Sol Del Niño: Fun, learning come together at Mexicali's museum of science and technology

May 07, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

MEXICALI — Maria del Sol had a huge grin on her face as she carefully stepped off the 10-foot gyroscope, holding onto everything and anything that wasn't moving.

For the last 30 seconds, 14-year-old Maria had been spinning 360 degrees in all directions, strapped into a yellow and red contraption that left her understandably unsteady and in need of some sort of stationary object.

"I felt like I was going to the floor. I got dizzy," she said, "but I had fun."

Maria and nearly 90 of her fellow students traveled from their Tijuana school recently to experience the gyroscope and dozens of other interactive exhibits bent on teaching them basic scientific principles in an environment far from stuffy classrooms lined with musty textbooks.

Since September 1998, Mexicali's science and technology museum, Sol Del Niño, has made having fun through science its mission, a mission that has been spread to nearly 1 million visitors.


"We want to give children and people the space where they can have fun and learn at the same time," said Susana Lara, coordinator of communications for Sol Del Niño. "Here they're not just looking but interacting with the exhibits. They don't just learn but experience it for themselves. It helps them learn faster."

Eleven-year-old Heriberto Paredes of Tijuana got the chance to learn about waves by creating some of his own. Standing atop a staircase some 20 feet in the air, with a twist of his arms he sent hundreds of metal bars attached to a ship's hull fluidly dancing in unison like waves on an ocean.

"We can see how waves work," Heriberto said. "It's a very good exhibit."

Similar exhibits and experiments are scattered throughout Sol Del Niño, including a bed of nails on which children can test theories of weight displacement; loteria ecologia, where a traditional Mexican children's game gets an environmental facelift; and the room of optical illusions where nothing is as it seems.

There's an Internet room, where dozens of computers are set up for visitors; an area of the museum dedicated to teaching kids about electricity; and a catwalk 28 meters in the air on which children and parents can peer below onto the museum floor or out windows onto the Mexicali skyline.

And then there's the ever-popular burbujas, or bubble, area.

"It's one of the favorites of the children," Lara said.

Sergio Ramirez, 13, of Tijuana stood in the center of the burbucapsula exhibit as other children enveloped him in a giant bubble.

"It's fun," he laughed, wiping the soapy remnants of a burst bubble from his face.

Lara explained the bubble exhibits help to teach children about elasticity, refraction of light and molecular bonding, although she admitted those concepts are likely lost on the children.

Housed in a former warehouse known as la jabonera, Sol Del Niño was a labor of love for Maria Elena Blackaller de Elorduy, wife of former Mexicali Mayor Eugenio Elorduy Walther.

In 1995, Lara said, Blackaller began a movement to bring a science and technology museum for children to Mexicali. With the help of a host of government and private agencies, ground was broken on the museum March 31, 1998, with the center opening for business Sept. 21, 1998.

Lara said construction of the museum was entirely funded by two years of ticket sales from Fiestas Del Sol, Mexicali's annual two-week fair in Vicente Guerrero Park, also the site of Sol Del Niño.

Money made at the Fiestas gate from 1995 to 1996 went not only to building the structure but purchasing various science exhibits from other museums throughout Mexico and the United States. Lara said a number of museums also donated exhibits to Sol Del Niño, including the Exploritorium Museum in San Francisco.

Only three years into the museum's history, Lara said its been an incredible success, drawing children and their parents from all over Baja California and other areas of Mexico.

While school trips from the Imperial Valley are out of the question due to legal issues concerning children and cross-border travel, Lara said she would like to see more parents from the U.S. bring their children south to the museum.

Julio Gamez of Indio did.

"I think something like this is very important for the kids. It shows the children new things and teaches them that science doesn't have to be boring; that it can be recreation," he said.

Sol Del Niño is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9 to 7 Fridays and 10 to 7 Saturdays and Sunday. Admission is 35 pesos or $3.50 (U.S.) for those 14 and older or 30 pesos or $3 for those ages 3 to 13. Children under 3 get in free.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles