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Fun with (irresponsible) science

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Sure, being responsible is no fun. Which is why going to the Maryland Science Center over the next few weeks should prove such a blast.

Welcome to the "Summer of Irresponsible Science," an excuse for lots of grown men and women to do the kinds of things their science teachers always warned them against. Things melt, blow up, gush and flame.

"This is an opportunity to do some of the kinds of things you always thought about doing, but maybe were afraid to do," said Chris Cropper, the science center's senior director of marketing. "It's all about organized chaos; that's probably the best way to look at it."

Everything's perfectly safe, Cropper assures, if perhaps a bit messy. Like the garbage can full of pingpong balls, into which is dropped a soda bottle full of dry ice and some warm water. Talk about your big-bang theory.

"It's a pretty impressive explosion," Cropper said with a laugh. "Our ticket agents actually hold umbrellas up before they do that, so they don't get bombarded."

In fact, science center visitors can get an idea of what they're in for without even setting foot inside the building. All they have to do is look up on the roof.

"You will see a gigantic bright-green launch tube strapped to the roof," Cropper said. The staff has been dropping melons, milk jugs, all kinds of stuff. "Just to see what happens," he explained.

All this mayhem has some underlying scientific validity, of course — some teaching value. That's why it's OK to have it in a museum.

"We're demonstrating some basic science principles," Cropper re-assures the skeptical. "Gravity, physics, chemical reactions, buoyancy."

Like the experiment where a giant cylinder of soap has some methane gas pumped into it?

"A big soap bubble column rises straight out of that, and they light it on fire," Cropper said with noticeable glee, noting the rare chance for learning such an experience presents. "Hopefully, not too many people have the opportunity to mix methane and dishwashing liquid."

Guerrilla "science ninjas" roam throughout the center, offering even more chaos for visitors to enjoy. They may ignite some flash paper; they might use a portable Van de Graaff generator to make someone's hair stand on end.

If you're really lucky, you might even get to see what happens when you combine a blow dryer and a giant dry-cleaning bag — two things, Cropper points out, "that everybody is told not play with, from when they were a little kid"

But don't try any of these experiments at home, Cropper stresses. It's important to let the science center staff have all the fun.

"We like to say, 'Don't try it at home, try it here," he explains. "After all, we are trained professionals here."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

"The Summer of Irresponsible Science" runs through Labor Day at the Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St. Free with museum admission, which runs $4-$18.95. Information: 410-685-5225 or mdsci.org.

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