A kid has to know European Space Research and Technology Centre

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European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands, or as the ESA people like to call it simply, ESTEC, is a very special place. I’ve been there a few times for professional reasons, and I’ve enjoyed an Open Door Day event a few years ago, but the this year’s event on 6th of October, 2019, was special for me as a father. Not only because it was the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing (the theme of 2019 Open Day was “ESA to the Moon”), but also because it was the first time I took my 8-year-old son to ESTEC to show him around, and introduce him to ex-colleagues. We had been to the nearby Space Expo before, but of course without special permission or a public day, it wasn’t possible to visit the main ESTEC site.

We went there one day before the event, because I wanted my son to enjoy the beautiful and serene Noordwijk beach and coastline, one of my favorite places in the Netherlands. Because ESTEC is only a few kilometers away from the coast, we stayed there and before setting on our way we explored the area a little. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t rainy, and we even enjoyed a little Sun:

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A kid has to start programming

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Our older son is now 7.5 years old, and he expressed his interest in learning how to program. We had a Dutch translation of Scratch programming book for children, but before starting with the book, I made him program me. That is, I told him that “now I’m the robot, and I can only follow the instructions that you’ll issue, and I can do them exactly as you say, in the order you say, and nothing else. Now make this robot pick that toy from your brothers bed’s corner.” For both of us, it turned out to be a funny, as well as challenging exercise. In only a few minutes, he quickly realized how many things he takes for granted, and how even a seemingly super simple and straightforward task is composed of many intricate details. He also saw how things can go wrong, because he had to “debug” his robot-dad. He became also a little frustrated when I insisted doing exactly as he said without any interpretation. “Welcome to my world son!” was a natural reaction from me.

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A kid has to know his Euro Space Center

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For a long time, I wanted to take my older son to the Euro Space Center in Transinne, Belgium. Finally, last Sunday we had a small window of opportunity for a few hours and we went there. Both of us enjoyed the event, even though we didn’t have time left for some of the attractions such as Moon and Marswalking experience. I can recommend Euro Space Center to all space and science enthusiasts, especially to the kids. But be aware that you’ll be bombarded with information, exhilarating demonstrations, and a lot of surprises in an intensive atmosphere. I’m already getting impatient for my younger toddler to grow up a little more, so that I’ll have another excuse to revisit the center. 😉

 

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A kid has to know his particle accelerator: our family visit to CERN

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About six years ago, when I visited CERN for the first time, I found it a very inspirational place and promised myself to bring my son here. Fast forward six years, and this summer I had the opportunity to bring the whole family, including my son who’s now 7-year-old, and his brother, a 10-month-old, to this unique scientific center that found so many answers about the microcosmos, as well as serving as the birthplace of many technologies that we take for granted today, such as the World Wide Web.

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It was a pleasure to visit the current exhibitions at CERN, and get away a little from the scorching hot weather of Geneva in July, 2018. My 7-year-old was duly impressed and ran from one place to another, asking me something like 100 questions/minute, exhausting me a little more than the Sun outside 🙂 I tried to quench his thirst for knowledge with my poor understanding of particle physics, and tried to divest the topic to big data processing on which I could talk more comfortably.

Maybe in 6-7 year later, I’ll have another excuse to visit CERN: our baby will be about 7 years old, and the older son will be about 13-14 years old. Next time, I’ll try to reserve a guided tour, so that their questions will be answered better. And who knows, maybe we’ll come across a Nobel laureate or two while wandering the long corridors of this temple of science.

A kid has to know his little aviation museum

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We have a small international airport in Antwerp, and next to it there’s a little aviation museum: Stampe & Vertongen Museum. Last week we decided to pay a visit there. It’s a tiny, little and lovely museum with some old airplanes and a lot of models. Our 6-year-old was excited to see all those airplanes, and kept one of the museum officials very busy with so many questions. The museum presented interesting aspects of aviation history of Belgium, and also reminded me of the days when I’ve spent countless hours building aircraft models.

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A kid has to start with some electronic circuits

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I was curious about how my 6-year-old would react when he saw the gift package of Snap Circuits. I told him that his uncle sent this box full of electronic projects, so that we could spend time together building interesting things. Lucky for me, he was thrilled at the sight of it. This evening we decided it was time to build some circuits, and finished the first three projects.

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We had great time together, and I tried to explain each circuit. I had some difficulties in explaining the concept of electricity, the flow of electrons, and atoms (“no dear, atoms are everywhere, not only in atomic bombs… yes, they also exist in atomic bombs… no, we’re not building anything dangerous, yes, please be careful with that spinning fan!”). Overall it was a great experience, and we’ll continue to build the remaining 97 projects, as well as try to come up with our designs.

Mars? Again? Why?

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I was driving my 6-year-old to school a few days ago, and we had the following conversation:

– Hey, I’ve just learned that NASA is sending yet another spacecraft to Mars. And we can put your name on it! How cool is that?
– Mars?
– Yes.
– Why is it always Mars? Aren’t they bored already? Mars, Mars, Mars… but there are so many other planets, dad!
– Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because close to us, and not that hot. And logistics, you know. So many things to discover.
– Always Mars. Why? I don’t understand!

Apparently he was a bit disappointed that it’s not another planet to which we’ll be sending his name. Sorry kid, but for now, we’ll have to make do with Mars. So here we go:

For the curious reader, this is about the the Insight Mars Lander mission of NASA, and “Another Chance to Put Your Name on Mars“. If you want to send your name, or your child’s, you can visit https://mars.nasa.gov/participate/send-your-name/insight.  There are already more than 1 million names registered! According to Frequently Asked Questions, you can see the photograph of the microchip on which your name will be etched at the following web addresses: https://mars.nasa.gov/participate/send-your-name/insight/learn/.

According to NASA: More

A kid has to know his radio telescope

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A few weeks ago, in August of 2017, we made a short trip to Germany to visit Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Bad Münstereifel for a few days. There were two highlights of our short visit: The first one was a great culinary experience at Brasserie “1806” at Düsseldorf (thanks to a recommendation by Vedat Milor, see his Turkish article here, and an automatic English translation here). The second one was a scientific inspiration that led to this blog entry, a visit to the second largest radio telescope in the world, the Effelsberg 100-m Radio Telescope. The only downside was that we didn’t have time to visit the other, smaller radio telescope nearby, that is the historical Stockert Radio Telescope, nowadays used for educational purpose.

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I can easily recommend to science enthusiasts, geeks, and nerds a visit to Effelsberg radio telescope, not only because of the awe-inspiring view, as well as its scientific and engineering value, but also because of the wonderful nature surrounding it. We were also glad to see a lot of people, young and old, visiting the telescope even on that rainy day (well, they were mostly Germans, and we weren’t surprised). I tried to explain my six-year-old son the meaning of a radio telescope, but I don’t know how successful I was (how would you describe electromagnetic waves and radio telescopes to a 6-year-old, any useful ideas? Feel free to comment!). Nevertheless, I was able to arouse a bit of enthusiasm in him, enough to motivate him to take a rather long walk for him on a rainy day. I think the result and his excited cries were worth our efforts. I hope that one day he will learn more about electromagnetism, radio telescopes, and the fascinating world of human ingenuity that enabled us to ‘see and hear’ parts of the universe that we couldn’t perceive normally otherwise. Until that day, I’ll try to kindle his curiosity, even on a rainy day!

 

A kid has to know his musical clocks and automata: Museum Speelklok in Utrecht

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A few years ago, I was in Utrecht for a project meeting, and I’ve seen signs of a “Museum Speelklok” (see its official web site in English). Even though I was curious about it, I didn’t have much time and had to head back to Belgium. Fast forward a few years: few weeks ago, April, 2016, we planned a short trip to the Netherlands, and Utrecht was part of the plan. So I said to my 4-year-old: Time to explore kiddo! More

A kid has to know his trains

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Trains have been humming and connecting the cities of Belgium since 1835, and today, we had the opportunity to witness this 180 years old history of trains in the wonderful museum of Train World in Schaarbeek.  The recently opened museum, right next to the beautiful Schaarbeek train station, turned out to be a delight to the eyes and minds of the visitors. Belgium, being the first country to run trains in continental Europe, had a lot of engineering and transportation treasures to show us.  Our 4-year-old son could not hide his excitement; running from one locomotive to another, exploring various types of train cars, jumping on some of them, observing many old clocks and gadgets, as well as being dazzled by one of the most beautiful and alive model train scenery,  he wanted to see more and more and until his little legs started to feel really tired.

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There are a lot of surprises, for children as well as for adults, nerds, and geeks alike, and I don’t want to spoil the fun by talking about all the details. Careful observers will need to be prepared for a time travel, and a lot of energy: even if you want to take a tour quickly, it’ll take you 1.5 to 2 hours to explore this big museum. Train enthusiasts will spend at least 3 to 4 hours, and will probably cherish every minute of it. You can even get your hands (and shirts, if you’re not very careful, but who can accuse you, after all that excitement anyway?) dirty, if you touch some parts of the trains. You might, just like I and my son did, carry that oily dirt as a badge of honor, and postpone washing your hands until you exit the museum, only to have a delicious break at the cafeteria of the train station, which, by the way, will continue to mesmerize you with its aesthetics, and keep the feeling of time travel to a great extent.

This was our first visit to this great museum, but I don’t think it will be our last.

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