Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Families stargaze, conduct experiments

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Chester Patterson, 6, of Lanham gets to touch a live horseshoe crab during Family Science Night at the Howard B. Owens Science Center in Lanham on Friday.
Glenn Dale youngsters Reece and Yannick Marcelle could barely contain themselves as they hustled from station to station at the Howard B. Owens Science Center’s Family Science Night in Lanham on Friday.

Seven-year-old Reece, 4-year-old Yannick and their mother, Charlene Marcelle-Warner, were three of the roughly 175 county residents who came out to participate in the center’s free chemistry-themed night of mostly hands-on activities.

Children and their parents watched a presentation on ‘‘The Creation of the Elements” in the center’s planetarium, made water jelly crystals, inspected horseshoe crabs and collected data using a computer simulation aboard the center’s model of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

‘‘My kids seem to think they’re little scientists,” Marcelle-Warner said of her two sons, who both attend Reid Temple Christian Academy, a science and technology-focused school in Glenn Dale. ‘‘Any opportunity for them to be exposed to science, I try and take it.”

Lines formed outside the science center as many participants waited for their turn to do a little stargazing using one of the five high-powered telescopes brought by the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt.

Bowie resident Kelly Anderson attended with her 13-year-old son, Sebastian, who she said plans to be a scientist later in life.

Anderson said she was impressed with the simple, easy-to-understand approach of the center’s science instructors.

‘‘This is great if you have a strong interest in science, but they also do it at a level where everyone can remain interested and understand it,” Anderson said.

Mitchellville resident Angela Taylor was there with her husband and three sons. Taylor marveled at the number of activities and demonstrations that were set up and said she would try to attend as many Family Science Nights as she could in the future.

‘‘This is great. Everyone can walk around here and check out so many cool things,” Taylor said.

Scott Hangey, the center’s program administrator, said there will be several more Family Science Nights throughout the year. He said community involvement is important to the future success of the center.

‘‘We’re truly committed to reaching out to the community,” Hangey said. ‘‘We think it’s important to bring families in and build a greater understanding of science.”

During the school year, Prince George’s County Public Schools students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade take classes at the science center.

‘‘We are very much a hands-on institution,” Hangey said. ‘‘We have a lot of interactive stuff in the building. By my estimation, it’s extraordinarily important for students to get their hands on science. It’s that individual experience that’s most important. They get to experience so much more that way.”

The next Family Science Night will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 21. The theme for the evening will be ‘‘Biology and Life Sciences.”

The science center is located at 9601 Greenbelt Road.

E-mail Jonathan Stein at jstein@gazette.net.