aNewDomain.net — Frank Oppenheimer died in 1985, the same year I started high school. His physicist brother was more famous, though. J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita the day the United States detonated the first atomic weapon, saying: “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee persecuted and blacklisted both brothers as accused communists. Frank Oppenheimer, as a result, had to resign as a professor from the University of Minnesota in 1949. That started a chain reaction of events that led directly to where I am now, the new Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, now at Pier 15.
Oppenheimer, who developed his hands-on approach to science that would later enshrine the Exploratorium as a foremost interactive museum, was its director from the museum’s inception in 1969 until his death in 1985. Check out the version 2.0 of the applied science space at Pier 15 and you’ll see Oppenheimer’s vision of creating an “interactive museum of art, science, and human perception based on the philosophy that science should be fun and accessible for people of all ages” is intact. In fact, it’s stronger than ever.
Here’s my gallery of photos, below. Check out my colleague Russ Johnson’s gallery of the new Exploratorium in San Francisco also on aNewDomain here.
The Exploratorium offers a wide variety of new exhibits at its new Pier 15 digs. Here’s Fog Bridge, by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya.
There is a Bay Observatory with spectacular maps of San Francisco, old and new.
The one below charts Tress, Crimes and Cabs. Can you tell what circle is what? Next to it is an 1852 map of San Francisco. There were maps with Flickr and Twitter posts drawing a color outline of the city. Old naval shoreline surveys. Watershed maps. Detailed maps of Treasure Island, Angel Island and Alcatraz are there, too. Head to the Bay Observatory and learn about the Native American activists who occupied Alcatraz from November 1969 to April 1971. There are sundial benches. There’s an oculus table, I also got into a heads-up display system that visualizes global aerosol dispersion, winds and currents, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
NASA Goddard, by the way, handles the satellites and remote sensing departments at NASA.
And naturally there is an observation deck that overlooks the San Francisco Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.
There is also a social element to how we perceive the world around us. Perception, after all, is reality. To highlight that point, there’s a display with two water fountains side by side. Each provides chilled San Francisco tap water, noted by many experts as the highest quality tap water in the nation. One of the water fountains, though, is a toilet. You’ll notice most people won’t drink from it. Funny. Talk about bathroom humor.
There are the ever-popular fun of motion experiments. Here you turn the wheel and see what happens.
There are genetically engineered mutant goldfish. Yikes.
And you know, a square wheel would roll just fine if the road was shaped correctly. Ha.
Here’s one of the many cool clocks on display.
Optical constructs and illusions fool the eye and scramble the mind. Or is that the other way around?
This is just a small fraction of what you’ll see at the new Exploratorium at Pier 15.
So I will close with a picture of Scott Weaver’s “Rolling Through the Bay.” It measures 9 x 8 x 3 feet. It contains 105,387.5 toothpicks. And it has five ping pong ball tracks with 10 entryways and three exits. I was able to identify the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, Palace of Fine Arts, Ghirardelli Square, Cable Cars, Sailboats, Chinatown, a Battleship, the Transamerica Building, the Ferry Building, the painted ladies and so on.
I say the Exploratorium in San Francisco is one of the most unique and hands-on science museums you will ever have the pleasure of visiting. Check if out next time you’re near the Embarcadero in San Francisco near Pier 15.
Great for kids of all ages. I bet you spend at least $40 in the gift shop. For aNewDomain.net, I’m Richard Hay.