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Hands On! celebrates 10 years; Knight is new director

New Hands On! Ex. Dir. Joseph Knight does a science magic trick. Chilled liquid nitrogen explodes out of a Pringles potato chip can Knight holds and has uncapped, and vaporizes upward. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Hands On! A Child’s Gallery starts its second decade with a new overall administrator, and the prior one still very involved artistically in the science and activity center in downtown Hendersonville.

The interactive education center is at 318 N. Main St. in Hendersonville. It opened there in September of 2007. It draws many science classes and families from Buncombe and other nearby counties, in addition to Henderson County residents and curious tourists. The ten-year event drew many families, volunteers and Hands On! board members.

In all of October, there will be spookily fun decor in the “boo-seum,” new Exec. Dir. Joseph Knight told The Tribune. Admission will be discounted a dollar for non-members, from the usual $5 to $4 per day. Members have unlimited admission and program discounts.

Programs have steadily expanded over its first decade, so Hands On! has added leadership. Knight started as executive director in early August.

He succeeds Hands On! founder Heather Boeke. Boeke told The Tribune at the Hands On! ten-year celebration Sept. 14 that she was essentially doing two jobs, and someone else was needed. Rather than get an assistant, she said, Knight comes on board with his science museum administrative and community-networking experience. She said a bonus is how he is “energetic and enthusiastic” to instruct and oversee children.

He has been an administrator at various levels for 13 years in science and children’s museums — most recently with tech-savvy KidSenses in Rutherfordton. He is versed in grant writing, and has a teaching degree. The Wilson, N.C. native’s wife is Ronna.

In turn, his arrival frees Boeke to concentrate on programming and “work with the community to better serve,” in her new title as Creative Experiences Director. She thanks volunteers and donors for “incredible” support for a decade and counting.

Hands On! lives up to its name with various interactive stations. Boeke and Knight noted how children tend to get more interested in hands-on projects, than sitting still and listening to lectures. “They get excited about learning,” Boeke said.

Knight sees his main role as “inspiring children, to realize science is fun and learning is life-long.” He noted “we have much visual and tactile (hands-on) learning,” rather than with sound.

Students tend to gravitate to fun and practical knowledge. Thus the ultimate benefit of science projects and lessons, Knight reasons, is learning “science concepts useful in the real world.” A prime example is predicting the weather, by looking up at cloud formations. He noted puffy clouds typically foretell a thunderstorm.

Hands-on exhibits can “change lives and transform communities,” Knight said. “Inspiration oftentimes leads to discovery, and when children discover their self-potential in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math), they become empowered to change the world as adults.”

Mad Science on Wheels is among newer Hands On! ventures, and goes to local schools and libraries. Boeke oversees that, and presents it as do Kay Campbell, Judi Donofrio and Knight.

At the birthday event, Knight and Campbell took turns demonstrating science marvels. Families reacted with awe and smiles, as if seeing magic.

One session was on cryogenics, and freezing and preserving properties of liquid nitrogen. Knight filled a Pringles potato chip with liquid nitrogen, then capped it so pressure would build and the nitrogen percolate into gas. The can was chilled in a bucket, so its temperature matched that of the nitrogen from there.

Knight removed and shook the can — the lid flew off as a mist of liquid nitrogen shot upward. He also showed its foaming properties, and how a balloon shrunk when full of liquid nitrogen but once warmed returned to its regular size.

Knight demonstrated how dipping items such as a flower and then racquet ball in water in the chilled bucket results in the water freezing onto the item — making it very brittle and easily crumble. He hammered the ball into many pieces.

Looking out for safety, he warned not to try such experiments — or at least without parental supervision, science know-how and great caution. He noted sticking one’s hand into that frozen bucket would cause painful frostbite.

Noland and Kristen Brown brought their sons Colin, 7, and McLain Brown, 3, to the ten-year celebration. They home-school their sons. Thus, they appreciate Hands On! programs aligning with state curriculum standards.

They regularly go to a science program on Tuesdays. The Make Your Space series is in the STEAM room, to the right the museum’s main entrance. That is at the end of the long hallway from Main Street, going by Black Bear Coffee Co.

Deconstruction Junction, a periodic activity, is the safe “reverse engineering” of such small donated appliances and electronics as clocks and toasters,

Exhibits in Hands On! in recent months included one with ropes and pulleys, a flashy one with light pegs, and splashy one using either of two pumps to shoot water at targets in the pond below the giant walkway.

The Browns enjoy role-playing in Hands On! stations, such as manning the grocery cash register and pretending to serve ice cream (with magnetic cones) in another mini-store.

The Browns said they typically come twice a week for an hour, preferring such briefer multiple visits with a membership to periodically spending a full afternoon there.

Half of the Brown boys’ time is in rolling Lego vehicles they build down the long, gravity-driven, downhill wooden Lego Raceway. John Pond, 6, also enjoys the raceway ramp and is a frequent visitor, his mother Melanie MacNeil noted.

Other popular attractions include the music room, and art room with easel. Boeke said each exhibit got a nod as among favorites, in the most recent surveys. The chess set with huge pieces has returned.

Volunteer David Adler, a wood artist, likes the Places to Go newer exhibit. The retired manufacturing engineer has led Make Your Space projects, such as assembling diamond-shaped pieces into puzzles using glue and magnets.

Hands On! hours are 10-5, Tuesday-Saturday. Yearly membership is $70 for an adult and child, $120 for four, or $200 for six people. For more on Hands On!, call 697-8333 or check

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