|Location||San Francisco, California, USA|
|Type||Science, art, and human perception|
|Visitors||570,000 visits annually|
The Exploratorium is a museum in San Francisco whose stated mission is to change the way the world learns. It has been described by the New York Times as the most important science museum to have opened since the mid-20th century, an achievement attributed to "the nature of its exhibits, its wide-ranging influence and its sophisticated teacher training program." Characterized as "a mad scientist's penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, and an experimental laboratory all rolled into one,"  the participatory nature of its exhibits and its self-identification as a center for informal learning has led to it being cited as the prototype for participatory museums around the world.
The Exploratorium was founded by physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer and opened in 1969 at the Palace of Fine Arts, its home until January 2, 2013. On April 17, 2013, the Exploratorium reopened at Piers 15 and 17 on San Francisco's Embarcadero. The historic interior and exterior of Pier 15 was renovated extensively prior to the move, and is divided into several galleries mainly separated by content, including the physics of seeing and listening (Light and Sound), Human Behavior, Living Systems, Tinkering (including electricity and magnetism), the Outdoor Gallery, and the Bay Observatory Gallery, which focuses on local environment, weather, and landscape.
Since the museum's founding, over 1,000 participatory exhibits have been created, approximately 600 of which are on the floor at any given time. The exhibit-building workshop space is contained within the museum and is open to view. In addition to the public exhibition space, the Exploratorium has been engaged in the professional development of teachers, science education reform, and the promotion of museums as informal education centers since its founding. Since Oppenheimer's death in 1985, the Exploratorium has expanded into other domains, including its 50,000-page website and two iPad apps on sound and color, and has inspired an international network of participatory museums working to engage the public with general science education. The new Exploratorium building is also working to showcase environmental sustainability efforts as part of its goal to become the largest net-zero museum in the country.
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.
Early History 
The Exploratorium is 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 he was 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. He was blacklisted from academic positions across the country and withdrew with his family to a Colorado ranch, where he began lending a hand with science projects of local high school students. He eventually assumed 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. He received a grant from the National Science Foundation, which he used to build models of nearly a hundred science experiments. This "Library of Experiments" would become the core of the Exploratorium exhibit collection.
Convinced of the need for public museums to supplement science curricula at all levels, he toured Europe and studied museums on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965. Three European museums, 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.
Back in the United States, 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 the offers of support in conjunction with a $50,00 grant from the San Francisco Foundation made the museum 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.:128-152
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. 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.
Move to Piers 15 and 17 
The Exploratorium relocated from the Palace of Fine Arts to Piers 15 and 17, located between the San Francisco Ferry Building and Pier 39 along the San Francisco Embarcadero, in April 2013. The Piers location was identified by Goéry Delacôte and then-board chairman Van Kasper as a potential space for relocation in 2004.:11 In 2005, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution exempting the museum’s 66-year lease of the piers from San Francisco’s competitive bidding process due to its unique nature as a cultural and educational institution. Groundbreaking for the project, which required substantial construction and renovation, occurred on October 19th, 2010. The Exploratorium holds a 66-year lease on the piers with the Port of San Francisco. Exhibits are currently only viewable at the Pier 15 campus; Pier 17 houses some staff, with the option for future expansion.
Piers 15 and 17 are historic piers, built in 1931 and 1912 respectively. :21 In 1954, the area between the piers was infilled and paved over. This infill was removed as part of the construction phase, restoring the space between the piers to public plazas, a pedestrian bridge, and open water.
Architecture and Design 
Renovation of Piers 15 and 17 
The Exploratorium campus comprises 330,000 sq ft (31,000 m2) of indoor and outdoor exhibit space, and includes 1.5 acres of freely accessible public space. The exhibits are housed in and around Pier 15, which extends over 800 ft (240 m) over the Bay.
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 was designed by architecture firm EHDD. The piers had been neglected for decades leading up to the Exploratorium’s move, and extensive renovation and repair was required. :11 Nearly two thirds of the pilings under Pier 15 were repaired, including almost every piling needed to provide structural integrity, and new pilings were sunk. :24 The removal of the parking lot between the piers was done slowly over the two years of construction, and the debris from the removal was captured and recycled. :67 Several pilings were left in the water between the piers, both for aesthetic reasons and to support future exhibits. :47
An effort was made in the construction of the new location to preserve the historic elements of Pier 15. The Bay Observatory was the only new structure added to the site. The east end of the pier was cleaned of lead paint, revealing historic lettering underneath; designers chose to preserve the lettering rather than paint it over.:67 As a result, the traces of the shipping lines that originally frequented the pier can still be seen. Some of the preservation efforts presented challenges in design, however; historic windows created energy losses that had be offset elsewhere, and the historic interior trusswork was mainly restored rather than removed, meaning that the upper-level staff offices had to be built around them.:30
Other challenges to the design of the facilities were presented by the museum’s sustainability initiatives. The use of natural light whenever possible challenged exhibit designers relying on carefully controlled light levels; this was solved by using curtains and glare-reducing paint colors.:32 Other conflicts between construction and energy use included the glass in the Observatory, which would have presented a problem in cooling the building on warm days. This was overcome by adding fritted glass to the windows in thin horizontal lines through the panes to decrease the transparency without affecting the views.:85 The fritting also makes the reflective surfaces of the Bay Observatory safe for birds.
The aesthetic of the project was defined as "industrial naval chic" in keeping with the pier’s history.:63
Seismic Joints 
Pier 15 incorporated two seismic joints as part of its seismic retrofit, one separating the Bay Observatory from the Pier 15 shed and the other separating the entire pier from the land. This second joint ensures that the entire pier will move independently from the land mass in the event of an earthquake, significantly reducing the potential torsion.:83 The café at the west end of the Exploratorium is named the Seismic Joint in honor of the joint, which cuts through the area of the building where the café is situated.:80
The design aesthetic for both the Seismic Joint and Seaglass Restaurant was created by designer Olle Lundberg and based on the exhibit "Color of Water." The bar at Seaglass features a specially-designed version of Exploratorium artist Shawn Lani’s exhibit Icy Bodies. 
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 has a net-zero energy goal as part of its overall sustainability efforts. If it succeeds, it will be the largest net-zero museum in the country, and possibly the world. The museum highlights its sustainability efforts in visible ways throughout the museum as part of a stated intention to lead by example. :22
The photovoltaic array on the roof of Pier 15 is the second largest in San Francisco. There are 5,874 modules on the roof, with a projected year 1 yield of 2,113,715 kWh. In addition to solar power, the museum makes use of an HVAC system that takes advantage of the relatively constant, moderate temperature of water under the piers, which is 50 to 65 °F (10 to 18 °C), to heat and cool the building. There are 27 miles of plastic tubing in the radiant heating system in the floor.:36-82:55
Two large cisterns under the structural beams connecting the southeast pilings capture up to 338,000 gallons of rainwater and fog runoff for reuse in the facility.:17 The plumbing is designed for water conservation, with waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets projected to save an annual million gallons of water.:79 Other strategies in place as part of the net-zero goal include managing plug loads. Ten exhibits account for 30% of the energy used by all exhibits, which collectively account for 35% of the plug load itself.:53-57
The new site contains over 600 exhibits, 25% of which were developed specifically for the Pier 15 site. With the exception of some art installations, all exhibits are developed and made onsite. The indoor and outdoor spaces are divided into six galleries, each highlighting a specific content group. Many exhibits are mobile, however, and move among different galleries; similarly, not all exhibits fall into distinct categories.
Exhibits cover a range of subject areas, including human perception (such as vision, hearing, learning and cognition), the life sciences, physical phenomena (such as light, motion, electricity, waves and resonance, and magnetism), local environment (water, wind, fog, rain, sun, and other elements, as well as cityscape, landscape, and the flora and fauna of the Bay) and human behavior (such as cooperation, competition, and sharing).
Osher West Gallery: Human Behavior 
The West Gallery focuses on human behavior. Its signage and exhibits encourage visitors to play with perception; investigate memory, emotion, and judgment; and experiment with how people cooperate, compete, and share. It holds exhibits such as “Poker Face” (partners try to assess when someone is bluffing), “Trust Fountain” (an experimental exhibit from the museum’s National Science Foundation-funded Science of Sharing project, this two-person drinking fountain is based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a classic scenario centering on negotiation and trust), and the Tactile Dome (re-opening summer 2013), a pitch-black environment visitors explore by touch, originally designed by August Coppola. The West Gallery also includes the temporary exhibition The Changing Face of What is Normal: Mental Health, which showcases the personal artifacts of patients from the now-decommissioned Willard Psychiatric Center, on view through April 2014.
The West Gallery also houses the Kanbar Forum, a cabaret-style theater that will host music events, science lectures, and other programs when it opens in summer 2013.
South Gallery: Tinkering 
The South Gallery is a workshop area where visitors can engage in learning through making, located directly across from the Exploratorium exhibit workshop, which is open to view. Oppenheimer wanted visitors to be able to “smell the oil” and insisted that the exhibit-building space be on display. Exhibits in the South Gallery highlight a DIY aesthetic and include “Animation Stations” where visitors can make their own stop-motion films, the “Tinkerer’s Clock” (a 22-foot-high clock constructed by artist Tim Hunkin, with figurines in his noted cartoon style that can be manipulated by visitors and unfold into a clockface on the hour), and “Rolling Through The Bay” (a sculpture made by artist Scott Weaver over the course of 37 years, utilizing over 100,000 toothpicks and depicting many of the Bay Area’s iconic landmarks, through which a ping-pong ball can roll on one of several different “tours”).
Bechtel Central Gallery: Seeing and Listening 
The Bechtel Central gallery houses many of the “classic” Exploratorium exhibits, including many of those that have been on display since the very earliest years of the museum. It includes a mix of new and old exhibits that investigate physics and the perception of light, color, and sound, such as “Sound Bite” (a demonstration of hearing with the jawbone instead of the ears) and “Bright Black” (a trick of perception convinces viewers that an object is white when it is almost entirely black).
East Gallery: Living Systems 
The East Gallery houses a much-expanded selection of life sciences exhibits. Many exhibits relate directly to the immediate local environment, such as the “Glass Settling Plate” (barnacles and other creatures are grown on a plate in the Bay, then put live under a mobile microscope to be observed from both above and below) and the “Algae Chandelier” (visitors can pump air to nourish overhead tanks of colorful phytoplankton). Other exhibits explore different biological systems and processes, such as the imaging station with mouse stem cells, the live cow’s eye dissections, and the “Live Chicken Embryo” (one of the oldest of the Living Systems exhibits, showing live chicken embryos at different stages of development).
Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery 
The Bay Observatory building is the only new building constructed on the Exploratorium’s campus. It holds the Seaglass restaurant on its lower level and exhibits on the upper level relating to the waterfront and the cityscape. The gallery focuses on what visitors can see in real time, including the movement of clouds and tides, the changing waterfront, the movement of ships, and interpretation of oceanographic data. The Observatory has glass walls on all four sides to facilitate observation. Many of the exhibits were developed specifically for the location, such as “Oculus” (a circular opening in the ceiling that allows the entire gallery to be used as a timepiece, tracking seasons, solstices, and the sun’s movement), “Visualizing the Bay” (a 3-D topographic map of the Bay Area that allows visitors to see real data mapped over the landscape, such as the movement of fog and the salinity of the Bay over the course of days or years), and the “Map Table” (an assortment of historic and contemporary maps and atlases displaying different views and perspectives on the landscape).
The Bay Observatory also houses the Wired Pier project, which is comprised of more than a dozen sensors on and around the Bay Observatory that stream real-time data about the surrounding environment, such as quality of air and bay water, weather, tides and pollution, and compile it into interactive visualizations.
Outdoor Gallery 
The Outdoor Gallery comprises the north, south, and east aprons of Pier 15, and extends through both ticketed and unticketed space. Focus is on direct interaction with the Bay environment, which can be seen in exhibits such as “Color of Water” (an installation of 32 distinct color swatches suspended below the rail surrounding the pier so that visitors can investigate the changing colors of the Bay’s water). Another notable exhibit is “Remote Rains,” which allows visitors to choose a past rainstorm as profiled by the Hydrometeorology Testbed, which is then recreated by a rain machine that duplicates the frequency, size, and velocity of the raindrops, giving a tangible experience of NOAA research data on storms. Along the publicly-accessible bridge connecting Piers 15 and 17, artist Fujiko Nakaya created an installation called “Fog Bridge #72494” that creates bursts of fog for ten minutes every half hour as the first in a series of large-scale temporary installations called "Over the Water." The Fog Bridge is 150 feet long and makes use of 800 nozzles to create the fog, which Nakaya hopes will inspire visitors to pay attention to the nature of one of San Francisco’s best-known weather patterns. It is on view through September 16, 2013.
Public Space 
The Exploratorium campus includes 1.5 acres of publicly accessible open space. This includes the plaza facing on the Embarcadero, the connector bridge between Piers 15 and 17 where “Fog Bridge # 72494” is installed, the south apron of Pier 17, and the east and south aprons of Pier 15. This public space overlaps with the Outdoor Gallery, and includes some notable exhibits, such as the “Aeolian Harp” (an expanded version of the original installation by Doug Hollis on the roof of the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, first created in collaboration with Frank Oppenheimer in 1976) and the “Bay Windows” (visitors spin disks filled with samples of Bay mud, sand, and gravel gathered from five distinct regions of the Bay itself).
The lower level of the 6,000-square-foot Bay Observatory Building houses the Seaglass Restaurant, which, like the Seismic Joint Cafe, is open to unticketed members of the public. Both the Seismic Joint and Seaglass are run by Loretta Keller, chef-owner at Coco500, in partnership with Bon Appetit Management Company.
- 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.
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.
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[update], 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.
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 
Online since 1993, the Exploratorium was one of the first museums to build a site on the World Wide Web. 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.
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. Scientists in the field also blog and use social media to communicate directly with web audiences.
Global Studios 
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. 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.
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.
Facts and figures (2012-2013) 
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.
Exhibitions and programs 
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.
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 
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.
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.
Budget and staff 
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.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Exploratorium|
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- Jennifer Frazier (Exploratorium curator) "Science Museum Curator" from iBioMagazine.org