BALTIMORE -- Dig for fossils, walk through a beating heart, climb into a chimpanzees' nest and play tug-of-war to learn physics.
All this and more is available to visitors at the Maryland Science Center, which opened for the summer season this year after a $35 million expansion and renovation with double the display space.
"We're really reinventing ourselves," said Director of Exhibits Roberta Cooks, who hopes to boost the center's 550,000-a-year attendance by a few hundred thousand with a new look, beautiful water views and more exhibits that are interactive.
"We feel that people learn best by being able to do things and also see things," Cooks said. "It's just a wonderful way of learning."
Paleontology and dinosaurs, perpetually fascinating to children, shape the earth science and dinosaur hall, which features a giganotosaurus 45 feet long and 19 feet tall.
Paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers of the Science Museum of Minnesota served as a content adviser to the Maryland Science Center and will be featured an exhibit video that shows how she does her job.
Visitors will be allowed to touch most dinosaurs. Playing paleontologist - by uncovering bones and fossils - is encouraged. Children will be able to dig through sand pits with their hands and with tools used by paleontologists to unearth discoveries.
"I've loved dinosaurs since I was a little kid and I wanted to be paleontologist," Curry Rogers said. "Having a place like this when I was a kid would have been really instrumental in making me realize it was possible."
Visitors will learn about the extinct species by walking under the casts of dozens of dinosaurs and they'll go nearly nose-to-nose with a Tyrannosaurus rex that hangs from the ceiling.
"It looks like it's about to eat you," Cooks said.
Manjit Goldberg, project manager of the dinosaur hall, said visitors will go home talking about Maryland's dinosaur - the Astrodon johnstoni, which is shown being attacked by a meat-eating dinosaur.
"Kids know the names of dinosaurs. They know what they ate, they know all about the time period of dinosaurs," Goldberg said. "It's really become something they really love to talk about and to tell you they about."
Other new exhibits are "Your Body: The Inside Story," "Newton's Alley," "Discovering Chimpanzees: The Remarkable World of Jane Goodall" and "Follow the Blue Crabs."
The human body exhibit starts with a "waking tunnel" that takes visitors through the daily transition from sleep to awareness.
Farther on is a bed of hundreds of nails that looks painful, but is safe for those who dare to lay down to learn firsthand about the body's reaction to pressure and pain. And there's sure to be a line of kids at the table where visitors can push a ball through a model of a digestive track, creating burping and gurgling sounds.
Some stations show the body's reaction to stress, while a heart room allows people to experience the sound, sight and rhythm of the human heart.
"You feel like you're beating with the heart," Cooks said.
An exhibit that makes physics fun is "Newton's Alley," with more than 30 interactive stations for children and adults.
"It's all something real and physical that you can see," Cooks said. "Physics is a very hard topic, but this exhibit has things that people can do." While sitting in chairs, visitors can pull themselves up ropes with pulleys, and tug of war will take on new meaning when the weaker team wins the match thanks to science.
In the traveling chimpanzee exhibit, which is in Baltimore through Sept. 6, visitors will wear prosthetic arms to knuckle-walk and climb into a nest. The Jane Goodall exhibit that accompanies an IMAX film will take visitors into the forests of Tanzania's Gombe National Park, where people can record their own pant-hoot calls and learn chimpanzee behaviors.
A large mechanical blue crab is making its return to the science center in a new exhibit, "Follow the Blue Crabs," that shows its life cycle.
Another addition is a three-story glass atrium, where visitors can look down at mother-of-pearl stars embedded in a dark marble floor to form constellations.
Materials in three classrooms - BodyLink, TerraLink and SpaceLink - will be constantly updated to give the latest news on health, scientific discoveries and space. The BodyLink room is next to a wet lab where visitors can perform experiments, such as which soap kills bacteria best.
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If You Go ...
MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER: 601 Light St., Baltimore. Open Memorial Day through Sept. 4, Sunday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Open Sept. 5 to Memorial Day from Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed Monday. Contact (410) 685-5225 or www.mdsci.org.
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