Visitors explore science in Weizmanns new garden

Making science fun is by no means a new idea. Science museums in various parts of the world have long tried to make their exhibits attractive and interesting. But their efforts are handicapped by the fact that they operate largely or completely indoors.

Now the Weizmann Institute's Youth Activities Section has broken new ground with the two-acre Clore Garden of Science, a beautiful outdoors facility where visitors can learn about basic scientific principles in a free and easy manner, having fun at the same time.

It so impressed a group of science museum heads from the United States, Europe and Asia when they visited it recently, that many of them have decided to borrow ideas from the Weizmann.

Alan Friedman, director of the New York Hall of Science, subsequently wrote: "There are exhibits at the Clore Garden of Science that I haven't seen anywhere else. I predict that in the next three years you will find at least 10 big science museums around the world with some of those exhibits — and it's not too hard to predict that mine will be one of them."

Moshe Rishpon, who runs the Youth Activities Section, is pleased by the response of Friedman and others, though, he admits, "We at the Weizmann can't fulfill all their requests. For example, we don't have the manpower or the facilities to create a duplicate facility in the Asian country that asked us to do so. But we've sent out blueprints and are building a few things for shipment overseas."

Among the major attractions at the Clore Garden are exhibits that take you to the moon. They are a "moon swing," where you sense how it would feel to be in a place with only onesixth the gravity of the earth, and a TrampoLuna, which simulates a moon walk. Also of great interest to visitors is the full rainbow created by water droplets (instead of the half-rainbow one usually sees), a "race course" that demonstrates why barrels are shaped as they are, a solar-powered fountain where the height of the water can be controlled by changing the direction of solar panels, "acoustic mirrors" that let you whisper a secret to someone standing 22 yards away and basalt stones that play musical notes when you tap them.

The Clore Garden of Science is only one of the programs run by the Weizmann Institute's Youth Activities Section, which began operating in 1964. The idea of creating such a section was initially opposed by some of the Institute scientists, who argued that their job was to do research, not to teach science. But those objections have long since disappeared and there is universal support for a program that includes, among other things, science camps in Hebrew (for local teenagers) and in English (for kids from two dozen other countries), as well as a Field School of Science. It offers high school students and their teachers specialized instruction, equipment and materials not available in their own institutions.

"Needless to say," says Rishpon, "we host a good many Israeli Arab youngsters at our Field School and I look forward to welcoming Palestinians and kids from neighboring states as well. Where the Clore Garden of Science is concerned, we are already prepared to receive them, for our explanatory signs are not only in Hebrew and English, but also in Arabic."