Exploratorium: Home

Our Story

Our Story

If you visit the museum in person or online, you only see part of who we are. Here are some things you might not know about us.

We Broke the Science Museum Mold

The Exploratorium was the brainchild of Frank Oppenheimer. At various times, Frank was a professor, a high school teacher, a cattle rancher, and an experimental physicist.

While teaching at a university, Frank developed a “library of experiments” that enabled his students to explore scientific phenomena at their own pace, following their own curiosity. Alarmed by the public’s lack of understanding of science and technology, Frank used this model to create the Exploratorium, believing that visitors could learn about natural phenomena and also gain confidence in their ability to understand the world around them. This was a groundbreaking idea for a science museum in 1969 when the Exploratorium opened. And the rest is history.

We Intertwine Art and Science

Frank Oppenheimer viewed art and science as complementary ways of exploring the world, and incorporated both into the Exploratorium from its earliest days—a pioneering idea at the time that’s been woven into the fabric of the institution. Today, artists and scientists continue to work alongside each other in envisioning new ideas and directions for the museum and its programs. Their common goal: to support a culture of experimentation and collaboration, inspire curiosity and understanding, and stimulate fresh ideas and directions.

We Have Explainers, Who Are Different from Docents

Many museums have docents—people who lead guided tours. We have young, orange-vested High School and Field Trip Explainers, who, in keeping with the Exploratorium philosophy, are engaged in both teaching and learning. Explainers are a diverse group of young people who are trained and supported by staff scientists and educators. The experience provides them with an enthusiasm for learning, as well as knowledge and communication skills that serve them throughout their personal and professional lives. Our Explainer programs started in the early days of the Exploratorium and quickly became a model for museums worldwide.

We’re at the Forefront of Science Education

By making science visible, touchable, and accessible to a wide variety of people—at the museum, online, and in the classroom—our explore-for-yourself way of learning and teaching influences science education worldwide. Our professional development programs provide educators with the skills, tools, and support they need to apply inquiry-based learning and teaching in their classes. Our Lifelong Learning programs—for homeschoolers, families, and adults, for example—bring learning by doing directly to a diverse group of people. We also design programs that make connections between the traditionally separate worlds of formal (school) and informal (museum) education and understanding.

With a goal of improving science education policy nationwide, Exploratorium senior staff members have testified before Congress about science education policy. Exploratorium Director Dr. Dennis Bartels, an internationally known science education and policy expert, has testified before committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives and before the full House Science Committee.

We’re an R&D Laboratory That Experiments with Cutting-Edge Ideas

We create, experiment, test, and build nearly everything at the Exploratorium ourselves, always looking for the most interesting and important ideas to pursue, often pushing the limits of what’s possible. In this sense, we’re a classic research-and-development organization, constantly creating new activities, websites, events, artworks, exhibits, and more.

The hundreds of exhibits you see when you visit are built in our shop, which is visible to visitors. We conduct visitor research and evaluation about our exhibits, and tinker with them over time. The museum constantly changes and evolves as new exhibits and exhibitions are created, tweaked, or retired.

We continually push the boundaries in cyberspace, too, by streaming live webcasts from the museum and remote sites, creating mobile applications, experimenting with visualizations of natural and urban systems, using telepresence technologies to connect to research ships at sea; experimenting with augmented reality; and building a virtual museum in Second Life that features interactive exhibits and public programs.

We’re a Community That Shares Ideas, Experience, and Expertise

Our community of more than four hundred Exploratorium staff members—scientists, artists, educators, exhibit developers, writers, designers, and more—forms the creative and administrative core for everything we do. We constantly brainstorm, evaluate, create, and invent the Exploratorium—but we don’t work in a vacuum. Throughout our history, we’ve invited scientists, poets, visual artists, musicians, and interesting thinkers into the Exploratorium to infuse our community with inspiration and new ideas, and to help us develop new directions for the museum.

We also reach out to the community in lots of ways. For example, our Educational Outreach program links the Exploratorium with community-based organizations serving inner-city children, teens, and families. Our ExNET program, an exhibit and teaching network, shares the fruits of our experience with science centers worldwide. We also partner with other institutions—NASA and NOAA, for example, on initiatives that foster a public understanding of science—and we work with other science centers on collaborative projects. We extend our community, too, through our website, which gets approximately 24 million visits annually, and through social networking including Facebook and other online communities.