'Into the Mist' a cool attraction at Durham science museum

jwise@newsobserver.comJuly 6, 2014 

  • If you go

    “Into the Mist” is in the Catch the Wind section at the Museum of Life and Science, 433 Murray Ave., Durham.

    It is open year-round, but the mist is turned off in freezing weather to protect its plumbing system, said exhibit developer Elizabeth Fleming. Other features in the exhibit remain available.

    The Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. For information, see bit.ly/1jX3Vp6 or call 919-220-5429.

— Dylan Collins sat between two sprayers shooting mist into the air. At 9 months old, Dylan had no words of comment, but his smiles and sounds made it clear he was having a ball.

“It’s his first mist experience,” said his mother, Emilie Collins of Durham. “I think he likes it.”

Dylan was among a steady stream of babies, toddlers, older kids, parents and grandparents playing and cooling themselves Sunday afternoon at “Into the Mist,” an outdoor exhibition at the Museum of Life and Science that mixes scientific principles with sheer pleasure.

“They love the mist,” said Greg Adamo of Chapel Hill, who was there with his wife, Allyson, and their children, Jack and Lilly, both 4 1/2, and Reese, 2 1/2

“We came here a couple of weeks ago and we stayed in this area for an hour,” Allyson Adamo said.

“Into the Mist” is a self-enclosed area for “nature play in a safe environment,” said Elizabeth Fleming, the museum’s exhibit development manager. Besides a variety of ways to enjoy the cooling effects of water vapor, it offers a maze-like path through tall grass, tunnels and caves, and a hut that demonstrates the insulation qualities of mud and straw construction.

The exhibit opened two years ago, she said, but new features have been added to keep it “fresh and different.” The hut has just opened, Fleming said, along with a pit like a circular amphitheater where mist forms at the bottom and rises, moist and cool, over several tiers of seating space.

Mist also comes out inside a dome-shaped frame partially enclosed by tall shrubbery, and an area of mounds that suggests natural contours of terrain. Kids were running up and down, back and forth. Grown-ups watched from benches as afternoon breezes blew the mist their way, occasionally catching sunlight to make fleeting rainbows.

“No question what to do from the kids. For adults it’s a nice shady place to sit back and watch, observe nature,” Fleming said.

John and Nancy Higgins were doing just that, like Dylan having a first touch of “Into the Mist.” The Higginses were from Dallas, visiting family in Durham, and turned into “Into the Mist” as they were starting to leave the museum.

“Very restful,” John Higgins said.

Nina Rublein, 2, was running over and around the misty mounds with her 4-year-old brother, Joseph. Nina’s first visit was on the day she was born, said their father, John Rublein.

“We were here earlier that day. That night we went into labor. So the very first day she was born (she was here), in utero,” he said.

The exhibit’s mist is created by pumping water, from the city system, at high pressure through nozzles that break it up into tiny droplets by the time it sprays into the air. Temperature and humidity affect the mist’s quality and behavior – on a humid day it may hang thick above the nozzles, in dry weather it quickly dissipates.

“It’s kind of different, day by day,” Fleming said.

And it can be educational in a fun way, for example under a “rain tree” of perforated pipes that drip water onto stones in a sandy play area. Youngsters can form the sand into shapes, like sandcastles at the beach, and watch simulated erosion as the water hits them.

“For the younger ones, it’s the fun of getting wet,” Fleming said. But the exhibit also offers children an experience of exploring their own senses and the interplay of natural forces, with each other and with human interventions.

Fleming watched as a toddler slipped on a mist-slicked, grass-like surface, then hopped up to run again. “That,” she said, “was a learning experience.”

The mist doesn’t get you very wet – its cooling effect comes from evaporating off skin, the same effect as sweat, Fleming said. Not very wet, that is, as long as you don’t stay playing in it too long. Mist-experienced grown-ups bring dry clothes for the youngsters.

“The hardest part,” said Amy Rublein, Nina’s and Joseph’s mother, “is getting them to leave.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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