Exploratorium

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The Exploratorium
Main Entrance to the Exploratorium at Pier 15.
Established 1969 (1969)
Location San Francisco, California, USA
Coordinates Coordinates: 37°48′10″N 122°26′54″W / 37.80278°N 122.44833°W / 37.80278; -122.44833
Type Science, art, and human perception
Visitors 570,000 visits annually[1]
Director Dennis Bartels
Website http://www.exploratorium.edu/
A medley of videos recorded at the Exploratorium's Microscope Imaging Station.[2]

The Exploratorium is a museum in San Francisco that has created over 1,000 participatory exhibits that mix science and art, almost all of which were made onsite. It is considered by some to be the prototype for participatory museums around the world.[3] It has been engaged in the professional development of teachers, science education reform, and the promotion of museums as informal education centers since its founding in the Palace of Fine Arts in 1969 by physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer. Since Oppenheimer's death in 1985, the Exploratorium has expanded into other domains, including online communities, and has helped to create an international network of museums working to solve problems with general science education.[4]

The Exploratorium offers visitors a variety of ways—including exhibits, webcasts, websites and events—to explore and understand the world around them. In 2011, the Exploratorium received the National Science Board 2011 Public Service Science Award for its contributions to public understanding of science and engineering.[5]

On January 2, 2013, the Exploratorium closed its doors to the public at the Palace of Fine Arts and began its move to a new location on Piers 15 and 17 along The Embarcadero. The museum opened to the public at Pier 15 on April 17, 2013.

Contents

History [edit]

The Exploratorium's museum floor, in its original Palace of Fine Arts location (2009)

The Exploratorium was the brainchild of Frank Oppenheimer, an experimental physicist and university professor. Oppenheimer, who worked on the Manhattan Project with his brother J. Robert Oppenheimer, was diverted from an academic career when forced to resign from his position at the University of Minnesota in 1949 as a result of an inquiry by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Oppenheimer was blacklisted from academic positions across the country. He withdrew with his family to a Colorado ranch and began lending a hand with science projects of local high school students, and eventually took over the post of science teacher at the high school in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where he taught for ten years. The field trips and experiments he did with his high school students would become a blueprint for the hands-on methods of teaching and learning he would later bring to the Exploratorium.

When Oppenheimer was invited to join the University of Colorado's physics department in 1959, he found himself less interested in traditional laboratory research and much more interested in exploring methods of provoking curiosity and inquiry. Back in academia, Oppenheimer received a grant from the National Science Foundation, which he used to build models of nearly a hundred science experiments. Essentially a draft version of the Exploratorium, this collection was his "Library of Experiments."

Convinced of the need for public museums to supplement science curricula at all levels of shcooling, Oppenheimer toured Europe and studied museums on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965. Three European museums he encountered during that year served as important influences on the founding of the Exploratorium: the Palais de la Découverte, which displayed models to teach scientific concepts and employed students as demonstrators, a practice that directly inspired the Exploratorium's much-lauded High School Explainer Program; the South Kensington Museum of Science and Art, which Oppenheimer and his wife visited frequently; and the Deutsches Museum in Munich, the world's largest science museum, which had a number of interactive displays that impressed the Oppenheimers.

Oppenheimer was invited to do the initial planning for a new branch of the Smithsonian, but he turned it down to work on what he called his "San Francisco project." In 1967 the Oppenheimers came to San Francisco with a view towards opening a museum of their own. Oppenheimer sought funding and support for the endeavor using a grassroots approach, bringing a written proposal and some handmade exhibits with him as he visited scientists, businesses, city and school officials, relatives, and friends. Many prominent scientists and cultural figures endorsed the project, and between the offers of support and a $50,00 grant from the San Francisco Foundation, the museum became realizable.

In 1969 the Exploratorium opened at the Palace of Fine Arts. Although the building needed vast improvements, Oppenheimer couldn't afford to make the changes, and decided to allow the public to come and watch exhibits being built and changes being made as part of the participatory ethos of the institution.[6][7]

Oppenheimer served as the museum’s director until his death in 1985. Dr. Robert L. White served as Director from 1987 to 1990. Dr. Goéry Delacôte served as Executive Director from 1991 until 2005.[8] Dr. Dennis Bartels has been serving as Executive Director of the Exploratorium since 2006. The museum has expanded greatly since the 1980s, increasing outreach, expanding programs for educators, creating an expanded Web presence, and forming museum partnerships around the world.[9]

New location [edit]

On April 17, 2013, the Exploratorium opened at its new location in Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, between the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf; the $300 million campus triples the museum's space from its old Palace of Fine Arts location. Staff project that the new location will double the museum's annual attendance.[10]

The new location features an 800-foot (240 m)-long structure extending over San Francisco Bay and adds 1.5 acres (6,100 m2) of publicly accessible waterfront space. It added two pedestrian bridges, making it possible to circumambulate Pier 15. It will feature almost 600 hands-on exhibits, 25% more than at the previous location, and will include permanent outdoor exhibits for the first time.[10]

Exhibits [edit]

The museum floor of the Exploratorium houses a rotating number of exhibits that blend science, art, and hands-on experimentation. Examples include displays such as mouse stem cells or worms that glow from implanted jellyfish genes, giant bubbles, quirky musical instruments, a tornado you can touch, a four-person game of Pac-Man, and more. Many online-only exhibits have also been developed specifically for the Exploratorium's website.

More than 1,000 Exploratorium exhibits have been developed since 1969. Exhibits cover a range of subject areas, including human perception (such as vision, hearing, learning and cognition), the life sciences, and physical phenomena (such as light, motion, electricity, waves and resonance, and weather). A variety of public programs, artists-in-residence projects, and demonstrations accompany the exhibit collections.

The move to Pier 15 has paved the way for a number of new exhibit topic areas. Many of these will make use of site-specific factors such as the Bay itself, the investigation of complex systems visible through the windows of the facility's new Bay Observatory, and an examination of the normally invisible life indigenous to the water under the piers. Other new topic areas include outdoor exhibits involving the water, wind, fog, rain, sun, and other elements, and a gallery looking at human behavior such as cooperation, competition, and sharing.[11]

Education [edit]

Teachers from the Exploratorium's Teacher Institute examine the "String Thing" they built

The Exploratorium seeks to bring hands-on inquiry to education, including training teachers in the teaching of science.[12] Among the education-based programs are:[13]

  • The Teacher Institute, which works with novice, middle and high school science teachers to increase science teacher effectiveness and keep teachers in the profession
  • The Institute for Inquiry, which provides inquiry-based workshops and online resources for a national community of K-5 education reform leaders and Bay-Area elementary school districts.
  • The Center for Informal Learning and Schools, which furthers the impact museums and science centers can have on teacher education and school reform. The Center also offers professional certificates for museum educators.
  • The Educational Outreach Program, which partners with more than 30 community organizations to bring free hands-on art and science programs to schools, community centers, children's hospitals, and after-school programs.
  • The Explainer Program, which hires and trains high school students. The new location will expand the number of Explainers from 120 to 300 annually. The program combines on-the-job experience and academic instruction; participating students earn San Francisco minimum wage to explore, teach, learn, and assist visitors in doing the same.
  • The Making Collaborative, which creates playful and inventive educational activities using science, art, and technology for the public and shares ideas with a larger audience of educators in museums and other kinds of informal learning environments. Their development lab is the Learning Studio at the Exploratorium. Their public learning space is the Exploratorium's Tinkering Studio.
  • The Field Trip Program, which provides online resources for teachers, and on-site Explainers to facilitate visits and conduct demonstrations.
  • Learning Tools, which has over 18 titles in print and annually sells 25,000 copies of Exploratorium-developed publications.
  • explo.tv produces 75 educational Webcasts from the museum and locations around the world annually.
  • The Iron Science Teacher, a national competition that celebrates innovation and creativity in science teaching, and originated at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Parodying the cult Japanese TV program, “Iron Chef,” this competition showcases science teachers as they devise classroom activities using a particular ingredient — an everyday item such as a plastic bag, milk carton, or nail. Contestants are currently or formally part of the Exploratorium's Teacher Institute and compete before a live audience for the title of "Iron Science Teacher." Shows are also archived on the Exploratorium's site.

Arts [edit]

Walter Kitundu - Artist in Residence and MacArthur Fellow

Since 1974, over 250 artists working in various disciplines have held residencies at the Exploratorium. Each year, the museum invites ten to twenty artists to participate in residencies ranging from two weeks to two years.[14]

Artists-in-residence work with staff and the visiting public to create original installations, exhibits, or performances. Artists are given a stipend, housing, travel expenses, and technical support, and they have at their disposal the Exploratorium's full array of metal and woodworking shops and materials. Two artists associated with the Exploratorium have been awarded MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grants: Walter Kitundu (see photo) and Ned Kahn. As of 2013, Kitundu is still on staff.

The Exploratorium has an equally long history with musical, film and other performances. Participating artists and performers include Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Ali Akbar Khan, Trimpin, and The Mermen.[15]

One example of an artist-created work is the off-site Wave Organ, the brainchild of former staff artist Peter Richards. It is located on a point of land jutting into San Francisco Bay not far from the Exploratorium's original Palace of Fine Arts location.

Beyond the walls [edit]

Website [edit]

Online since 1993, the Exploratorium was one of the first museums to build a site on the World Wide Web.[16] The site serves 13 million visitors each year, more than 20 times the number of visitors to the physical museum location in San Francisco. It has received the Webby Award for Best Science (and Education) website five times since 1997.

Webcasts [edit]

Solar Eclipse webcast at the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium's website is an extension of the experiences on the museum's floor. It provides "real" experiences for online audiences. The Exploratorium broadcasts live video and/or audio directly from the museum floor (or from satellite feeds in the field, at such locations as Antarctica or the Belize rainforest) onto the Internet. Webcasts provide access to special events, scientists, and other museum resources for audiences on the Web. Using video and audio with text-based articles and features allows the public to choose among different methods of learning about a particular topic.

Video and audio also provide the ability to hear or view interviews with scientists, "meet" interesting people, or tour unique locations from factories to particle accelerators.[17] Scientists in the field also blog and use social media to communicate directly with web audiences.

Global Studios [edit]

The Exploratorium Global Studios initiative is an entrepreneurial endeavor to generate revenue for the museum by sharing resources, exhibits, and research with foreign governments, universities, partner museums, libraries, hospitals, and other public and private entities around the world. One area of significant current activity for the Global Studios initiative is the Middle East, where it hopes to assist countries that are making long-term investments in education and transitioning to more knowledge-based economies.[18] For example, the Tinkering Studio visited a science festival in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2012, where they trained a group of teachers to help thousands of festival participants to experience the hands-on learning style favored by the Exploratorium.[19]

Influence [edit]

At the 4th Science Center World Congress in Rio in 2005, science centers from five continents ranked the Exploratorium as the number one science center in the world. In 2007, the Exploratorium was highlighted in the book Forces For Good as one of the 12 most effective non-profits in the United States, and was the only museum that made the list.[20]

Facts and figures (2012-2013) [edit]

Audiences [edit]

570,000 people visited the Exploratorium in 2012. Of these, 55% are adults and 45% are children. 52% are from the Bay Area, 24% from the rest of California, 14% from other states, and 10% from outside the US. 36% received free or discounted admission, and 44,000 attended on Free Wednesdays. Groups comprising 97,000 students and chaperones visit the museum each year; of these, 67,000 participate in the Field Trip program. 180 million visit Exploratorium exhibits at science centers and other locations worldwide.[1]

Exhibitions and programs [edit]

More than 1,000 original interactive exhibits, displays, and artworks have been designed, prototyped, and built on site. 80% of science centers internationally make use of Exploratorium exhibits, programs, or ideas.[1]

The vast majority of exhibits are hands-on. Throughout the year, programs include original plays, film screenings, craft demonstrations, access to artist studios, and lectures.

Education and research [edit]

Since 1995, an estimated 6,400 educators from 48 states and 11 countries have participated in Exploratorium workshops. 500 US teachers participate in more than 40 hours of intensive professional development each year. A national center that supports professional development for informal educators has reached more than 500 members annually through workshops, conferences, and publications. 450,000 educators are directly and indirectly influenced by the Exploratorium each year.[1]

Educational Outreach provides science workshops for 3,500 underserved children and families in the community. The Explainer Program hires and trains 120 high school students as docents each year, with that number increasing to 300 starting at the new location in 2013. The Osher Fellows Program hosts 4 resident scholars, scientists, educators, and artists every year.[1]

Budget and staff [edit]

The Exploratorium's 2012-2013 budget is $58,662,223. There are 554 total employees; 290 are full-time equivalent. There is also an international team of 250 volunteers that contributes more than 16,000 hours annually in the museum.[1]

Notes [edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "About Us: Fact Sheet 2012-2013". from the Exploratorium's website. 
  2. ^ Carlson, C. (2005). "Accessing the Microscopic World". PLoS Biology 3 (1): e12. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030012. PMC 544541. PMID 15660153. 
  3. ^ Rothstein, Edward (March 13, 2010). "The Thrill of Science, Tamed by Agendas". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "L'Expansion" 646. Du 23 Mai Au 6 Juin 2001. 
  5. ^ "San Francisco-based Exploratorium to Receive National Science Board's 2011 Public Service Award". National Science Board. April 4, 2011. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  6. ^ Hein, Hilde (1990). The Exploratorium - The Museum as Laboratory. Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 4–21. ISBN 0-87474-466-0. 
  7. ^ Cole, K.C. (2009). Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens - Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 98. ISBN 978-0151008223. 
  8. ^ "Goéry Delacôte: Executive Profile & Biography". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  9. ^ Viviano, Frank (April 1, 1999). "Exploring Paris". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  10. ^ a b Yadegaran, Jessica (December 27, 2012). "Exploratorium closes Jan. 2, begins move to Pier 15". Contra Costa Times. MercuryNews.com. Retrieved 2012-12-28. 
  11. ^ Museum Galleries from the Exploratorium's website
  12. ^ "Informal Science Learning, a new study by the National Research Council". United States National Research Council, Sponsored by the United States National Academies. 2009-01-14. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  13. ^ Education: Changing the Way the World Learns from the Exploratorium's website
  14. ^ Peter Turvey (1992-02-15). "Artful Science from Sunny California". New Scientist. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  15. ^ Exploratorium 40th Anniversary: Speaking of Music Series & Podcasts from the Exploratorium's website
  16. ^ Gnatek, Tim (2006-03-29). "Taking the Rough-and-Tumble Approach to Science". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  17. ^ Semper, R.J. (2001-05-13). "Live @ the Exploratorium - providing a public experience with current science through Webcasting" v.12 (n.4). International Journal of Modern Physics C. pp. 439–41. doi:10.1142/S0129183101002565. 
  18. ^ Exploratorium Press: Exploratorium Launches Global Studios, an Entrepreneurial Endeavor to Share Knowledge and Services Around the World from the Exploratorium's website
  19. ^ Frojo, Renee (2012-11-16). "Exploratorium launches global education program". San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  20. ^ Crutchfield, Leslie R.; McLeod Grant, Heather (October 19, 2007). Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits. Jossey-Bass. p. 22. ISBN 978-0787986124. 

External links [edit]