The Exploratorium has become internationally known for its innovations in exhibit design and science education. Around the world, museums have emulated the Exploratorium's interactive style of exhibit building, or quite literally become our partners in an international Exploratorium network established in 1999.
From 1991-2005, Dr. Goéry Delacôte served as Executive Director of the Exploratorium. He felt that the Exploratorium was already the most original science museum in the world, but also wanted the museum to make a major impact on the general problem of science education. The challenge was to encourage the public to understand and appreciate their world, to attract talented young people to science, and to provide new ideas for the teaching of science.
Since the Exploratorium's inception, the museum's exhibits and programs have focused on human perception: how do we see, hear, smell, feel, and otherwise experience the world around us? Dr. Delacôte expanded that focus, going beyond perception to include life sciences and biotechnology, sciences of the new frontier in the 21st century. The new Traits of Life collection opened in October 2002. Its Imaging Station includes such cutting-edge wet biology as live mouse stem cells.
Dr. Delacôte reconsidered the concepts underlying the Exploratorium and its exhibits, as well as the organization and focus of major new initiatives within the museum. To address the crisis in science education, the Exploratorium expanded its role. In addition to being a center for exhibit-based public education, it has assumed a leading role for science learning reform efforts and national teacher training efforts, and has become a center for explorations of interactions between science and the tools of the new media. In addition, museum partnerships became the vehicle by which the Exploratorium's innovative approaches to exhibit design were exported to established and start-up museums across the US and the world.
Under the direction of Dr. Dennis Bartels -- a nationally known science education and policy expert, who in 2006, became the Exploratorium’s new Executive Director -- the Exploratorium completed exhibits that deal with all of cognition — in other words, using the mind to understand the very workings of the mind itself. Mind opened in November 2007. It looks at how the questions that the study of cognition poses are basic human questions of how the mind works, and incorporates state-of-the-art research in the field of neuroscience.
Dr. Bartels's vision for the Exploratorium is to change how the world learns, with the goal of changing individuals from passive consumers of information to active, personal explorers, whether adults or children, professional teachers or amateurs, anywhere in the world, given that in today’s world, technology enables all. Under Dr. Bartels, the Exploratorium continues its educational research and development capacity as it pushes its innovations outward, most notably in the field of science education and life-long learning.
Already known for transforming teacher practices in schools, the Exploratorium under Dr. Bartels leadership is now developing alternative educational experiences out-of-school and online; and extending the Exploratorium’s reach and impact through online communities, open-source environments, and more user-produced content and experiences; and by serving non-professional teachers, including scientists, alternative education leaders, graduate students, journalists, politicians, and parents.
The Exploratorium long ago outgrew its location in the Palace of Fine Arts, where it began in 1969. In 2010, the Exploratorium Board of Directors voted to relocate the Exploratorium to Piers 15-17 on the Embarcadero, San Francisco’s northern waterfront. Under Dr. Bartels leadership, it is expected that the Exploratorium will establish a campus on the waterfront, beginning with the renovation of historic Pier 15 and relocate the museum sometime in 2013, with room for further expansion into Pier 17 at a future date. The move to the Pier, at the edge of the city and the bay, will transform some of the focus of the Exploratorium as it looks outward.