The Exploratorium is typically perceived as a science museum. In reality, it is a place that experiments with new practices for discovering the world; a museum filled with interactive science and art exhibits; a national center for teacher development; an award-winning Web site of new teaching resources; and a growing global network of partner museums. The Exploratorium's museum floor is the public face of the Exploratorium, a laboratory for the research and development of innovations in exhibits for exploring science, art, and human perception.
Developed in-house through extensive research and development, well more than 700 Exploratorium exhibits, with over 400 currently on view, have been designed to spark curiosity, regardless of age or familiarity with science. 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 wide variety of public programs, artists-in-residence projects, and demonstrations accompany all exhibit collections.
Exhibit content areas include:
SEEING (Opened June 2002)
This exhibit collection presents illuminating insights into the complex process of interpreting our world through our eyes, our brains and our own subjectivity. Conceived and created in-house, Seeing has been part of an intensive effort to strengthen and rebuild the Exploratorium's core collections, which give visitors an active role in determining their experience and in creating the knowledge they take away with them. Seeing explores how we see, how we interpret what we see, and how culture and environment influence what we see.
TRAITS OF LIFE — A NEW LIVING LABORATORY (Opened October 2002)
The riotous diversity of life masks an underlying unity. Deep down, we’re all alike. We all reproduce, use energy, and change over time. And we’re all made of cells, genes and DNA. The over 30 exhibits and demonstrations in Traits of Life bring these themes to life.
This section of the Exploratorium includes exhibits on electricity, heat and temperature, motion, weather, and complexity, the "stuff" that composes our world.
LISTEN (Opened October 2006)
Listening is an action. The act of listening in this exhibition is both the means and the ends to learning because sound, by its nature, carries information. But there are many layers of meaning. What we hear is guided by physics -- vibrations, materials, space. What we hear is guided by our ears and brains -- our physiology, memory, attention, listening conflicts and synergies. And finally, what we hear is filtered by who we are -- our choices, culture and history. This exhibition summons them all through our ears.
MIND (Opened November 2007)
Mind asks visitors to observe and reflect upon their own psychological experiences. The collection focuses on three important areas of psychological investigation and experience
-- attention, emotion, and judgment -- that can be experienced, investigated, and pondered by Exploratorium visitors. They compare those experiences with their own ideas and expectations of how minds work, as well as with the experiences of others. They examine how emotional reactions and cognitive assessments from disparate parts of the brain are woven into a cohesive understanding of an event or experience. Visitors may also discover that in many judgments, decisions, and beliefs, their experience of being in control of what they think and feel is, at least in part, illusory. And they consider the implications of these experiences for broader questions of the human condition, such as consciousness, morality, and our understanding of reality.
Several Exploratorium exhibitions are in circulation, rented by other institutions. They include Memory, Navigation, Turbulent Landscapes, Traces of Time, Traits of Life, and beginning in fall of 2010, Geometry Playground.
Also of note are the following ongoing special features of the Exploratorium’s public offerings:
Hosted by the Exploratorium on the first Thursday of every month, After Dark is an evening series for adults that mixes cocktails, conversation, and playful, innovative science and art events. Not a theater, a cabaret, or a gallery, After Dark contains aspects of all three. Each event showcases a different theme, which might include live performances, films, and new media, or a feature cutting-edge technology and unexpected extravaganzas. Programs are playful, unusual, and content-rich, and address the science behind topics of adult interest. Where else can you find an intellectually stimulating playground for adults – with music, cash bars, and free parking? After Dark is just one of hundreds of public programs staged each year.
The film program is known for screening new, independent work, often with the filmmaker present to speak with the audience. In addition to the Exploratorium's collection of rare films related to art and science, guest curators are invited to plan film series for screening at the museum.
Did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge could be used as a thermometer? Or that flags flying at different heights along the San Francisco skyline might double as a wind observatory? A new Outdoor Exploratorium features a collection of 20 outdoor interactive science exhibits and artworks. Visitors can find the Outdoor Exploratorium at Fort Mason between San Francisco's Aquatic Park and the Marina District. Maps are available at Fort Mason Center, Bldg A, open seven days a week.
The Wave Organ, an outdoor exhibit of the Exploratorium, by artist Peter Richards and stonemason Richard Gonzalez, is a wave-activated sound sculpture that utilizes wave action from the bay to create a symphony of sound, which emanates from a series of pipes that reach down into the water. A wonderful collection of granite material (including discarded tombstones) creates a series of sculptured terraces and seating areas. The listening pipes extend from the seating area to the water. The intensity and complexity of the wave music is directly related to the tides and weather. Located across the street from the Exploratorium, it is situated at the tip of the jetty forming the San Francisco Yacht Club harbor. The seating area also offers a spectacular view of San Francisco.
The Tactile Dome is a pitch-black geodesic dome with thirteen chambers. Visitors first take off their shoes and then walk and crawl to find their way, using only their sense of touch. Designed by August Coppola and architect Carl Day, its purpose is to disorient the sensory world so that the only sense the visitor can rely on is touch.