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Does Science Education Need a Dose of Danger?

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Life Size Mousetrap

Life Size Mousetrap, a human-size version of the classic board game, at World Maker Faire 2010, Queens, NY.

Caroline McCarthy / CNET

Under the shadow of the Cold War-era Titan II and Atlas rockets set up outside the New York Hall of Science, this weekend's World Maker Faire extravaganza was, more than anything, a tribute to the more colorful fringes of hands-on innovation, science, and engineering. And the "makers" who populated its tents and booths wanted nothing more than to get the thousands of children in attendance interested in physics, engineering, biology, and even metalwork.

The kids were enthralled. This was not the kind of science you saw in a textbook: there were exploding chemistry experiments, flame-throwing robots, model rockets, lessons in laser cutting and soldering, and a perpetual whir and hum of jet engines that made one man comment, "Sounds like a large vuvuzela." Parked in the middle of the outdoor exhibits was the BioBus, a repurposed school bus that's now loaded with microscopes so that kids can learn about cell biology, including a tissue sample donated by comic television pundit Stephen Colbert.

Even the most offbeat exhibits, staffed by costumed hipsters and artists whose look was far more Burning Man than Bunsen burner, played up the importance of science education. "Can I get a big shout-out for math?" artist Mark Perez asked to a crowd of hundreds of eager children and parents who were about to watch him orchestrate the Life Size Mousetrap, a 50,000-pound feat of mechanics that took Perez a decade and a half to build and which spent the weekend using a two-ton safe to smash a taxi.

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