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Science center launched

'Leo on Wheels' will travel to Utah junior highs

Selita Tamoua whispered into a simple metal ring, "The bowls, they kind of reflect off the sounds." The fourth-grader's voice was not electronically amplified, yet 75 feet away her words were as distinct as if she were standing right there.

The Salt Lake girl was speaking onto "whisper dishes," part of a set of science displays erected in the lobby of the Salt Lake Main Library, 210 E. 400 South. The approximately dozen exhibits were delivered by "Leonardo on Wheels," a new, colorful trailer that will be making its way to junior high schools throughout Utah.

The trailer was officially launched this past week. It is an early manifestation of The Leonardo and the Utah Science Center, facilities under construction in the old downtown library building. The building is to open in 2006.

"We got the trailer a month ago and got it painted about a week ago," said Dr. Joseph Andrade, the science center's director. At the moment he was adding a license plate to the new trailer, which was parked in front of the library. He quickly went inside to show off the displays.

"Since the Utah Science Center won't open until mid-'06, the same time as The Leonardo, we have now launched today a traveling science program we're calling Leo on Wheels," he added.

This was a sort of shakedown cruise, with library visitors trying out exhibits and writing critiques. Leo on Wheels should begin visiting schools sometime between November and early next year.

At one display a man and woman were using a Geiger counter to check radiation that may be in common material. "This one is the hot one," said Andrade, moving a large wheel so that a piece of material came near the counter. "It's a piece of pottery that has a uranium glaze."

Despite the uranium, he added, this type of pottery can be purchased in an online auction.

"I could cook with that," joked the woman, Sheri McDaniel, Salt Lake City, who teaches an open classroom of elementary students. She said she wishes the displays could come to her school, but Andrade explained that they are designed for junior high pupils.

Other exhibits concerned static electricity, creating electrical currents, microscopic views of objects and the propagation of waves. Visitors could touch a computer screen and see how ripples would move out from that point.

The "whisper dishes" were like satellite dishes. A voice would be spread out and broadcast across the room by one large dish. The sound waves would be collected and focused by the other dish.

"You can just hear it when you whisper," Selita said.

Andrade agreed. It is, he said, "a macro-ear."