Roaming the airpOratorium

by Ann Bartkowski

So I’m now approaching hour 19 of chilling in SFO, interrupted only by a brief visit to the Airport Marriot to sleep for a bit.  My roommate is gone, my cell and ipod are dead, I read the copy of Science that Ryan/Santa gave me in my vest pocket cover to cover,  there’s too much stimulation for me to focus on my book, and I’m sick of flipping through magazines with adorable photos of Suri Cruise (but can we get her and her itty-bitty designer outfits for the cute room in the MIND exhibition?). 

Luckily JUST before I was bored to death, I discovered the terminal I’m confined to has what’s called a “Kids’ Space” according to the signage, but my preferred nomenclature is “airpOratorium”.  Basically there is a large rubbery floor which (for reasons that are still unclear to me) is painted with giant meteorological symbols (like the ones for cold front and the like) AND on top of this lovely flooring is a random grouping of explo exhibits.  The airpOratorium is definitely the most interesting space in the entire terminal, and it’s been providing me with hours of entertainment.  So much that I’m apparently now blogging about it.  What I am calling “Roam Airport” consists mainly of my own experimentation and play, as well as a significant amount of observing.  It’s weird not to be able to interact with people as I’m used to doing at the museum, and I’m making a concerted effort not to creep out any travelers out by approaching them or their children since I 1) don’t work here, and 2) am wearing dirty clothes that I slept in last night instead of a conspicuous orange vest.  For awhile Roam Airport also consisted of taking lots of photos and videos, which is probably why my cell battery is now dead. 


This is how my roommate chose to explore Aeolian

Landscape at 1am:





Meanwhile, other not-so-weary travelers (who must have hailed from a time zone where it was still a decent hour) were analyzing and experimenting with the exhibits with incredible depth:






One thing that is really striking to me is how well everyone is interacting at the exhibits. These kids are in some unfamiliar place surrounded by other kids they didn’t know and they are all cooperating and happily playing with each other.  And without being in a school mindset or having an orientation, they’re conducting really great experiments together.  Like what will happen if happen if we race our hot wheels cars across the bottom of the tornado exhibit where the fog comes out.  Or what about if our cars are parked in the middle- will the tornado form around them?   I was surprised that barely anyone ran in circles around the tornado; they most sat around the edges of it.  Was it because the exhibit lacked a “if you’re going to run in circles run this way” sign?  Or because it was open on all sides (instead of the way ours kind of has walls)? Or do all the kids at the explO run just because one started it and now it’s become a thing to do?


There was also this sweet exhibit that didn’t have any signage…does anyone know anything about it and/or if it was made at the explO? It’s and 9 X 9 cube of TV screens with what I’m imagining is some sort of blue plasma going crazy in it that reacts to different touches, making it so that touches aren’t invisible anymore like Phil Collins thought…

Overall, it was really heartening (is that even a word? I’m trying to say it was the opposite of disheartening) to see how everyone, young and old, was naturally compelled to explore these exhibits together.  And I’m really happy the explOratorium isn’t just in our museum but can be everywhere with people, whether our exhibits are there or not.  Also, have you ever looked at  the screens of the x-ray machines as your stuff goes through at security?  I almost got detained there cuz the guy thought it was suspicious that I was so interested in how cool my laptop looked in it.