We have sun today and I am involved all day in a meditation retreat to which I can walk, so I am excited about that.
The Exploratorium has been one of my favorite places since we lived here, thirty years now. I love to stop in and check out the exhibits. Now, it is moving outside. Hooray!!
S.F.'s Exploratorium opens outdoor exhibits
Saturday, March 7, 2009
For the first time in its 40-year history, San Francisco's famed Exploratorium is heading for the wild outdoors, where science, art and the environment can have an impact on the human mind in unexpected ways.
New permanent exhibits, exploiting the winds, waters and land forms of the city's unique urban environment, are arising this week across the Marina, from Aquatic Park to Fort Mason Center and the fort's 51 park-like acres at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area headquarters. When completed, there will be 20 such exhibits.
When it opens March 13, the exotic array of outdoor structures and instruments will be enhanced by illustrated explanations to help passers-by understand and appreciate the wealth of science behind each installation. Young scientists will be on duty to answer questions.
At the entrance to Fort Mason, "audio posts," broadcasting to arriving cars on 90.1 FM, will identify the varied calls of gulls roosting on the pier sheds, the sounds of common fog signals and the experiences that wait at each exhibit.
In creating the new Outdoor Exploratorium, the scientific free spirits on the design team hope that people of all ages will find their imaginations piqued, their powers of observation lifted and their awareness of science in the everyday world unexpectedly enhanced.
"We want these installations to let people experience the phenomena of nature directly and to help them understand their own connections to the natural world," said Paul Doherty, a former MIT physicist and now the museum's senior staff scientist, who helped conceive, design and build the exhibit.
Some of the attractions
An informal preview of the installations showed phenomena that visitors could never observe in the same way indoors:
-- Barnacles, tunicates, clams and rock crabs multiply on a thick log-like tube that can be winched up from the deep on command. The varied life forms show "zones of habitation" that depend on sunlight from above, water temperatures below, and salinity levels in between.
-- An old and wobbling waterfront piling is equipped with a stylus that creates wave-like designs in the sand with each motion impelled by the wakes of passing freighters on the bay.
-- A unique telescope with a calibrated lens is aimed across the water at the ruddy towers of the Golden Gate Bridge; the bridge becomes a thermometer as visitors peer through the telescope to measure its movements in warm days and cold.
-- A string of red plastic arrows, lofted along a gleaming aluminum pole 35 feet tall, reveals the unimaginably complex patterns of the fretful winds that trouble the bay's waters and give each of the city's hills its own microclimate.
-- A drinking fountain offers natural water diluted by varying levels of salt so people can observe and understand the changing salinity of the bay's seawater caused by changing tides and rainy days.
Bryan Connell, a field biologist and artist who has designed many of the Exploratorium's most striking exhibits, said the team hopes that passers-by will develop new skills of observation that let them "see how principles of science are demonstrated in so many natural forms all around them."
"It's a new kind of science learning experience," he said.
The National Science Foundation is supporting each of the 19 outdoor installations - plus another one just inside the Exploratorium itself.
Golden Gate in motion
Among the most striking of the installations is the unique telescopic instrument focused on the Golden Gate Bridge, where a Global Positioning System has been installed to record motions of the bridge as small as 12 inches.
When temperatures rise at the Golden Gate, Doherty explained, the entire bridge expands; when temperatures fall, the bridge contracts. The bridge span itself can rise or fall as much as 16 feet, and an observer peering at the distant span through the calibrated eyepiece of the shore-based telescope at Fort Mason Center could actually observe the span's changes as temperatures rise and fall hour-by-hour and day-by-day.
San Francisco's waterfront is actually one big demonstration of marine science, and the water around Fort Mason Center is a zoological park. Every ship that enters the bay carries on its hull an assortment of encrusted organisms, and the Exploratorium's underwater tube demonstrates how they affect all the bay's piers.
The organisms grow on everything in the water and, as Connell says, "The hulls of ships are portable ecologies, and we can study the same kinds of ecology at our piers at Fort Mason."
The Exploratorium's directors are planning to move the entire museum from its rococo old building in the Palace of Fine Arts to Piers 15 and 17 on the northern Embarcadero by 2012. When the move is complete, the new waterfront site will include many more outdoor exhibits, both onshore and under the water, linking science to the Bay Area's urban environment.