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Bubbles add pop to learning at museum

The sound of hundreds of children yelling, talking and giggling about the mysteries of science created a steady roar Friday at Exploration Place.

In what has become an annual tradition for some, more than 600 people attended New Year's at Noon at Exploration Place.

The event was held in conjunction with the science museum's Bubble Fest, where children were encouraged to meet the Bubble Man and learn the science of making bubble wands and paintings and studying geometric bubble shapes.

Ron Tibbetts, affectionately known as the "Bubble Man," made huge clusters of bubbles.

For nearly two decades, Tibbetts — who closely resembles Santa Claus in a Hawaiian shirt — has been a Wichita institution as he temporarily encases children in bubbles.

New Year's at Noon is an event for area families who can't quite make it to midnight on New

Year's Eve but still want to celebrate the new year, said Christina Bluml, director of marketing and information technology at Exploration Place.

"We started doing this in 2005 and did the event for 2006, 2007 and 2008," she said. But last year, because of a traveling exhibit in the museum's Grand Hall, the balloon drop had to be canceled.

"We had tried to relocate the balloon drop as an outside balloon release, but that didn't seem to have as much impact — and we also had to hope that the weather would be good. We just decided to wait," Bluml said.

The event in past years has been so popular upwards of 1,000 people have attended the celebration.

"No one else does a New Year's Day event in Wichita," Bluml said. "We wanted to keep giving our visitors — especially families — a unique and fun time. It's one last hurrah before they head back to work and school."

Chanda Rojas drove from Harper on Friday so her niece, nephew and daughter could experience the Bubble Fest and New Year's celebration.

"It's bubbles and balloons," Rojas said. "It's hard to get better than that. It's something you can do with the family."

Some visitors wore balloon hats and clutched cotton candy. Others climbed in a Moon Bounce or danced and grooved to songs such as "Tequila" and "Wipe Out" as they waited for the high noon dropping of several dozen balloons from Exploration Place's ceiling.

But the focus of the show was undoubtedly Bubble Man. Children crowded into the Kemper Creative Learning Studio to watch as he made hundreds of bubbles, some in the form of huge, tubular snakes, others the size of golf balls that floated magically in the air before disappearing.

"I want kids to know that there are a lot of things out there to do," Tibbetts said. "And that it is fun. Learning should be the most fun thing to do in life. That's how I try and gear the show — as fun."

In 1991, Tibbetts started a bubble show at the now-closed Wichita Omnisphere and Science Center.

When the center closed, he took his bubble show on the road.

"Even in Europe or anywhere in the U.S., I'll be walking through an airport and people will come up and give me a hug saying, 'Bubble Man, you put me in a bubble,' " he said.

Bubble Fest ends today at Exploration Place, Bluml said. Today's events, which start at 11 a.m. and run through 5 p.m., will include Tibbetts' Bubble Man show.

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