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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 13, 2005

Close encounters at new science center

 •  New Bishop Museum exhibit challenged our artists

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Students from Halau Lokahi Charter School check out the deep-ocean tank with the remote-controlled submarine at the new Science Adventure Center on the Bishop Museum campus in Kalihi. The $17 million facility houses 30 state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Public opening: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday. Special opening-day entry fee, $3 for Hawai'i residents and military; free for Bishop Museum members, and for customers and employees of grand-opening sponsor Bank of Hawaii. Regular admission to the Bishop Museum (including science center): $14.95 adults, $11.95 ages 4-12, free for ages 3 and younger and museum members.

Where: 1525 Bernice St., Kalihi; 847-3511

Bishop Museum members' opening: 4-9 p.m. Friday; free with active membership. RSVP at 848-4172.

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Halau Lokahi Charter School fourth-grader Kawika Bartels, 10, got to wear a heat suit in the Pu‘u ‘Ö‘ö volcano exhibit area of the new science center.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Examine "lava" inside the Kilauea volcano exhibit at the new Science Adventure Center.


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The Science Adventure Center’s 26-foot-tall centerpiece is modeled to look like Kïlauea's active vent, Pu'u 'O'o, on the Big Island. The volcano erupts randomly with different levels of intensity. Eruptions are created by using a series of jets in a “lava lake” of water at the top of the volcano, which release compressed air into the fountain of water above, causing explosive bursts. Lighting above and below simulates glowing red lava. Water vapor is also used to simulate steam.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Visitors enter the volcano through a beaded lava curtain. Inside the main inner chamber are sculpted rockworks that suggest lava rock. Hawaiian lava flows are projected on panels, giving it a three-dimensional illusion. Other chambers have volcanic specimens and historic eruption footage and information. The lava plume in the center of the volcano begins in the hot spot area in the lower level and continues to mezzanine level. The 3-D effect is created by lighting and special effects. The Lava Exploration Zone showcases examples of volcanic products paired with video showing how the products are formed. Visitors can touch, smell and view (through a microscope) chunks of lava rocks.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hot Spot Theatre The museum staff produces live demonstrations in the lower-level theater. • Melting cinder in a furnace to make lava. • Checking the internal temperature of the furnace with a thermal probe used by geologists to check lava temperatures in a real volcano.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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We don't let the visitors melt rock," says Bishop Museum president William Brown, shooting me a look that asks, "Are you nuts?"

I can watch the lava rock melting, but I can't liquefy it myself? I'm officially bummed — though not for long. There's actually more than enough other cool stuff to play with.

Brown and I are cruising through the museum's brand-new Science Adventure Center a couple of weeks before the first paying guests walk through the door. The center, which opens Saturday, after slowly rising on a sliver of the Great Lawn's southeast corner for the last two years, is a significant development for the 116-year-old institution.

The Bishop Museum has always been a lead institution for the examination, preservation and display of artifacts from Hawai'i's rich cultural history and environment. With its new science center, however, the museum will emphasize and help visitors explore the natural phenomena that continue to shape our Islands.

To do that, 30 state-of-the-art, largely custom-built interactive exhibits have been created for the new building.

"There's nothing really even very close to it among (other) science centers," Brown says. "It has an environmental focus, (on) Earth, life sciences and the ocean. Although it has the capability of addressing scientific issues that are broad, its focus is on the Pacific."

More specifically, on Hawai'i and Pacific seismology, volcanology, entomology, botany, geology and oceanography.

"I wanted a center that would be tied to the Bishop Museum's mission to study, preserve and tell the stories of Hawai'i and the Pacific, and actually relate to the work our own scientists are doing in the field," Brown says.

The museum spent more than $17 million on the 16,500 square-foot interactive center. And that monetary layout is visible on several fronts.

A first impression comes from the curved, sleekly modern three-story building, with its angular roof and open interior design. A bank of large windows offers panoramic views of the Great Lawn.

The center's installations include a "hot spot" theater where visitors can observe museum staff melting lava rock. (Sorry, but as we said, you can only watch.)

There's also a wave-making tank capable of simulating mini tsunamis, a couple of remote-operated submarines visitors can steer around a deep-tank mock-up of underwater volcano Lo'ihi, and a 26-foot walk-through re-imagining of active Kilauea volcano vent Pu'u 'O'o that belches steam and fountains of "lava."

Even an advance tour has its little excitements: The lava pool in the 26-foot-high caldera gurgles a bit. An examination of the general hairiness of a cane spider up close on a way-cool videoscope is also, well, way cool.

Also pretty sweet: the center's Kalihi location. One of Brown's first acts after his hiring four years ago was killing plans for a Kaka'ako location and keeping the science center on campus.

"I felt like the campus had been a little abandoned and really needed to invest in itself and believe in itself," says Brown. "This is a measure of that."


Here are 10 exhibits you definitely should not miss playing with at Bishop Museum’s new Science Adventure Center. Queue up and embrace your inner geek, Honolulu!

Pu'u O'o: From the outside, you can watch this huge abstract re-imagining of a volcanic spatter cone “erupt” randomly throughout the day, or make it belch steam and “lava” yourself. The lava is actually thickened room- temperature water lit from above and below to effectively simulate glowing lava. Under the volcano, check out real lava rocks, eruption footage and watch a stylized “lava plume” fill with magma before the whole faux mountain blows a gasket up top. If you’re a kid or adult under 4 feet tall, crawl through hot and cool lava tubes.

Hot-spot theater with lava-melting demonstration: Under a translucent ceiling evoking what it might be like to hang out in the undulating molten core of a volcano (complete with bursts of real heat), watch Bishop Museum staffers heat cinder to 2,500 degrees in a small furnace to make lava.

Wave-making tank: Create wind-generated surf, earthquake-driven tsunamis and landslide-generated monster tsunamis with a trio of interactive stations on one end of this large water tank. Still cool even without a fake beach on the other end of the tank for, you know, judging perspective.

Good guys/bad guys lab: Check out electron microscope-scanned pictures of endemic and invasive Hawai'i species up-close by maneuvering plastic discs containing actual specimens over a giant videoscope. (Man, koa bugs are ugly!) Watch a very live termite colony at work, or open drawers full of very dead good- and bad-guy species resting in eternal slumber.

The Lo'ihi ROVs: Use a throttle and joystick to guide a couple of remote-operated mini subs down a 32,000 gallon “deep sea” tank to an active mock-up of Lo'ihi seamount’s hydrothermal vents. On-board video cameras and lamps offer an up-close view of what might one day become the next Hawaiian island. No playing “Robot Wars” with the ROVs allowed.

Origins tunnel: Children from five local schools created the glowing papier-mache plants and creatures in this descending 160-foot-long tube lit by trippy black light. The overall theme is the animals, plants and cultural symbols linked to Hawaiian creation myths. See wild pigs in fluorescent green and huge pink and teal squids. Hear a creation chant and the sounds of birds, water and wind. Fight the urge to tote along that psychedelic unicorn poster you’ve had for years.

Hot wax volcanoes: Help create a tabletop Hawaiian shield volcano by pumping hot wax — imagine it’s magma — out of a hot spot. As visitors crank a handle to pump wax throughout the day, layers of the wax erupt, flow and cool down, forming a small mountain shaped like a classic shield volcano.

Interactive islands model: A topographic model of the entire Hawaiian Islands chain stretching from Löçihi to Kure Atoll explores how our islands are just puny tips of a large chain of mountains rising from the Pacific floor. Guide a sliding LCD monitor slowly over the model to get the fly-by lowdown on every island, atoll and seamount in the chain.

The treehouse: Older than age 6? Leave the play here to the experts. An abstract öhi'a forest offers interactive activities for the young ’uns and an above-it-all view of the science center’s main floor. The best part? Costumes of birds, bugs, rodents, plants and fishes kids can wear to act out the drama of competing native and alien species. Be sure to play nice with the coqui!

Rainbow bridge: Divert your attention from a close-up view of the gurgling, steam-venting recreation of the Pu'u ‘O'o lava pool a few feet away, and create a real rainbow with a rafter-mounted rainmaker and lighting. One, two, three … pretty!

— Derek Paiva

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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