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IMAX maximizes MOSI's image

After the butterflies were released and the star of the TV science show Beakman's World burst from a big beaker, hundreds of children streamed into the newly expanded Museum of Science and Industry on Saturday morning with one goal in mind: See the new movie theater.

The IMAX Dome is the first of its kind in Florida _ a scalloped multistory movie screen with nearly vertical banks of seats. Special projection and sound systems put the viewer virtually inside the film.

Nine-year-old Jacob Ahlers watched a rock climber lose his grip on a Yosemite cliff, only to be saved by his springy safety line.

"When he fell, it felt like you were falling with him," Jacob said afterward.

The IMAX Dome, housed in its distinctive peeled-apple sphere, is at the center of a vastly expanded Museum of Science and Industry that debuted Saturday morning. Also opening were an exhibit on the body called "The Amazing You" and other displays.

The two-year, $35-million expansion crowns what museum president Wit Ostrenko calls "the envy of science centers in the country."

That the 350-seat theater was packed during three morning screeningsindicates attendance of at least 1,000 by itself, according to museum spokeswoman Beverly Littlejohn. Marketing director Lisa Brock said the museum was "swamped" Saturday afternoon, but that exact attendance figures weren't available.

The museum is hoping to attract 17,000 visitors through Tuesday. Its new yearly goal of 1-million visitors is almost three times last year's figure.

Visitor Sue Miller of Dover said she thinks the new and improved MOSI will be an attractive option among local entertainment choices for young people that include Lowry Park Zoo and Busch Gardens.

Miller and others said they think the prices, which increased with the expansion, were reasonable for the exhibits and entertainment provided. Adult admission is $8 to the center, $11 to both the center and IMAX theater.

Outside the IMAX theater, Jacob Ahlers and his sister, 14-year-old Clara, were discussing their favorite parts of To The Limit, the hourlong film on athletes and achievement.

Clara liked the part involving Swiss skier Maria Walliser and the ski-mounted cinematography of Walliser's harrowing 60-mph downhill runs.

"The film shows the discipline needed to do that," said their mother, Barbara Ahlers.

Many other displays were working throughout the day. Museum employee Gene Nibbelink held several dozen children and parents rapt with his demonstrations of what marshmallows and shaving cream do in a vacuum (Answer: They expand).

Some displays repackaged the science from high school that you forgot with a more consumer-friendly approach: "To store the entire human genome, you would need almost a million CDs!"

Eight-year-old Kristy Baldwin of Spring Hill and her 4-year-old brother, Bryan, were listening to a tape of a snowy tree cricket's chirps. The warmer it gets, the more frequent the chirping.

Their mother, Kathy Baldwin, said the museum fit well into one of the family's occasional trips to Tampa: first the exhibits, then a snack outside, then maybe a trip to University Mall.

She praised the environmentally minded values of the exhibits her children were seeing.

"They'll learn to save the earth, not to put garbage everywhere," she said.

IF YOU GO

Today, the museum at 4801 E Fowler Ave. is scheduled to host Tony Yaniro, the rock climber featured in the MOSIMAX film To The Limit. Yaniro will either rappel down the outside of the theater or descend through the museum's four-story lobby. He also is scheduled to appear Monday and Tuesday. In addition, a 5k road race begins at 7:30 a.m.

Hours through Wednesday are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. From Thursday through July 10, the museum will close earlier, at 5 p.m. Then the hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. will resume. Admission to all exhibits is $11 for adults, $9 for teens 13 to 18, and $7 for children 2 to 12.

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