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The following appeared September 2, 2007 in the

Solar Express trains go green with nostalgia.
South Florida Science Museum exhibit highlights renewable energy.

Daily News Staff Writer

    Old Hollywood westerns often feature a train chugging its way west through rough, tree-covered mountains.

    Puffs of black smoke, belched from a coal-powered engine, trailed back above the passenger cars. A romantic image, but not an environmentally friendly one.

    In a new exhibit at the South Florida Science Museum, trustee and technology enthusiast Rick Newman combines the nostalgia of the rails with a clean, modern energy source.

    On Saturday, along the museum's outdoor science trail, Newman unveiled the Solar Express. It is a 16- by 24-foot exhibit of a complete miniature town — with model houses and businesses, a windmill, farm, Ferris wheel and more. Two trains — powered entirely by a solar panel — travel through the town after guests hit buttons controlling them.

    Newman spent about $20,000 on the exhibit and about $4,000 on the solar panel. The exhibit shows visitors the sun's potential as an energy source that does not pollute the air, said Newman, a Boca Raton resident.

    "Everybody likes trains, so I wanted to make something that would 'wow!' the kids and the adults and bring back childhood memories — and at the same time give them a little scientific inspiration," Newman said.

    Newman said he hopes the exhibit will encourage children to replace incandescent bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs at home and take other steps to protect the environment.

    "Maybe in a few years they will be producing the next generation of solar panels for everybody," Newman said.

    Matthew Caspi, 13, of Long Island, N.Y., understood the message. "It was interesting how it ran on solar power," he said.

    A sign explaining how the solar panel works will be erected at the permanent exhibit within a few weeks.

    The exhibit is not Newman's first contribution to the museum; his electric car, space artifacts and model space ships are all on display at the West Palm Beach facility. Newman also lent versions of Robbie the Robot, the Lost in Space robot and R2D2 of Star Wars fame to the Science Museum for the Robotics exhibit that ends today, executive director Charles Hamilton said.

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