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The Long Island Science Center reopens, focusing on augmented and virtual reality

The new Riverhead location features a rotating bridge, a self-driving cart and more.

The Long Island Science Center has reopened in Riverhead with new, interactive, tech-related activities, including augmented and virtual reality. (Credit: Newsday / Beth Whitehouse)

Visitors to the new Long Island Science Center in Riverhead may walk into an unassuming storefront, but once inside they face off with a shark who swims up to their underwater cage, send a dinosaur running through a prehistoric landscape and fly a precursor to the modern helicopter invented by Leonardo da Vinci. 

The Long Island Science Center reopened in Riverhead in January with completely new, interactive, tech-related activities, including augmented and virtual reality, says executive director Cailin Kaller. “The Long Island Science Center was in Riverhead for a very long time. Three years ago, we sold the building in Riverhead and moved temporarily to Rocky Point,” Kaller says. The museum board found that Riverhead was a better location for the center and moved back, she says. 

“It’s a small rental building that we’re in right now. It’s only about 3,000 square feet,” Kaller says. The center is seeking a larger space in Riverhead to move to long term in the next couple of years.

Here are six ways to explore at the new center:

The Models of Leonardo da Vinci

Replicas of Leonardo da Vinci creations include a flying machine; a manual, crank-operated, self-driving cart; the double hull of a ship, and a rotating military bridge. "We've added a technology element," Kaller says. Visitors can use a center-provided tablet to scan a code for some of the inventions to see video about them and make the creation move virtually. The center has also created a scavenger hunt to go with that exhibit.

Art in Action

At this station visitors first color a picture of a butterfly or a dragon or a dinosaur, for instance. Then they scan their paper picture into a tablet and their creation comes to life. The butterfly takes flight, the dinosaur runs and the dragon breathes fire.

Virtual Reality Station

Visitors don one of the center's eight virtual reality goggles and, while seated, they select one of five different immersive experiences. Ocean Rift, for instance, lefts them enter the worlds of 12 different underwater habitats and the creatures who live there, including dolphins, turtles and the aforementioned shark. The Dinosaurs experience teaches about 12 dinosaurs that lived in different periods, including the Jurassic. 

Magnetic Reality Wall 

Move the magnetic PVC pipes to create a pinball-game style route for a ball to travel from the top of the wall to the ground. "We're teaching about gravity, force and friction," Kaller says.

Augmented Reality Sandbox

Clare Boland, 11, of Oakdale, has her arms nearly elbow-deep in sand, enjoying how the augmented reality sandbox created a virtual river at the base of the sand mountain she's created and virtual snow at its summit.

The tabletop sandbox is meant to teach kids about topography and watersheds by lighting up the sand different colors as it reaches different levels. "Usually at a lot of other museums, you just look at stuff. They're like, 'Don't touch this. Don't touch this,'" Clare says. "This is more hands-on." 

Interactive classes

Science Saturdays offer an optional instructor-led project from 2 to 3 p.m. for an additional $5. March 9, for instance, offers "Space Explorers," and kids will make galactic slime. On weekends there’s also a free maker space available from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. where kids can do self-guided experiments and projects. The center is also launching a monthly, weekday class for preschoolers ages 2 to 5. The first one is March 13, called "Insect Inspectors." Kids will learn about crickets. The cost for that class is $5 per child.

LONG ISLAND SCIENCE CENTER

WHEN | WHERE 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends; 40 Peconic Ave., Riverhead 

COST $10

INFO 631-208-8000, sciencecenterli.org.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE

River Walk Bar and Grille, 40 Peconic Ave., Riverhead, 631-591-2215

Have lunch at the River Walk Bar and Grille, next to the Science Center. The wide-open, airy space offers a $7 kids menu that includes a hot dog, a burger, chicken tenders, pasta or fried shrimp. It comes with fries or a vegetable and a drink. The venue also has three pinball-style games, including Silver Strike Bowling, Metallica Pinball and Video Golf for $1 a game. During warmer weather, the restaurant's garage-style windows open up to give dining an al fresco feel. Open daily at 11 a.m.

Milton L. Burns Park, Peconic Ave., Riverhead, 631-722-4444

Across the street from the Science Center is the town of Riverhead's Milton L. Burns Park, with walking paths and an art installation. The handful of outdoor pieces includes an enormous net of silver fish and a life-size mermaid. Let the kids work off some energy playing in the grass alongside the Peconic River. 

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