Exploratorium…making science relevant

One of the real benefits of re-visiting the place of one’s graduate days is re-connecting with friends and colleagues from that era — especially ones that I’ve kept in touch with and enjoy.

Bonnie Loyd is one of these friends.  Bonnie was the Editor of Landscape Magazine when I was at graduate school at Berkeley.  Landscape was founded by JB Jackson,  “America’s greatest living writer on the forces that have shaped the land this nation occupies.”  (Muschamp, NYT).

Now, she is the “Director of Institutional Support” (aka keeping the institution afloat especially with government support) for the Exploratorium in San Francisco http://www.exploratorium.edu/.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the Exploratorium is the model on which Vancouver’s Science World and many other science museums have been evolved.

And I was fortunate to have Bonnie as a guide for a “behind the scenes” tour.

Built for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 the Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck as a simulation of a Roman ruin drawn from an engraving by Piranesi. It now houses the innovative science museum the Exploratorium. (from the web)

What excites me about the Exploratorium and our Science World and every Science Museum is that they are the vehicles that can inspire our youth to pursue science (and math!). Bonnie shared a document with me that expresses the vision for the Exploratorium into the future.

I didn’t know that the Exploratorium was founded by the noted physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer (1969).   Just for context, Science World opened in 1989 — one of the legacies of EXPO 86.

My tour emphasized the importance of experiential learning for all of us — seeing school groups totally engaged with all the exciting interactive processes in the Exploratorium emphasized the power of learning by doing.  The Exploratorium is very “hands-on” — you can even see right into the workshop that builds the interactive exhibits.

It is slightly strange to be inside the Palace of Fine Arts — in some ways the space is perfect for such a hands-on, experimental institution.  But you can understand how excited they must be about the future move in 2012 to a location on the San Francisco waterfront.  After 40 years, they’ve really grown out of the Palace space.  And how great to be in easy access of the whole Bay Area, not just San Francisco.  And it will be the first carbon neutral museum — with an exhibit devoted to the connection between the urban and natural environments.

The Exploratorium “has increased public understanding of scientific processes and engineering through scientific discovery, innovation and its communication to the public”.

For me, it is about continuing to increase the scientific literacy of the citizenry.  Consider these numbers:

  • The Exploratorium web site receives 24 million distinct visits each year.
  • The Exploratorium touches some 5,000 underserved children and families each year.
  • Some 112 languages are spoken in the SF metro area — the Exploratorium is collaborating with two other areas museums to discover how best to engage especially the Latino, Chinese and Vietnamese audiences.
  • The Museum has built more than 1,000 original interactive exhibits, 400 of which are currently displayed on the museum floor.
  • Each year it hosts nearly 600,000 visitors, including more than 100,000 students and teachers on field trips.
  • Exploratorium-designed workshops reach 6,000 K-12 teachers in 47 states annually.

When we consider the opportunities of the beyond carbon economy, there is no doubt that science literacy is going to be critical for all of us.  And we must encourage our youth to engage in science and be part of the solutions to climate change and the other challenges that face the planet.

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3 Responses to Exploratorium…making science relevant

  1. Greg says:

    I havent been to the Exploritorium in probably 25 years. It was not so excting then, but glad to hear it has gotten better. Also glad to find you in the bloggerwebs. Sounds like you are having fun!

    Somehow, Boston MA is able to support a Museum of Science, a Children’s Museum, and a computer museum, I believe. It sounds like a lot for a city smaller than SF. I am pretty sure that at least the first two of those are very well attended, if not well funded. With so much higher education going on, I can only assume there is a need/desire for education opportunities outside the formal channels.

    • Moura Quayle says:

      Greg — good to hear from you. Interesting about the Boston capacity for museums and museum funding. Maybe the move to the waterfront will help.

  2. Moura Quayle says:

    Hi Jennifer:
    My blog is really about information exchange so don’t want to get into reviewing products
    Thanks, Moura

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