Teens put finishing touches on Science of Skateboarding

July 11, 2013 7:47:43 PM PDT
San Francisco's new Exploratorium opened last spring, but it's designed to keep changing and evolving into the future. One new concept is to build portable exhibits that can travel away from the museum. A case in point is the science of skateboarding developed with some expert, but underage advisors.

Whether you are a sidewalk surfer or an X Games superstar, if you skateboard, you also do physics. The Exploratorium has been using skateboarding to teach scientific principles for more than a decade. They even have a video lesson online, exploring concepts such as gravity, inertia and torque. And now exhibit developers are taking the idea even further, with a traveling exhibit for a wider audience. It is not just hands-on, it's feet-on too, with all kinds of skateboard activities.

You can learn about the trucks that turn the wheels as you shift your weight, or why different types of materials are better for different types of skateboarding or how to find the center of gravity by balancing a board on your fingers.

The scientific know-how for display came from The Exploratorium staff. But the exhibit is actually aimed at teenagers, so they were brought in to help design it.

Ramses Roman Cerda, 12, told us he thinks "It's cool The Exploratorium wants to know more about skateboarding." The staff worked with San Francisco middle schoolers from a skate club run by the Jamestown Community Center. The kids helped brainstorm ideas to make the concept come alive. A few months ago they painted murals they designed for the outside of the exhibit.

Eric Dimond is with the Exploratorium. He says, "The kids are starting to refer to this as their project. It's our project together. And when I heard that, that was like the most gratifying thing, that they are really taking ownership."

MetLife funded the collaboration with a grant, but the teens supplied the energy. Noah McManus of the Jamestown Community Center says, "It's hard to kind of get them to focus on anything. And you can see today, all of a sudden, 30 kids were focused on one thing. And it's exciting to see that, to see them care."

When the exhibit was unveiled outside the Exploratorium, the skate club came to check out their work. The activities were a hit, but the artwork is what really made them proud. They looked for the parts they had painted, and speculated they might be famous now.

You can visit the exhibit for free in front of the Exploratorium at Pier 15 now, and expect to see it popping up in other spots around the Bay Area soon. It's a good lesson in physics and fun.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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