Exploratorium: Home

Galleries and Exhibit Highlights

For Immediate Release:
April 17, 2013

Media Available
Jenny Slafkosky (415) 528-4367

Galleries and Exhibit Highlights

Sample of New and Beloved Exhibits

Text Box: The Exploratorium’s new Outdoor Gallery at night, with the Bay Bridge in the background.


Table of Contents

1. Outdoor Gallery

2. Bernard and Barbro Osher West Gallery

3. South Gallery

4. East Gallery

5. Bechtel Central Gallery

6. Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery
7. Gallery Curators

OUTDOOR GALLERY (Includes ticketed and free areas)

Explore natural and social phenomena where the city meets the bay.

Exhibits in the outdoor space cover topics such as the bay, the elements, geometry, and light and shadows and encourages observation and interaction with natural and urban phenomena.

Exhibits of Note

Color of Water (new) Investigates the seemingly simple question: What color is the bay? "The Color of Water" consists of 32 distinct color swatches suspended above the water so that visitors can actively match the day's water color and investigate the causes behind these daily shifts. The exhibit encourages visitors to view the bay with a more discerning eye, understanding that ever-changing bay dynamics affect the bay’s color day-to-day, sometimes even moment-by-moment.

Aeolian Harp by Doug Hollis (re-imagined) - Doug Hollis’ new commission re-imagines his work first created in collaboration with Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer in 1975-76 for the roof of the Palace of Fine Arts. This greatly expanded Harp is a wind-activated, sound structure that responds to the wind dynamics between Piers 15 and 17. Click here to read the Arts press kit.

Remote Rains (new) NOAA researchers at the Hydrometeorlogy Testbed (HMT) are increasing the resolution and accuracy of their storm profiles. The Remote Rains rain chamber is an evocative translation of HMT’s storm information into a tangible experience. Visitors select a past storm and the exhibit recreates the frequency, size, and velocity of raindrops, allowing people to fully explore the complex mechanisms that drive our weather. Umbrellas recommended.

Fog Bridge by artist Fujiko Nakaya (new, April 17, 2013 - September 16, 2013) Japanese interdisciplinary artist Fujiko Nakaya’s ephemeral and other-worldly Fog Bridge magically envelops a 150-foot-long pedestrian bridge between Piers 15 and 17 in an ever-changing blanket of fog. One thousand high-pressure nozzles lining the bridge create an immersive environment that enshrouds participants in mist. The work will be lit at night, to stunning effect. Although Nakaya’s fog environments have been presented around the world, this is her first project in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region famous for its dramatic fog. Click here to read the Arts press kit.

Camera Obscura Cart (aka The Rickshaw Obscura) playfully invites visitors to have a different kind of “site-seeing” view of the waterfront. In each location where the Camera Obscura is positioned outdoors at Pier 15 or 17, the vista views are projected on the cart’s interior, displaying landscapes and people passing by – upside down. It will move to different locations where visitors can enter and enjoy the view.  Why upside down? Because light travels in a straight line.

Bay Windows (new) At Bay Windows, visitors spin disks filled with samples of mud, sand, and gravel gathered from five distinct regions of the San Francisco Bay. The glowing color and swirling behavior of the materials are both beautiful and telling as visitors explore the movement and settling characteristics of bay sediments.

DAYLAY by Lucky Dragons, Artists-in-Residence (new, April 17, 2013 – April 17, 2014)

DAYLAY is a dynamic light and sound installation inside a 14-foot circular opening in the pier above the water. On-site microphones record ambient sound during daylight hours and then play them back during dark hours, delayed by 12 hours. LED lights reflecting off the water gradually grow brighter and brighter over the course of the night. Click here to read the Arts press kit.

TideGate, Plankton Wall and Electric Sun Wall

These exterior design elements are beautiful architectural visualizations of tidal data, living organisms found in bay water, and the energy collected by the museum’s photovoltaic system. Read more here.


Learn about human phenomena through first person experiences.

The Bernard and Barbro Osher West Gallery is a stage on which to explore human psychology, and socio-cultural phenomena. Topics range from internal cognitive experiences such as attention and emotion to more external social behaviors such as communication, negotiation and people-reading.

Exhibits of Note

Special exhibition: The Changing Face of What is Normal: Mental Health

(new, April 17, 2013 - April 13, 2014)

This exhibit explores how have we have defined, categorized, and treated people who fall outside of a professional or societal conception of what constitutes normal mental health and activity. The exhibition

includes personal effects of patients from Willard Psychiatric Center, a decommissioned mental institution and coincides with the release of the latest edition of the controversial Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5th edition. It features poignant videotaped interviews with both clinicians and clients speaking about their experiences and commenting on the difficulty of categorizing human behavior.  It also includes Restraint, an interactive installation that displays—and lets visitors interact with—a late 19th century Utica Crib, a restraining device used to confine and calm patients in American mental health institutions. Click here to read the full press release.

Team Pac-Man (new) Here visitors are required to cooperate to play a classic video game – each player can only move the Pac-Man in one direction.  Here you’re the exhibit!

Text Fishing (new) This experimental exhibit immerses visitors in the Tragedy of the Commons by letting them investigate strategies for sharing a common limited resource.

Trust Fountain (new) An experimental exhibit from the NSF funded Exploratorium Science of Sharing project, this two-person drinking fountain is based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a classic scenario centering on negotiation and trust.

Invisible by Night by Lynette Wallworth, Artist-in-Residence

(new, April 17–September 29, 2013)

In the Black Box

This quietly interactive multimedia installation responds to the visitor’s touch and projects an image of a life-sized woman whose eternal pacing can be interrupted by the viewer. Building gestural mirroring into its interactive structure, Invisible by Night creates powerful emotional connections with the viewer and explores the process of grief and loss, and the transient nature of compassion. Read the Arts press kit.

Question Bridge: Black Males by Chris Johnson

(new, April 17, 2013 - April 2014)

A project that critically explores challenging issues within the Black male community by instigating a trans-media conversation among black men across the geographic, economic, generational, educational and social strata of American society. Mediated through the lens of a video camera, members of the black community openly express their deeply felt beliefs and values through candid question and answer exchanges. By focusing on exchanges within this extended community, surprising insights and new possibilities for witnessing our common humanity emerge. Read the Arts press kit.

Words We have Learned Since 9-11 by Clayton Campbell

(new, April 17, 2013 – TBD)

This participatory photo installation opened for the first time in the southern United States at the Museum of Mobile on September 11 in conjunction with their exhibition of artifacts from Ground Zero, World Trade Center. Campbell’s project invites visitors to be photographed with “words” they have learned since 9-11, and those photos become part of the ongoing Words project. Since it’s beginning Words We Have Learned Since 9-11 has been exhibited across the globe. Read the Arts press kit.




Make, build, or tinker to investigate the world and your own creativity.

The South Gallery is a public workshop area where visitors can engage in "learning by making" adjacent to where Exploratorium exhibits are built. The core of this space is the Tinkering Studio, a focused area where visitors can engage in more in-depth projects and meet makers from around the world.


Exhibits of Note

Tinkering Studiois a place to hack, build, and invent using real tools and materials in a gently guided, but open-ended way.


Your Turn Counts by Norman Tuck (new)

This exhibit counts each person’s’ place in the history of itself.  It is a storage and display device that keeps a numerical record of each time a person turns a mechanical crank. Each digit in the display draws upon an earlier stage in the history of technology in order to advance the count.


Rolling Through the Bay by Scott Weaver This kinetic sculptural homage to San Francisco has a new home in the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio. Composed of roughly 100,000 toothpicks and held together with Elmer’s Glue, artist Scott Weaver began Rolling Through the Bay in 1974. It allows you to "tour" the sights of the city with its kinetic feature – several paths in which four Ping-Pong balls at a time can be seen rolling, looping and bouncing through the city’s famous landmarks.


Animation Station (new) Create a stop-motion animation sequence using everyday objects, and then upload it to YouTube to share with others.

Wind Table and Wind Tubes (new) Construct flying objects and test them in columns of moving air.

Marble Machines Build marble runs using common objects and parts found at local hardware stores.

Visible Pinball by Michael Schiess (new) Play a free game on a transparent pinball machine with visible mechanical and electromagnetic parts. Visible Pinball serves as a striking introduction to the Exploratorium’s classic electricity and magnetism exhibit collection.


Observe and investigate living systems at multiple scales.

The East Gallery is a window into life at different scales, from stem cells to familiar insects and plants to the entire San Francisco Bay ecosystem.

Exhibits of Note

Algae Chandelier (new) Pump air to nourish several overhead tanks with beautiful algae of different colors, also known as phytoplankton. While a single phytoplankton is too small to see, they grow by the millions in the bay and ocean, forming greenish clouds up to a few hundred miles wide.

The Tree Experience  (new) Developed by artist Michael Brown in collaboration with reclaimed wood specialist Evan Shively, The Tree Experience has been created from a fallen 330-year-old Douglas Fir tree that is split down the center to reveal its rings immersing visitors in a fascinating study of dendrochronology. The wood of the tree creates the walls of an intimate, contemplative space with a center bench. The enormous, lacy root structure compels visitors to appreciate the complexity and sheer enormity of this grand, once-living organism. Read the Arts press kit.

Glass Settling Plate (new) Get a close-up look at organisms that grow on the sides of hard surfaces in the bay, such as pier pilings. A microscope offers spectacular views of the lives of barnacles, worms, mussels, and colonial organisms called tunicates.

Plankton Populations (new) A table-sized interactive display created in collaboration with MIT and the UC Davis Center for Visualization. This exhibit shows a simulation of the world’s phytoplankton populations changing over time in response to changing ocean conditions. Visitors use a special encoded glass lens to magnify the four major types of plankton living throughout the oceans. The data visitors explore is virtually the same as scientists at MIT use to study global plankton populations and how they may change in the future. 

Tidal Memory (new) Twenty-four tall columns of water show the tidal water heights throughout the day at one-hour intervals. The most recent column changes in response to a live data feed.

Stem Cells at Microscope Imaging Station Observe mouse stem cells under the microscope and learn about their unique properties – and see them in their pluripotent and beating mouse heart stem cell states. Stem cells (found in embryos less than five days old and a few adult organs) have two unique properties: They can develop into any other type of cell, such as heart, brain, or blood cells; and theoretically, they can divide without limit.

Seasons of Plankton (new) Explore how the microscopic life in San Francisco Bay is constantly changing. This exhibit shows the types of phytoplankton living in the bay each month through stunning close-up images taken by the Living Systems Lab and using data from the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS). The Living Systems Lab collected and imaged plankton each week, and used the USGS’s 40-year study of Bay Area plankton to show visitors that, like plants on land, our bay has seasons of plankton.


Experiment with seeing and listening, the familiar core of the Exploratorium

The Bechtel Central Gallery is a laboratory for investigating light and sound and how we perceive them. This combination of physics (out there) with perception (in our heads) is a signature of the Exploratorium's approach to learning.

Exhibits of Note

Monochromatic Room A room is lit by monochromatic light from sodium vapor lamps. With only a single color of light to absorb or reflect, objects in this room look to be more or less the same yellowish color. Flashlights allow visitors to explore the hidden colors around them.

3D Live (new) Learn how stereo vision works and one method for making 3D movies. Two video cameras atop a screen are separated by a short distance capturing slightly different views of a scene. Both views are projected simultaneously onto the screen and filtered glasses allow each of your eyes to see light from only one of the projectors. Together, these two different views—one for each eye—allow you to perceive a three-dimensional image.

Giant Mirror (new) Interact with a giant upside-down image of yourself and your friends, and explore an image of the museum where even the smallest faraway object appears in perfect focus and detail.

Out-Quiet Yourself   Imagine being an animal tracker. See how quietly you can creep through this exhibit. Visitors carefully walk over gravel while trying to make as little noise as possible. Microphones pick up any noises and a score is given when you reach the end. Try to out quiet yourself and your friends.

The Shaping Grows by Semiconductor

(new, April 2013 - September 30, 2013)

In the Phyllis C. Wattis Webcast Studio adjacent to the Bechtel Central Gallery

The museum’s Cinema Arts and Moving Images departments collaborated to present this newly commissioned work by British-based media artists and Exploratorium Artists-in-Residence Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt). Through moving image works Semiconductor explores the material nature of our world and how we experience it, questioning our place in the physical universe. Read the Arts press kit.


Learn to read the many dimensions of the built and natural environment.

The Fisher Bay Observatory gallery is where visitors explore the geographic and social dimensions of the immediate and regional landscape. Expansive views of the bay and the city serve as a point of departure for investigations of the complex systems that define our region.

Exhibits of Note

The Oculus (new) An aperture built into the ceiling of the Fisher Bay Observatory turns the entire gallery into an optical device. A circular sun projection sweeps across the floor and walls, marking the time of day and changing with the seasons.

Visualizing the Bay (new) A topographic relief map of the San Francisco Bay Area is a projection surface for the display of visual data, offering different perspectives on the region. Presentations include: a 40-year history of earthquakes; an animation of the fluctuating salinity of bay water in response to tides and rainfall; 24-hour fog patterns for winter and summer; and population distribution according to age and ethnicity. These data sets emerged from collaborations with scientists at USGS, UC Berkeley, the National Weather Service, and with data artist Eric Fischer.

The Wired Pier (new) Wired Pier is a project to investigate the local environment by installing state-of-the-art sensors and scientific instruments all around Piers 15 and 17 to gather data about the local weather, water, atmosphere, and marine biological communities. Data from these sensors are presented in the gallery at an environmental station and on a high-definition video wall. Visitors are able to track live and archived data streams over time, and uncover relationships and patterns among various systems in the bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the atmosphere. Wired Pier will also be a node in a broader observing network of science institutions and government agencies interpreting both local and global systems.

Bay Lexicon by artist Jane Wolff (new) Bay Lexicon is a series of flashcards and published writings to be used on a walk from Fort Point to Hunter’s Point along the San Francisco waterfront. This series of images, words and ideas provokes travelers to observe and question the layered dynamics of the ecological and cultural aspects of place. Read the arts press kit.

Ship Tracker (new) Real-time positions and past journeys of nearly every large vessel on the bay are displayed, including cargo ships, tankers, tugs, pilot boats, commuter ferries, and many large pleasure craft. The data—which comes from the computerized AIS ship-reporting systems—reveals the patterns of work and recreation on the bay waters.

The Atmosphere: A Guide by artist Amy Balkin (new) The Atmosphere: A Guide is a poster-essay depicting various human influences on the sky and their accumulated traces, whether chemical, narrative, spatial, or political. Visually referencing the Cloud Code Chart, another interpretive aid for looking up, the Guide's visualizes some ways that humans literally and figuratively occupy the present, past, and future atmosphere, organized from sea level to the exosphere. Read the Arts press kit.

Go back to Exploratorium @ Pier 15 Press Kit table of contents

Hours of Operation & New Evening Hours
Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm;  every Thursday evening adults only (ages 18 and up) 6pm-10pm.

$29 for adults, with lower rates for SF Bay Area residents, youth, seniors, students, teachers and the disabled. Tickets available at the door and advance tickets available online at www.exploratorium.edu/visit/tickets.

Getting Here
The Exploratorium is easily accessible by public transit. Convenient parking is available nearby. For more information, visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit/location-directions

About the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is the global leader in informal learning, igniting curiosity and inspiring creativity in people of all ages. The world-renowned science museum creates original, interactive exhibits, on display at more than 1,000 science centers, museums and public spaces around the world. Dedicated to education reform in and out of the classroom, the Exploratorium is a premier professional development center for educators and a creator of award-winning educational resources. Since 1969, the Exploratorium has influenced generations of entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, students, children, museum professionals and everyday doers, reaching nearly 180 million people annually from around the globe. On April 17, 2013, the Exploratorium opened at Pier 15 in the heart of San Francisco's Embarcadero, where it will celebrate a new era of experiences that encourage critical thinking and awaken wonder for generations to come. For more information, visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit.

Pier 15
San Francisco
California 94111
(415) 528-4444 telephone

Contact Us:
Jenny Slafkosky (415) 528-4367