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First Impressions of the New Exploratorium: Bigger, Brighter, Geekier

Exploratorium Campus_06Today I got my first chance to check out the new Exploratorium museum located on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero.  I was there for a digital learning symposium with fifty other researchers, developers and educators in the field.  We were lucky enough to get a guided tour of the new Exploratorium facilities, barely open for three weeks.  

I have been a fan of the Exploratorium for as long as I remember.  From my childhood, I have fuzzy memories of the place -- a giant map that let you soar over the San Francisco Bay, a chair that carried your voice clear across to another person seated at the other end of the museum, a giant wave machine, and a hundred other delightful things that you could pull, twist and play with.  It was a place crammed full of wonders that was formative in my excitement about science and technology.

When I heard that the Exploratorium was moving from their home at the Palace of Fine Arts to the Embarcadero, I knew this was going to be something big. 

BIG is the first thing that struck me about the new space. Taking up an entire pier along the San Francisco dock, the new Exploratorium has an expansive quality, with thousands of square feet of museum space devoted to many, many galleries of exhibits and interactives.  This new building has lots of clear sightlines, large signage dilineating the different galleries and sections, and natural light streaming in.

I was happy to see the older galleries devoted to different senses were still there in the new museum: sight, sound, and touch.  The "Living System" gallery has dozens of creative exhibits on ecosystems, flora, fauna, weather, and more.  Another gallery focuses on "thoughts, feelings and human phenomena."  And the outdoor gallery has several cool displays and interactives, some of which you can access without a ticket. Even the old tactile dome is getting an expansion in the new building, to be even bigger and wheelchair accessible.

One of the most impressive spaces was the Tinkering Zone in the new Exploratorium.  Kids and adults can do everything from make their own pinball machines to elaborate Rube Goldberg devices to squishy circuits in several workshop areas full of materials and parts.  I could see getting trapped in there for hours.

The new Webcast Studio was another impressive space, where the Exploratorium can produce regular streaming web shows, both for a live studio audience and a live virtual audience.  Apparently this Exploratorium has a cabaret theater, several classroom spaces and meeting facilities as well.

Finally, I really liked how transparently the museum displayed their own working spaces.  You can peer in as designers and fabricators and machinists make and repair exhibits.  There's an expert microscope operator behind glass who can help you do your own microscopic explorations using state-of-the-art imagine equipment.  

I won't go into any more detail in this post. That's for another day when I can spend more time playing at the Exploratorium.  For now, I'm just blown away with how an amazing science and learning center has transformed itself into something even better than it was before.

I feel so lucky to live in a city with two world class science centers: the California Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium.  Just another reason why San Francisco is such an awesome place to live.

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