From working with biologist Donald Kennedy (who later became president of Stanford) to develop ten unique neurobiology exhibits in the early 1970s to presenting images of the 1974 Jupiter flyby to the public at the same time they were available to NASA itself, the Exploratorium has partnered with science researchers and organizations since its very beginning.
With the advent of the World Wide Web (and the Exploratorium was among the first six hundred organizations to create a website), the idea of taking our visitors on virtual field trips to research laboratories and field locations seemed like a natural extension of this collaborative practice. We wanted to make it possible for our audiences to share the excitement and wonder of scientific discovery in action—with our staff scientists helping to provide context and explaining complex scientific ideas. A substantial number of amazing collaborations, both large and small, have resulted from this idea, and we’ve been given incredible access to scientists and labs throughout the world. The following examples show the diversity of these collaborations.
We teamed up with NASA’s Sun-Earth Education Forum in 1998 to webcast the total solar eclipse from Aruba, becoming the first organization to bring this awe-inspiring experience to an Internet audience. In later years, we followed this with eclipse webcasts from Turkey, Zambia, and China.
In 2012, we worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. We developed the Return to Mars website and presented more than twenty live webcasts about the rover Curiosity—with technology undreamed of when we webcast from Aruba. Our Return to Mars project followed a similar collaboration with JPL in 2004, during which we reported on the rovers Spirit and Opportunity and also produced about twenty webcasts.
Our Origins project was a series of field trips that looked at the search for the origins of matter, the universe, and life. We traveled to Antarctica, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva. We also visited the labs at the Natural History Museum, London, and their Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize, and we checked in with NASA staff who work with the Hubble telescope. As we explored these extraordinary places, we offered the people we met the chance to speak directly to our audiences about their work, their tools, and their ideas.
To show how scientists gather, assess, and use scientific evidence, we partnered with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where scientists from a variety of backgrounds are investigating human origins from an interdisciplinary perspective. We looked over the shoulders of researchers studying everything from nonhuman primates to fossil human teeth and shared their ideas and discoveries on our website Evidence: How Do We Know What We Know?
An ongoing collaboration with scientists at the J. David Gladstone Institutes allows the Exploratorium to support a living mouse stem-cell exhibit, providing our visitors with firsthand access to current life science research.
The Exploratorium has partnered with University of California, San Francisco scientists over the years to create life science exhibits, joint public programs, and educational opportunities at the museum and on campus. An early collaborator was UCSF’s first chancellor and notable research scientist John Saunders.
One of the last scientific frontiers is the ocean floor. Through our long-term partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we invited our audiences to follow the scientists and crew of the Okeanos Explorer, a NOAA ship dedicated to investigating largely unknown regions of the ocean. Spectacular video and live webcasts connected the ship in the Pacific with audiences at the Exploratorium and web viewers everywhere.
We will continue working with NOAA at our new home at Pier 15, as well as with other friends in the scientific community, to present exciting phenomenon-based exhibits and to showcase science research around the world.