Israel With Kids / MadaTech Science Museum

The national science museum’s new outdoor exhibit combines physics lessons with theme park thrills.

It's Leonardo da Vinci meets Disneyland at the new outdoor science park in Haifa. If you haven't visited in a while, it's certainly worth a trip to see and experience this recent addition to MadaTech, The Israel National Museum of Science, Technology & Space.

Opened less than a year ago, the Noble Energy Science Park (named for the company that put up most of the big bucks) uses giant interactive exhibits, some which could easily be mistaken for amusement park rides, to demonstrate basic laws of physics.  

Judging from the lines on a recent visit, the hand-and-foot propelled helicopter and human yo-yo (in case you were wondering, it's harder than it looks to propel yourself up and down a string) were clearly the crowd favorites. But if you have no patience for standing in lines, especially on a hot day, many young visitors seemed to be having just as much fun on a swing that allows an attached pendulum to do the work you'd usually do by pumping your legs. You get to just lie back and enjoy the ride.

The 1-acre park, which spans the outdoor area connecting the museum's two buildings, is divided into sections, each devoted to the life and discoveries of a renowned scientist. In each section, interactive exhibits use wind, water and sun to provide tangible and kid-friendly representations of ideas conceived in the great minds of men like Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Daniel Bernoulli, Galileo and Pythagoras. If you ever wondered how it is that a boat moves upstream, for example, you’ll finally get a satisfying answer.

A word of warning for English speakers: All the explanations that accompany the exhibits are available only in Hebrew at the moment, but museum staff promise that within the next few months, both English and Arabic explanations will be added.

Spending many hours outdoors can be brutal in the heat of the summer, but fortunately the new science park offers quite a few shady spots as well as places for children to splash around and cool off. Another option is to head indoors and take in some of the other exhibits or sit down for a 3-D movie.

We watched a pretty good Israeli-made film about the formation of the universe (this one would not pass muster with the creationist movement) and got splashed, rocked in our seats and groped by what were supposed to feel like alien creatures in the process. The movie was not dubbed or subtitled in English.

The museum's 650 interactive exhibits are probably best suited for children aged 4 through 13. Because there's a lot to see and do, plan on spending at least three to four hours there. Bear in mind as well that the museum tends to attract big crowds: With half a million visitors flowing in a year, expect a bit of a waiting time at some of the more popular exhibits.

The museum's permanent indoor exhibits are devoted to topics as diverse as green energy, aviation, optical illusions, dental hygiene, the printing press and old toys. A rather new exhibit on road safety was a favorite for the younger members of our group. As part of the exhibit, you sit in a car (buckled in obviously) and experience the impact of a head-on collision while driving just 8 kilometers (5 miles) an hour. "Now just imagine what it feels like at 40 kilometers an hour," said a young museum staffer, as she helped us out of our seats. Every teenager in Israel should have to take the ride before getting a driving license.

And if you haven't maxed out on da Vinci at the outdoor science park, there's a special room devoted to the inventions of the Italian Renaissance-era scientist indoors, featuring interactive models of his designs in the fields of mechanics, automation, hydrodynamics and flight. On our visit, the room was packed with kids fiddling around with the models, often not very gently.

"Most places like to boast that they have ISO certification," remarked the museum's chief curator, Tal Berman. "Here at MadaTech, we like to say that we are ICS-certified. ICS stands for Israeli Children's Standard. If it can pass that standard, it can withstand anything."

Basic Info:

Address: The historic Technion Building, 25 Shmaryahu Levine St./ 12 Balfour St., Hadar Ha'carmel.

Telephone: 04-8614444.

Hours: Sundays: 12:00-16:00; Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays: 10:00-16:00; Thursdays and Saturdays: 10:00-18:00, and Fridays: 10:00-13:00.

Cost: NIS 65 for children ages 5 to 18 and NIS 75 for adults.

Getting there: A number of bus lines run from the central bus station to near the museum and so does the underground Carmelit.

Parking: Free of charge but limited on premises. There is also parking at the nearby Hamashbir department store.