Science Center gets serious about sports

Exhibit: There's more to athletic contests than beer and face paint, as a new show makes clear without taking the fun out of it.

January 25, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

In keeping with the spirit of education and sober reflection that suffuses Super Bowl weekend, the Maryland Science Center has chosen this Saturday to open a big interactive exhibit exploring the biology and technology behind modern sports.

While the truly focused Ravens fans await the kickoff at home, painting their faces purple and gathering in the Bud and CheezDoodles, the somewhat less-Ravenous can truck on down to the Inner Harbor and learn something about what really goes into making a world-class athlete.

"It's a great prelude to the sports climax," said Bill Haas, coordinator for the exhibit, called "Science of Sport."

Visitors can work up an appetite trying some barehanded rock climbing on a synthetic (and reassuringly low) rock wall. Or they can test their speed against an imaginary Olympic track star on a 30-foot sprint track.

There is also a virtual volleyball court with a computer-generated ball; a court for returning tennis serves from a mechanical opponent, and a cage where soccer moms and kids can test the accuracy of their goal kicks.

All that climbing, running, kicking and volleying will burn off some of the kids' energy. But there is a more cerebral purpose to the exhibit, Haas said.

"The message is that sports is fun and challenging and interesting on a physical and on a mental level," he said.

For example, there is the fun and the mental challenge of designing and sticking with an appropriate fitness and diet plan.

With an ultrasonic measuring device and a computerized scale, Science Center visitors can figure out just how close they come to the "ideal" weight range for their height.

But the exhibit warns that such height-to-weight guidelines can be misleading. For example, boxer Evander Holyfield and golfer Tiger Woods are both about 6 feet 2 inches tall. The charts say someone that tall should weigh between 159 and 195 pounds.

Holyfield weighs 215 pounds, while Woods is barely 145. And no one would dare tell either they are anything less than ideal for what they do.

Any Ravens linemen who visit the exhibit will learn that muscle weighs more than fat. So someone with a heavily muscled build will weigh considerably more - and be harder to move, or to stop - than someone the same height who is carrying a higher percentage of body fat.

With equipment provided by Union Memorial Hospital's Sports Medicine program, visitors can measure their own body-fat content, if they dare.

Or, if displaying these numbers for the amusement of everyone in the room is less than appealing, step around the corner. Here are displays of goggles, head gear and athletic shoes - each designed with the needs and perils of a particular sport in mind. Visitors can try their skill at matching the sports to their gear.

Sports excellence demands conditioning the mind, as well as the body. Pro athletes spend years training to improve their reaction times - the ability to catch sight of a ball, judge its distance and turn to meet it.

Amateurs at the science center exhibit can enter a booth and test their own peripheral vision. (Happily, the results can be "Excellent," but never worse than "Average.") Another station will test depth perception by asking visitors to judge the relative distances of three upright rods. It's tougher than it looks.

And, the exhibit includes a BATAK machine - a panel the size of Tony Siragusa with 12 buttons that light up at random. The idea - akin to the Whack-A-Mole games on the boardwalk - is to spot the lighted buttons, reach out and extinguish more of them in 30 seconds than your little sister. Or your kids.

"Maybe if you can do better at this, it would translate into doing better with a tennis ball," Haas said.

Keeping brain and body at peak performance requires a pulse, too. Science Center visitors can measure theirs by gripping a sensor and then watch it speed up as they run in place for 30 seconds.

Text panels - and science center guides - can explain that a normal adult pulse at rest will range from 65 to 80 beats per minute, and double as oxygen demand rises with vigorous exercise. But kids' hearts work harder. A pulse of 90 is normal for a resting 10-year-old child, while a baby's heart in utero can easily reach 140.

"Science of Sport" is making its North American debut in Baltimore. It was developed by the London Museum of Science and, at 7,500 square feet, is the largest traveling exhibit ever mounted at the Science Center. It will remain at the Inner Harbor through April.

Science Center

Where: 601 Light St.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Admission: $13; $12 seniors; $9 ages 4-12; free for ages 3 and younger

Plus: Saturday's opening coincides with the arrival of a new IMAX film - "Michael Jordan to the MAX."

Call: 410-685-5225 for IMAX-only fee or information

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