Sienna Bauer, 15, of Talent, in Southern Oregon, had fun solving "The Balancing Act" puzzle Friday at the new OMSI Science Festival exhibit at the Benton County Fair.

The area, open all day in the fairground's commercial building to visitors of all ages, features tables lined with more than a dozen brain teasers and other hands-on activities.

Bauer enjoyed the first-time attraction, because it has games you wouldn't traditionally find at the fair, which concludes today.

"In my class that I did engineering in, we did challenges like this and we have to figure out ways to do it and that was really fun," she said. "I always like these."

Her sister Brisa Bauer, 11, and cousin Mason Cutsforth, 12, of Sherwood, said they liked how each of the puzzles made them think. And they enjoyed the feeling of gratification if they solved one.

"It tricks your brain and stuff," Brisa Bauer said.

Cutsforth added, "Once you get it right it's really exciting."

The Bauer and Cutsforth families meet up at the Benton County Fair every year to watch one of their cousins show pigs in 4-H competition, their mother Brooke Bauer said.

They were all surprised and ecstatic to find the new science festival awaiting.

"We came running over here when we saw the (OMSI) sign," Cutsforth said.

The brain teasers are similar to what is at OMSI in Portland, says Ashley Jamison, an outreach educator at OMSI, who is working at the festival.

The OMSI Science Festival is made possible by its outreach education program, which brings the interactive museum experience to the Benton County Fair. Jamison and fellow educator Ian Sterry take the program to schools, community centers, libraries, and rural towns that may not have access to OMSI.

Sperry and Jamison brought other scientific activities with them, including a new exhibit, which offers a spin on the classic egg drop. It is a prototype that has just been developed, Sterry said.

The whole egg drop takes place inside an orange cart. "We're not going outside and wasting a bunch of eggs," he said.

"It's a digital egg drop with wooden eggs and an accelerometer in there. When they hit the ground it tells you how hard they hit and whether or not a real egg would've broken at that force," Sterry said.

The two were joined by food science coordinator Rebecca Reilly. Her table features food-related science activities, such as Spud Art (potato stamp art), Color-Changing Berry and soil PH testing.

"We're on a third-year grant with Oregon Department of Agriculture because they're looking for ways to teach people more about Oregon agriculture and what that means," Reilly said.

Reilly noticed a lot families were really enjoying themselves at the OMSI exhibit.

"A lot of families are here, and it's nice to see the adults and their kids working to together to solve these problems," she said.

Today, the festival will offer fairgoers the opportunity to "meet a scientist." 

"We've got two researchers coming from OSU to visit. They will share demos about their work," Sterry said.

Mary Leonard, who works in the toxicology department, and Ethan Minot, a physics professor, will be sharing their expertise.

Jamison and Sterry also plan to do some live demonstrations outside today. These include using a trebuchet, a machine used to hurl objects, to launch water balloons and possibly do some demonstrations with fire, Sterry said.

The OMSI activities have been popular with visitors of all ages.

Kristen Jennings of Corvallis was showing her 3-year-old son, Theo, the "Galloping Horse" puzzle. They were at the fair with a play group of kids the same age.

"They love doing the manipulative stuff and are interested in how the shapes fit together, so this is perfect for us," Jennings said.

Sterry and Jamison said even on the slower days at the fair they had seen a steady stream of visitors at the OMSI room. And the participants definitely got something out of the experience.

"They leave feeling like they have a more scientific mind," Sterry said.

The two would like to bring the hands-on festival back to next year's fair.

"We've made a really good showing, and people seem to be enjoying it. We would love to come back," Jamison said.

Meanwhile, in the Retro Gaming Room a dozen kids were splayed out in bean bags either playing Xbox and Wii games on the two big screen TVs or simply enjoying the air-conditioning while they hung out with their friends.

The game room, another new addition to this year's fair, also includes a foosball table, Guitar Hero, an old Ms. Pacman and pinball machine game titled "High-Speed."

Liz McGovern of Philomath, who works for 4-H, was watching her sons Ben, 9, and Joey, 6, play pinball.

"I brought them here today to play and have fun, instead of just work," McGovern said.

Ben looked at the schedule to see what time the carnival rides opened and thought the game room sounded fun, he said.

The boys couldn't get enough of the pinball, as Ben asked for "one more game," and Joey anxiously awaited his turn.

McGovern thinks the game room is a good fit for the fair, especially during the hot summer days.

"It's a good place for the kids to come and cool down, and so is the OMSI. Both are really interactive. Anything that lets them have fun and stay engaged is good, I think," she said.

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