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Science made simple with complicated toys

ScienceWorks celebrates eighth anniversary this weekend with new exhibit
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Anya Linday, a second-grader at Talent Elementary School, plays with the new Rube Goldberg-inspired Automatic Breakfast Machine at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland on Tuesday.Julia Moore
 Posted: 2:00 AM December 02, 2010

even-year-old Kareen Ali cranked a softball up a toy tower Tuesday at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and prepared to learn about Newton's laws of motion.

Except the second-grade student at Talent Elementary School hadn't yet heard of Newton. As far as he knew, he was just playing with the ScienceWorks Automatic Breakfast Machine.

Kareen released the softball and watched as the ball hit a broom that opened a door that knocked a canoe paddle that turned a wheel of tennis shoes that kicked a glove that released a basketball that hit a golf club that knocked a ball from a bucket that fell onto a weight that flipped a fried egg on a plate. "That's gravity, mechanical advantage, chain reactions and momentum," said John Javna, co-founder of ScienceWorks, who created the Automatic Breakfast Machine with Jason Couch and Rich Whitney.

Eighth anniversary events

• Friday, Dec. 3: Preschool Family Network Open House from 4 to 6 p.m. at ScienceWorks, 1500 E. Main St., Ashland. Families with children 5 and under are invited to a free evening at the museum that will include children's crafts and activities, parent networking, refreshments and testing with toys from Small Change, Northwest Nature Shop and Tree House Books.

• Saturday, Dec. 4: Toy Testing for Tots, Teens and In-Betweens from noon to 2 p.m. at ScienceWorks. Test toys from Bug-a-Boo, Small Change, TreeHouse Books, Northwest Nature Shop and others to gain insight into what your kids really enjoy playing with and find out how the toy works outside of its package.

• Alien Night, from 6 to 9 p.m. Includes screening of the classic 1956 sci-fi film "Forbidden Planet" at 7 p.m. at ScienceWorks. Cost is $6 for adults, $3 for children ages 2 to 12.

• Sunday, Dec. 5: "Science Searches for E.T.," at 7 p.m. in the Meese Auditorium in the Art Building at Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. ScienceWorks and The Jefferson Center present Dr. Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif. Shostak will speak on the work of the SETI Institute and its search for other living things in our universe. Cost is $10.

Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The museum also will be open Mondays and Tuesdays during Christmas break but closed on Christmas and New Year's. For more information on this weekend's events, call 541-482-6767 or visit

"Awesome," Kareen said, making a sandwich with the plastic egg, toast and bacon. "But how did it flip the egg? There must be a weight underneath this."

He continued to investigate the giant, interactive machine — and teach himself about science, Javna observed. "Kids get it — they get it better than adults do," he said.

The contraption is a Rube Goldberg machine, a deliberately over-engineered device that uses a complex mechanism to perform a simple function.

Cartoonist Rube Goldberg popularized such machines by depicting them in his drawings in the 1920s and '30s.

The ScienceWorks inventors spent about two months working almost full-time on the contraption, Javna said. It's based on the Crazy Clock Game, which was released in 1964 and is similar to Mouse Trap.

The machine is part of the museum's "Secret Science of Toys" exhibit that opened this week and runs through the winter. The exhibit also boasts giant versions of KerPlunk, Wooly Willy, Connect Four, Magnetic Fishing and Hot Wheels toys.

The museum is hosting several toy-related events this weekend as part of its eighth anniversary, which is themed "Fun, Fact and Fiction."

"We're excited to be still thriving as a museum after eight years," said Susan Hearn, marketing director. "We continue to be a place for experimental exhibits like the 'Science of Toys' exhibit, that involve the creative input of the community."

On Friday and Saturday afternoons, ScienceWorks will host toy-testing events for parents and their children.

The museum will screen the classic 1956 sci-fi film "Forbidden Planet" on Saturday night.

Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif., will speak about his search for life forms in the universe on Sunday night at Southern Oregon University.

The inventors of the Automatic Breakfast Machine are working to refine the device in the hope they will eventually be able to ship it to other museums across the country.

"We want this machine to be able to tour the country," Javna said. "There's no museum in the country that has this kind of interactive Rube Goldberg machine."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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