Tucked away in the Palace of Fine Arts since its opening in 1969, the Exploratorium moved to a new waterfront location on Piers 15 and 17 at the Embarcadero on April 17.
The science museum is now closer to BART and Muni stations as well the Bay Bridge, making the commute easier for visitors.
Along with the development happening at Piers 27-29 in preparation for America’s Cup, the international boat race that will take place during the summer, the Exploratorium is the latest addition to the Upper Embarcadero in an effort to revitalize this popular tourist destination.
Visitors such as Ari Joseph enjoyed that the playful atmosphere was not lost in the relocation.
“The thing that was cool is that they maintained the vibe of the old space,” he said. “I was a little worried from the outside that it was going to be pretty different, but I feel like the experience is still pretty similar.”
The 330,000 square foot location is a much-needed improvement to the old facility, tripling the space to accommodate an additional 150 exhibits.
“I feel like people, when they entered the old space, the sound was so terrible, it would just be pinging all over the place,” said returning visitor Emily Pinkowitz of New York City. “The minute kids went in there they just got crazy and couldn’t focus. But the sound is much better here and it’s laid out in a new way that makes it easier for them to focus.”
The improvements to the Exploratorium stem not only from its new location, but also from its new goals of reaching toward a wider group of people.
It now has trilingual signs in English, Spanish and Chinese, offering a better representation of residents in the Bay Area. Included on these signs are Quick Response codes that guests can scan with their smartphones in order to follow the exhibits in various languages. Visitors will be provided with QR scanner if they do not have a smartphone.
“It will make people feel more independent,” said astronomer and Exploratorium staff member Isabel Hawkins .
Guests in need of a more personalized help can request the help of one of the “explainers” staffed by the museum, to aid in translating the various exhibits.
In an effort to bring science to the public, Exploratorium officials explain the establishment of a community outreach program that works with organizations to help teach underserved children, teens and families.
Working with organizations such as the YMCA, the San Francisco Unified School District, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and AIM High, museum staff engage with neighborhood programs to conduct hands-on workshops and activities.
Art, science, human perception
According to Hawkins, “this museum is about art, science and human perception, all melded together.”
The creative exhibits featured at the Exploratorium range from intricate sculptures made of toothpicks, to a 300-year-old Douglas fir tree on the museum floor, and even footage from cameras that have been placed on animals such as scorpions and cows.
One of the most beloved eye-catching exhibits is the “Giant Spherical Mirror,” located near the entrance of the museum. The mirror reflects an image, displaying it upside down and magnified. This highly advanced piece of glass was originally designed in Germany for NASA, according to neuroscientist Richard Brown, of the Exploratorium.
Along with more than 600 exhibits, standard features such as bathrooms and water fountains have their own quirks. The rest room’s walls are optical illusions meant to intrigue guests, and one of the water fountains is a replica toilet that shoots water for thirsty explorers, who dare to drink from it.
The new Exploratorium will host five free days beginning this fall: Engineering Day (Sept. 29), Founder’s Day (Oct. 13), Groundhog Day (Feb. 2, 2014), Pi Day (March 14, 2014) and Mother’s Day (May 11, 2014).
Día de la Ingeniería (Sept. 29) and Día de la Madre (May 11, 2014) will be aimed towards engaging the Latino community. On these two days, the flower and the cow-eye dissections, loved by kids and adults alike, will be bilingual for those who request it. In these presentations Exploratorium staff will dissect either a cow’s eye or a flower in order to give guests an interactive way to discover how science allows these organs to work.