Dennis M. Bartels, a nationally known science education and policy expert, became Executive Director of the Exploratorium in May 2006. He holds a PhD in Education Administration and Policy Analysis from Stanford University. His work has received over $28 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and other sources. Dennis’s leadership in science education includes numerous appointments, including Fellow of AAAS, appointee to the Education Working Group for the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Education and Human Resources Directorate Advisory Committee. In 2010, Dennis was one of two educators named to the Oceans Research and Resources Advisory Panel (ORRAP), which provides independent advice and guidance to the more than 20 federal agencies of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program. In addition, he has testified before committees of both the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and before the full House Science Committee concerning the role of the National Science Foundation in K–12 science and math education. From 2001 to 2006, Dennis was the president of TERC. For five years prior to his tenure at TERC, Dennis was the Director of the Exploratorium’s own Center for Learning and Teaching.
Associate Director and Director of Laboratory
Rob Semper coordinates the museum’s overall content-related R&D development and manages the institution’s relations with the external science, education, and funding communities. His areas of responsibility include the museum’s science and art development, public understanding of research activities, and creative application development as well as providing oversight for the Museum Experience. He has also guided the development of the award-winning Exploratorium website. Rob is the author of many journal articles and invited papers, and he has been Principal Investigator on projects that include developing new Internet resources, experiments using technology to enhance the museum visitor experience, and programs for teachers and museum educators. Awards include AAAS Fellow, 2006, and the NSTA 2006 Faraday Science Communicator Award. Before joining the Exploratorium in 1977, Rob taught physics and conducted solid state and nuclear physics research. He received his PhD in solid state physics from the Johns Hopkins University.
Chief Operating Officer
Laura Zander joined the Exploratorium as Chief Operating Officer in 2007. She is responsible for managing the Finance and Accounting, Information Technology, Organizational Development, Facilities and Operations, and Volunteer departments. Laura spent the early part of her career in commercial banking and project finance with a specific focus on Latin America at three large financial institutions in New York. She moved to San Francisco in 1999 to get involved in high technology. Laura worked as a CFO to start-up and midsized Internet and high-technology companies in the Bay Area. In 2003, she moved into the not-for-profit sector as Chief Operating Officer for the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, where she was involved in its large construction and relocation project. Laura holds a BA from Columbia University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Director of Institutional Advancement
Ann Dabovich joined the Exploratorium in 2008 when she signed on to lead the $300M campaign for the move to Piers 15/17 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero in 2013. Ann has been involved with both grant making and resource development for cultural organizations since the early 1980s, and she has helped many prominent organizations fulfill their visions, including facility development projects. Ann was a fundraiser with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra during the development of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Hall, and, in 1989, she became the Associate Director of Development for the San Francisco Symphony. She served as Director of Development for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco from 1994 to 1999 and was the architect of its capital campaign. She has also headed philanthropy efforts at an artist residency and a not-for-profit biotech organization. Ann holds a BA in art history from the University of Oregon and an MA in not-for-profit arts management from the University of Illinois.
Director of Business Development
Silva Raker joined the Exploratorium in August 2010. An accomplished business development executive and trained scientist, Silva has successfully grown vibrant, mission-based companies in specialty retail and travel. After graduating with a BA in zoology followed by field studies in California and Cameroon, Silva joined The Nature Company where she spent ten years developing proprietary products, innovative programs, and fruitful partnerships. More recently, as the COO and leading strategist for Backroads, Silva managed a complex global operation while developing both new and existing business segments—including the Family Travel Program with natural history and cultural exploration for kids on five continents. Silva and the business development team are charged with growing earned income while extending the impact of the Exploratorium through our museum consultancy, exhibit services, licensing, retail stores, restaurant concession, event rentals, sponsorships, and more.
Director of Exhibits and Media Studio
Tom Rockwell leads the group that is responsible for exhibit development at the museum and globally, as well as the web, editorial, and design departments. He was responsible for overseeing the planning and design of the exhibit galleries for the Exploratorium's 2013 move to Pier 15/17 on San Francisco's Embarcadero. Also at the Exploratorium, Tom was Principal Investigator for the Geometry Playground exhibition, and Co-Principal Investigator for the Science in the Stacks collaboration with the Queens Borough Public Library. Training in the visual arts at Brown University and a lifelong interest in combining art and science led Tom to work first as an educator in science museums (Franklin Institute and Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia), and then as a designer and construction coordinator of community-built science parks and playgrounds (Leathers and Associates, based in Ithaca, New York). In 1995, Tom founded Painted Universe, Inc., where projects included traveling exhibitions such as It’s a Nano World (with the Ithaca Science Center and Cornell University), The Enchanted Museum: Exploring the Science of Art (with the Berkshire Museum), and illustrations for The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. Tom has been at the Exploratorium since 2005.
Acting Director of Organizational Development
Anne Jennings began her Exploratorium adventures as an administrative assistant for the first summer-long Teacher Institute and nascent School in the Exploratorium program (now the Institute for Inquiry). Following an eight-year stint as coordinator of the museum’s budding Volunteer Program, she became one of the Exploratorium’s first project managers, working on temporary and traveling exhibitions including Diving into the Gene Pool, What About AIDS? and Memory. After an eleven-year hiatus, during which time she founded and directed the East Bay nonprofit Community Resources for Science, Anne returned to the Exploratorium in 2009 as Program Relocation Manager, preparing galleries and exhibits for the move to the piers. Since the museum opened in its new location, she has been the Special Assistant to the Director, led the Extended Learning programs, launched the Learning Exchange, and is now Acting Director of Organizational Development.
Director of Information Technology
Chris Axley came to the Bay Area in 1995, and his first job on arriving was a fixed-term position at the Exploratorium for the Multimedia Playground ’95 exhibition. This initial stint at the museum turned into a career in information technology, including positions such as Digital Media Developer, Educator, and IT Manager for various companies. He returned to the Exploratorium's IT department early in the new century and worked in multiple positions before becoming Director of Information Technology. Along the way, he built an adaptable, service-minded department that utilizes good planning and efficient use of technology to increase the effectiveness of the Exploratorium community. He also led the effort to design, build, and move the Exploratorium’s IT infrastructure to Piers 15 and 17. Chris holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.
Director of Museum Experience
Robyn Higdon has worked at the Exploratorium for over 20 years. She’s currently the Director of Museum Experiences, which includes the Public Space, Tactile Dome, Biology Lab, Field Trip Program, High School Explainer Program, Public Programs, Cinema Arts, and Moving Images. Robyn has been a Co-Principal Investigator on NSF, NOAA, and NASA projects, including the Total Solar Eclipse: Stories from the Path of Totality, and NOAA’s Scientific Residency program. She has received several Webby and MUSE awards for her work. On the weekends, she is working on an off-the-grid cabin in the Gold Country.