.
Two UChicago students, Marianna Zhang, Nikolai Maximay and UChicago graduate Ladipo Famodu offered descriptions of brain parts and cognitive function. They also helped guest do activities that demonstrated those functions.
One of the most popular activities was an opportunity to wear an electroencephalographic headset that allowed guests the chance to manipulate a computer image using facial expressions that affect brain activity.
Kids got to make faces, and the computer made faces back.
The session Saturday was the first of what promises to be a summer full of science activities at the center.
The main activity Saturday, May 28, will be “Astronomy in the Day” from 9 a.m. to noon.
Guests will have a chance “to view the skies with a high powered telescope and see the composition of light with a spectroscope,” Dobrez said.
And in keeping with the astronomy theme, the tinkering activity will involve launching stomp rockets, which use compressed air to launch toy rockets.
Saturday will also be the first day of the Homewood Farmers Market’s summer season, which will be in its new location on Martin Square, adjacent to HSC, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.