An interactive mobile museum is headed for rural Oklahoma to drum up interest in science.

An interactive mobile museum is headed for rural Oklahoma to drum up interest in science.

The "Science Matters" exhibit, funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, made its debut Tuesday outside Science Museum Oklahoma.

Don Otto, director of the museum in Oklahoma City, said the goal of the mobile unit is to inspire children in rural areas to think about a career in science.

Otto said wiping out a deficit of scientists and engineers is vital to making sure Oklahoma and the nation prosper in the future.

"In the 1960s, when John Kennedy said we were going to the moon, the United States was No. 1 in science and math education. Now we are 26th or 27th," he said.

He said the U.S. is graduating only about 50,000 engineers a year, compared to the 600,000 graduated by China, for instance.

In the past, he said countries like China and India have exported many of their scientists and engineers to the U.S, but are now keeping them to meet their own needs.

"If we want to compete economically as a state and as a nation, we're going to have to grow our own scientists and engineers," Otto said.

Officials said the exhibit will visit rural areas in all four quadrants of the state. The tour is expected to begin in January in southwestern Oklahoma.

The museum on wheels features 10 different hands-on exhibits, including a laser chamber where children play a game similar to "Hangman." If students give a wrong answer, they can stay in the chamber and play again if they can dodge laser beams.

Another exhibit provides answers to hundreds of thousands of science questions and another allows children to build a magnetic sculpture.

An inflatable dome at the back of the mobile unit contains an obstacle course to allow children to run off steam before leaving the museum.

Sherry Marshall, director of the Oklahoma Museum Network, said the schedule is still being worked out, but the first stops for the museum on wheels will be in southwestern Oklahoma.

The traveling museum is designed mostly for upper elementary school grades, but students from all age groups are expected to take part in the activities.

It will be taken to rural communities that are at least 90 miles from Oklahoma City and four "partner" museums of Science Museum Oklahoma, formerly known as the Omniplex. The other museums are located in Tulsa, Seminole, Lawton and Enid.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.