Field Trip Explainers

Reflections on life at Exploratorium

Parody Explainer Song!

by lapinehorizon

You heard of the song ‘Bad Looks Good on You’ by 38 Special? Well this is ‘Orange Vest Looks Good on You’ all about Explainers!!!! Hahahahaha. Enjoy!



Morning you’re doing those orientations
Then practicing a jump in shadow box
Oh yeah man
When lunchtime comes, you’re on the south apron
Watching how high the tide has gone
We’re like a little bit of carnival sideshow, and a lot of genuine curiosity
With the field trips comin, we sketch the plankton
Check that out now
You got your magic tricks, dry ice too
And some say we got no rules, baby
orange vest looks good on you
That’s what I say
Man it looks good on you
Ooh yeah
Not cuttin that cow eye for the first time
Noo no
We sure do love to magnify
And where do you sit’s about to get real deep
We’re doing those dark-box rickshaw rides
We’re like a little bit of summer camp councilor, and a genuine individuality
You’re kidding me
With the people thinking we’re all in highschool
Talking bout lightbulbs and perception too, keep doin’ the things you do
Baby, orange vest looks good on you
Sure good on you
All along the fifteenth pier, there, unexpected happens here
A place where there is outdoor cart, fog bridge, and the big tree
The gyroid is a crazy time, and creepy ghosts are in your eyes
At botany we have a millipede, yeah
We got a little bit of bay area hippie, and a lot of genuine creativity
In the connectors or the studio tinkering
Getting into space-bears and preschools, embryos and echo tube
Baby, orange vest looks good on you
Baby, that looks good on you



Engaged in Tinkering

by Julie C.

This week the Field Trip Explainers had a training in the Tinkering Studio. Ryan and Lianna from Tinkering talked about visitor engagement. They see engagement as a mix of motivation, interest, and spending time with an activity. After a discussion we broke into small groups. Our group discussed (and drew) how we engage visitors around the Circuit Board activity in the Tinkering Studio.



Weird Circuits

Vic likes to show visitors all the weird and wacky things available to play and work with at Tinkering. This is an illustration of a spring switch. There’s a small metal spring inside of a larger metal spring (a slinky). When they wiggle, they touch, and complete a circuit. Then the component they’re wired to turns on.



Engaging Projects

Kelly Ann models engagement by working on a project. She keeps one eye open for visitors. When the visitor approaches or looks interested she shows them what she’s doing. Sometimes they’ll work on it together. Sometimes she’ll pass the project on to them to complete.



Challenging Circuits

Salene sets up a challenge for visitors. One of our trickiest components is the seven-segment-display. It’s the same type of digital number that you see on a microwave. It looks simple but predictably getting each segment to light up can be very tricky.



Simple Circuits

I like to start folks off with a very simple problem – how to light up a lightbulb? I don’t always tell people how to do it or what parts they’ll need! We talk about how flashlights and lamps work. Once we get the lightbulb on we add switches, buzzers, etc.

Our New Space!

by Julie C.

Over the weekend we packed up all of our supplies.


And moved out of our old space near the crossroads of the museum.


And into a lovely (and larger) new space in the Bulkhead.


Here are our windows – wave ‘hi!’ to us when you walk by.


Observatory Study Group – Special Places in the Bay Area

by lapinehorizon


This is an example of the group project we did, about personal places that we would like to share (or not, maybe.) This is the only visual I could manage to upload. The rest of them are in possession of Explainers, on physical paper.

Settling Plate Experiments Begin!

by rbehnam

Several weeks ago we finiished building and installing settling plates around Pier 15 in an effort to continue Karen Kalumuck’s experiments, formerly known as Dock Schmutz. This name affectionately refers to all the amazing creatures that grow on side of the docks in our bay. In more scientific terms, these creatures are known as intertidal invertebrates, and include both plant-like and animal-like organisms.

We decided to make our plates using PVC plastic, wood, and metal, and to hang them along the pier on both sides to see if we noticed any differences between the creatures on either side. And it wouldn’t be an Explainer experiment if we didn’t give each plate a strange name. So, the eight plates are named as follows:

1. The Old City – an entirely PVC plate that was installed prior to our official move to the piers by Karen. We estimate it was attached in the fall of 2012.

2. Boris – a series of two wood plates. Unfortunately, we somehow lost Boris a week ago and have to build a Boris #2.

3. Triplet City – a series of three, small PVC plates installed just outside the tinkering studio.

4. Rainbow City – Our only plate containing wood, PVC and metal layers, on the southwest corner of the pier.

5. Rusty Heartbeat – three metal and one pvc plate. Two of the metal plates are perforated with many holes. This plate is nearest to the gates by the Seaglass Restaurant.

6. Root Canal City – One of the older plates that was installed at the same time as The Old City, but is on the north side of the pier. Interestingly, the life growing on this plate looks very different from its brother plate on the south side.

7. Dedo Muerte City – a stacking series of both clear and white PVC plates hanging at the end of the echo tube.

8. Delicious Pineapple City – three wood plates hanging in the plaza, near Disappearing Rings.


Here is an example of the drastic changes we are seeing. Triplet City went from this,


to this,


in a matter of weeks!

And sometimes, very interesting things happen where we least expect it, like on the rope or bucket rather than on the plate itself. Here is a black limpet that has found a good home on the bucket of Rainbow City:


We are excited to see what will become of our plates! As they have only been hanging for a month, the biggest changes we have noticed is how quickly they become covered with black, brown and green sludge of all kinds. The Old City seems to represent the great diversity of creatures that could potentially grow on our plates, including tunicates (both solitary and colonial), skeleton shrimps, worms of all kinds, barnacles, mussels, scallops, limpets, bryozoa, and a variety of seaweeds.

Here are some thoughts and questions that have arisen in our notes and observations over the last month:

  • How much biomass is there? And how fast is it growing?
  • What is all this slime, mud, sludge really made of? Is it of any value?
  • Why do some of the buoy buckets get covered more than the plates?
  • What happened to Boris?
  • Are those long, spindly, pinkish seaweed things with bulbs on the end plants or animals?
  • Do creatures have trouble attaching to the smooth, metal plates?




Circuit Inspiration

by Julie C.

Explainers spend a fair amount of time in the Tinkering Studio playing with Circuit Boards. We connect motors to batteries; compare series and parallel circuits; and experiment with types of switches. Visitors join us throughout the day to create their own circuits.

But, what is an electric circuit?

An electric circuit is “a complete conducting loop from the positive terminal to the negative terminal [of a battery], with both the battery and the light bulb [or other component] being part of the loop.” *

blog circuits circuit

But not all circuits are so simple… Read the rest of this entry »

Explainer Recipes

by Julie C.

Allison has collected the culinary wisdom of Explainers. From herbivores to carnivores and complicated to simple, here is the result. Click through for all of our recipes or add your own in the comments!



Robert, Ham Sandwich:
Bread (not necessary)

Read the rest of this entry »

Pianos and Proprioception

by Julie C.

A few weeks ago we experimented with our sense of proprioception. Proprioception is the sense of where our bodies are in space and how much force we need to use to move them. If your sense of proprioception is impaired you may talk too loudly, press a pencil hard onto paper, or grasp things too forcefully. Going through a growth spurt often temporarily impairs one’s proprioception, which is why adolescents tend to knock into things.

We tested our own senses of proprioception with blind drawing. We sat in the West Gallery and took five minutes to draw the exhibits around us. The only rule was no looking at our paper while we did it. A few people drew the same exhibit. Can you tell which one it is?



Read the rest of this entry »

Camera, Camera on the wall, who’s the hottest of them all?

by nlcarlson

If you have ever stood next to another human being, then you probably felt some body heat radiating from her. What you might not realize is that everything emits radiation: you, your dog, your chair. Everything! (see this article:

Explainers play in the infrared camera with ice and hot water. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Algire*

Now you are probably asking yourself “Am I the same as a chair?”. While only you can truly answer that question, for the purposes of this blog post, the answer is “no”. The key difference is that you and your chair radiate different amounts of energy.

Physicists model objects that radiate heat as black bodies. A black body is an idealized object that absorbs all energy (specifically, electromagnetic radiation) that hits it. A black body will emit radiation in a way that is solely determined by its temperature. The emitted radiation is described by Planck’s Law. Note: only click on the link if you can handle lots of maths.

Thus, if we could measure the radiation emitted by a black body, we could determine the object’s temperature. Luckily, the world we live in has such measuring devices: infrared cameras!

An infrared camera measures the infrared radiation emitted by objects and then calculates the apparent temperature of each object. The objects are then colored based on their temperatures (see attached photos for some examples).

However, real objects are not black bodies because they only absorb part of the energy that hits them while the rest of the energy is reflected. The percentage of energy that an object emits back is defined as the object’s emissivity. Therefore, if the emissivity of an object is known, the camera can correctly estimate the temperature of the object and produce an amazing picture.

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Algire*

In short, infrared cameras give us an opportunity to see into a completely different world. Now that you’re done reading, go play in front of an infrared camera with hot water, dry ice, and your own body.

To learn more about the nitty gritty details of infrared cameras, look up Thermography. Thermography is the field dedicated to infrared imaging including measuring radiation and estimating/measuring emissivities. Thermographers (I totally made up this word) develop fancy algorithms and methods for calibrating infrared cameras. If you are interested in reading more about thermography, check out these links:

  • Short-wave infrared camera picture of mock-dead Explainers. Photo courtesy of Jenny Situ*

    *All pictures were taken with the infrared camera or short-wave infrared camera at the Exploratorium ( during a Field Trip Explainer training session.

    ** Apologies to any physicists reading this post if I simplified things too much!

    Image | January 29, 2014

    by Julie C.


    This is a comic that Allison drew . It’s a funny comic and a true story!   The broken piano was turned into the exhibit, Piano Strobe. A strobe light is directed at the exposed strings of the piano. If the strobe flashes at the same speed that a string is vibrating, the string will appear […]


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