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Family Day, Science Downtown, July 7, 2012

Want to learn more about the universe we live in? People can paint a planet, make a comet, hunt for meteorites, peer through telescopes and do other fun things while learning at Science Downtown's Family Day on Saturday, July 7.

The University of Arizona's Astronomy Club, the UA's Women in Science and Engineering program, the Girl Scouts and the Physics Factory are among the groups that will offer activities at the event. This is Science Downtown's first Family Day, but Rob Zellem, a Science Downtown co-director, said that he hopes it becomes a regular thing.

The current exhibit at Science Downtown, at Congress Street and Fifth Avenue in the Rialto Building, is Mars and Beyond, where visitors can learn about our solar system and the next steps in space exploration. The exhibit is open only by appointment during the streetcar construction, so Family Day offers a unique opportunity to see it.

Although outer space has been the focus, Zellem said that the faculty members of Science Downtown are trying to bring in more local partners from various fields to "showcase why Tucson is such a cool science city."

Women in Science and Engineering will have a solar oven, a solar fountain and UV-bead bracelets that change color depending on the amount of sunlight they receive. The UA Astronomy Club will have solar telescopes available.

All of the gadgets are intended to demonstrate how useful and important that big, burning ball in the sky is. But if you're sick of thinking about the sun because it's blistering hot outside, don't fret: There are many other things to see and do.

"There will be a lot of cool, hands-on activities," Zellem said. "And a bunch of interactive games. There's something for everyone."

For example, Science Downtown recently installed a robotic arm unit that illustrates how challenging it can be to operate a machine on Mars. You can also make paper airplanes provided by the Pima Air and Space Museum, create a pet rock while learning about Tucson's geology, and discover the mysteries of the ocean with the Fin Foundation, whose exhibit will include shark jaws.

Guided tours are another facet of Family Day. They're intended to "give a more personal touch" to the event, Zellem said. Attendees can also hear presentations about living in Antarctica and hunting for meteorites; enter raffles; and chow down on food.

While (cliché alert!) there's fun for the whole family at Science Downtown, Zellem said that kids are the focus of the day.

"It's really important to get kids interested in science at a young age," Zellem said. "Kids are very inquisitive and want to know how things work. If you can explain things in a fun way, it makes it more interesting. And, hopefully, you can get them interested to pursue a career in science."

Zellem, a planetary-sciences graduate student at the UA, said that Science Downtown will be run by the UA's College of Science until at least next summer. He said that graduate students make for "a really good source of volunteers" at the center, and that he and colleague Meghan Cassidy (the other co-director) will "be spearheading that effort."

"Science Downtown can show the public the latest breakthrough research in many different fields directly from the Tucsonans doing it," Zellem said. "Tucson is a science town, and the University of Arizona plays a very large role in that."

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