Yippee! I loved the old Exploratorium, and it sounds like I’ll love the new one!
The new home, with all of those characteristics (and a 200-seat cabaret), is opening on Wednesday, and while it doesn’t deserve unalloyed acclaim, the achievement is remarkable. Under its executive director, Dennis Bartels, the Exploratorium has preserved and expanded what it was when the physicist Frank Oppenheimer created it. It remains the most important science museum to have opened since the mid-20th century because of the nature of its exhibits, its wide-ranging influence and its sophisticated teacher training program.
Yet the new Exploratorium remains eccentrically original. Technology is scarce. There are few video screens. There are fewer computers. There are circuits but no evident circuit boards. Woodworking and metalworking take place on the museum floor. There are more than 600 exhibits, but the emphasis remains on the laws of physics and motion, elementary principles of perception, and elegantly designed machines that conceal nothing.
You can still play with pendulums that were designed for the museum’s original opening. You can spin disks atop a whirling wheel; you can try to get a bicycle’s pedals to move using a sequence of buttons; you can gaze at the physicality of inverted reflections created by a finely polished parabolic mirror; you can position toy robots to create spinning animations.