What have we been up to since Leaving the PFA?

by klstirr

Now that we are open at Pier 15 and things are beginning to take on a familiar routine, I thought it might be nice to share some of what has happened since we bid farewell to the Palace of Fine Arts in January.

First, we experimented with pOp up Explaining!

A small core group of Explainers tromped around the city for the month of January doing fruit & flower dissections at Farmers Markets, testing navigation techniques on the Bay Ferry, exploring marine creatures at Aquatic Park, learning about chocolate & fractal patterns at Ghirardelli Square, experimenting with the science of cocktails in the Mission, and doing our core demos about clouds and wayfinding wherever our outdoor cart landed!

Julie gets a group of kids at the Heart of the City Farmers Market excited about the parts of a flower! January 2013

Though sometimes it was challenging to get passersby to pause and consider flowers, clouds, or alternative ways to find north, on the whole we had a great time immersing ourselves in this great city—taking the museum out into the world and interacting with many folks with strong memories of their experiences at the Exploratorium, as well as folks who had never encountered the museum before. At the end of the day we generally felt a little cold & windswept, but buoyed by the positive conversations and poignant moments of shared learning that we’d had with each other and folks who stopped to see what we were doing!

On February 1, we welcomed 20 new amazing Field Trip Explainers, and began the adventure of training everyone across all of the many disciplines that Explainers dabble in. We focused our training time thematically and geographically within the museum, beginning with the Observatory, Outdoor and East Galleries and as the weeks went by moving westward toward the Embarcadero through the Connector, Central, South, and finally West Galleries.

Here is a map of the new museum so you can get your bearings.


There is more information on the galleries and what the museum defines them as here.

Towards the end of our 8 weeks of training we made conceptual maps of the museum according to whatever criteria we wanted to relate. The image below is a shot of our group brainstorm of different ways the museum could be mapped.

These were all possible starting points that we generated as a group before making our own maps of the museum.

Our time together training the new crew before the museum re-opened was incredibly special. It was a little like a magical school (Explogwarts?!), and a little like camp. We normally do two weeks of Explainer Training every fall before school field trips start, and then we have daily trainings for an hour each morning. This 8 week chunk of training time was an intensive period of learning and reflecting, and now I think I can speak for all of us and say we are SO excited to share what we’ve learned and engage with visitors in our continued exploration process. For us learning never stops, (that is why we have training every day!) but interacting with the public and school groups is what we are here for, and it is great to have the varied multitude of perspectives that visitors bring to our explorations and to see the joy on their faces as they discover things we are also excited about.  Here are some pictures from several trainings from the past months to shed some light on our training adventure.


Dan watches as a cloud forms inside a glass jar. (Warm water inside the jar, ice on top…) February 2013


Kelly Ann, William, Whit, & Gloria with Senior Scientist Charlie Carlson after our first plankton drag off Pier 15. February 2013


Explainers popping up on the Embarcadero to practice Cloud Demo—making a cloud in a bottle with passersby! February 2013


Investigating the intertidal zone on a field trip to Sausalito! (We are Field Trip Explainers after-all!)

Having mastered the circuitry to move exposed toy-parts, Adrian & Jake cover their creation with pink fur.

Having mastered the circuitry to move exposed toy-parts, Adrian & Jake cover their creation with pink fur.


Paul Doherty illuminates light bulbs for us.


Explainer caravan of bikes behind the Nautilus art car, traveling from the museum’s On the Move event in the Bayview & the Mission to the Embarcadero!


Exploring the interaction of pinholes, a lens, and the sun, in the spirit of Bob Miller’s Light Walk!


Hartley & Qian approximate Pi through some careful cutting and measuring on Pi Day.


Rob and Vic arrange colored blocks according to their partners (not pictured) verbal instructions.


Paul Doherty helps us understand some of the illusory magic of the giant parabolic mirror!


A line of Explainers greet visitors on our first day open to the public at Pier 15!


William explores a cow eye with visitors. We’re in a new space, but we haven’t changed that much!

A group shot from our field trip to Sausalito!

A group shot from our field trip to Sausalito!