The Exploratorium on Pier 15 (of the Embarcadero waterfront) should be at the center of the San Francisco visitors’ map. From the glass-walled Observatory Gallery visitors can gaze back to the iconic Transamerica Pyramid building in one direction and out to Treasure Island in the other. Inside, the Exploratorium retains the same irreverent and innovative approach that has defined it since the beginning.
Frank Oppenheimer founded the institution in 1969, at the height of San Francisco’s counter-cultural revolution, to make science fun and accessible to a wider audience. The result was a highly interactive environment that has served as a template for science museums around the world. Most of the staff are serious scientists with an artistic bent and a sense of humor – as was the case with the Cal-Tech PhD physicist wearing a purple hat and suspenders who showed me the Exploratorium’s new Giant Mirror. The metal mirror’s fantastically crisp images are mesmerizing: one moment you see a massive, reflected version of yourself – but move a few inches and you disappear, while everyone else’s image remains!
The Giant Mirror is one among hundreds of captivating exhibits. In galleries dedicated to “Tinkering” or “Living Systems,” exhibits will teach, enchant and beg to be played with. Visitors of all ages come time again to freeze their shadow, hear a friend whisper across a crowded hall, or fiddle with sound waves.
Written by Noelle Salmi