Field Trip Explainers

Reflections on life at Exploratorium

Tag: Photos

Maker Faire!

by Luigi Anzivino

Maker Faire, once again, was really awesome. Above is a slideshow of the craziness that was the Exploratorium booth. Unfortunately, I have no photos of anything else that happened, because I pretty much stuck to the Explo space all the time. I know there was selective cupcake riding, some guy made a vacuum tube theremin, and swap-o-rama-rama enabled the birth of the pill-ho, but that’s about it.

A humongous thanks to all the Explainers that made it possible, easy, and fun: thanks to Ryan, Sarah, Aiona, Amisha, Antoine, Katie, and Nicole. Thanks also to special guest star Christina, who came out of explainer “retirement” for this ride. You guys are friggin’ awesome.

More photos on the PIE website: click here!

And, photos of things being smashed by SmashBat are here!


Kristin the Gelfling

by Luigi Anzivino

The other day, out of the blue, Carolyn said to me: “I know who Kristin reminds me of! The blond female Gelfling from The Dark Crystal!”. I was skeptical until I google-imaged (I sort of can’t believe I just used that as a verb…) Kira the Gelfling. You be the judge:

Kira or Kristin?
Kira the Gelfling on the left.

The Kristin head-bob
Kristin the Explainer.

I’m thinking, slap an orange jacket on Kira, and she’d be indistinguishable from Kristin. Yes? No? Anyone? Bueller?

Chain Reaction machines

by Luigi Anzivino

To look at individual photos, please look at the complete set. I’ve tried to include brief descriptions of the most intriguing ones, but it’s a daunting task to describe them all!

Chain Reaction is a P.I.E. activity in which participants get to build contraptions using a variety of materials: homemade switches, motors, re-purposed toys, and everyday and "art" materials are combined to set each other off. Each two-persons "team" gets a piece of real estate on a tabletop, and a specified input-output square. At the end of its run, each contraption will trigger the next one on the table; therefore each team’s creation contributes to the whole final performance.

The Learning Studio hosted a workshop for the awesome Exploratorium Explainers, much like the Marble Machines one that I got to participate in last year. Just like before, half of the explainers participated one day, and the other half the next: someone has to help those poor kids out on the floor to explore!

An extra motivation for the workshop was preparing for the upcoming Pi Day at the Exploratorium, when we will try to replicate a version of this activity of the floor, for the general public (Yikes!). So we provided each time with a Pi(e)-themed object to somehow incorporate in the contraption. See if you can spot them…

Oh, coincidentally March 14 (3-14, get it? Pi? Nevermind…) is also Einstein’s birthday, so there were a few Einstein-themed knickknacks too.

Once again I was amazed by the capacity this group has to create brilliant and fun machines in a really short amount of time, with elegant and somewhat quirky solutions to a variety of problems along the way. Go Explainers, go!

If you have any comments about the activity, either as a participant or as an external reader of this blog, that’s what the comment box is for. Go for it.

Artichokes, bees, and mics

by Luigi Anzivino

Artichoke flower
That’s very purple! (Click to enlarge)

A few weeks ago in Napa I saw, for the first time, an artichoke flower! Doesn’t it look absolutely fantastic? I mean, it’s positively wild. And to think that we eat them, and discard the pesky choke that, if left to bloom, will become such a stunning inflorescence. As I was taking photos, I noticed a little bee doing its thing. You know, pollinating. And I remembered that bees are in peril, and with them our whole food supply. I wonder if there has been any progress on that front.

I recently read about a researcher in Montana, Jerry Bromenshenk, who has an ingenious and alternative approach to diagnosing an unhealthy beehive: microphones. Apparently bees have a highly developed sense of smell, and within 30 seconds of sensing a dangerous chemical the whole beehive will change the sound it produces. Therefore, Dr. Bromenshenk is hoping, by threading a spaghetti-sized microphone into the beehive, to detect the warning signs of “colony collapse disorder” early on, and maybe identify its causes. Let’s all hope, because I like my fruits and veggies.

Click image to enlarge.
Originally uploaded on flickr

Make and Break Exhibits

by ryan

 We’ve debuted some cool temporary exhibits at the ExplOratorium over the past few months. The kids at our summer camp made the first exhibit which hangs from the circle of lights in the middle of the museum. For one of our activities, the campers dissected computer keyboards and made flying “cy-birds” from the plastic sheets that lie under the keys. The project allows the kids to create an piece of art that will stay on the floor for the next month or so. I think that the idea of having an exhibit like this demonstrates the spirit of the ExplOratorium as a museum without pretentions about who can make art, do science or contribute to the exhibit space.

The second temporary exhibit going on at the ExplOratorium is a totally amazing sculpture created by the visiting artist Aeneas Wilder. His piece on display at the current moment is titled Untitled No. 133 and can be found in the art space in the back corner of the museum surrounded by the mind section. One amazing thing about the exhibit is that the entire thing is constructed without any glue, nails, or material which holds the pieces together. It’s sort of like a giant Jenga game, although for some reason it probably wouldn’t stay standing if I tried to remove a plank even though I have super steady hands. So the other crazy thing about the exhibit is that the artist kicked down two previous versions of the artwork before settling on the current design. Earlier in the summer, I saw him building a twisting tower which he later knocked down with a mighty boot, creating a loud noise that apparently echoed throughout the entire museum. Watch the video on his website here if you don’t believe me! If anyone wants to check out the demise of the current installation live, I believe that the plans are to knock it down on Labor Day at 4PM.

Something about the piece reminded me of the Marble Machines that the PIE institute has been working with over the past year. Like the marble machines, Wilder’s works is made of simple materials and by nature temporary. I remember that after working on my peg board for only a few hours, I was extremely reluctant to take the pieces apart. I can only imagine what it would be like to destroy something that you spent so much time, planning, and precise placing of wooden boards. Although the spectacle of the crash might be pretty damn satisfying.

Picture Parade – Last Day pics, and Dawn-a-thon’s pics

by akikoakiko

Sorry so late in the posting these, but here are pics from our lovely last Explainer Day.  Then, at the end, are pictures of pictures, taken by Dawn, then me! 

**Because I have no idea how to put smaller pictures up, I’ve put the links to the files – My pictures come up as full files and they are HUGEO.  Any solutions?  

Yummy potato
Kristin eats death
Marella Potato
Group Hug
Dawn’s Group Hug Part 1
Dawn’s Group Hug Part 2
Akiko + Sylvia
potato prep
Andre + potato
Marcus + potato
Sylvia + potato
Akiko + potato
Group picture 1
Group picture 2

Ryan’s fave exhibit
Sarah is totally grossed out by the brain
a beautiful day . . . to SACK!
Ryan + Shonky
Akiko + May


Abby Normal

by ryan

For the past two morning trainings, Luigi has shared his extensive knowledge of the brain with us, as we are exploring the possibility of adding a sheep’s brain demonstration to the popular cow eye, flower, and DNA presentations. It’s really exciting to be thinking about the best ways to present this dissection to the public in a way that both passes along information and invites kids to share stories and relate the demo to their everyday lives. It’s important to think of issues of space, having a script versus ad-libbing, and how hands on we think it can be. As we found out, just having the brain in front of us stimulated a whole bunch of comments and questions from the group. Luckily we had an expert to teach us about the parts and share stories with us.

Some of the most interesting examples that Luigi shared with us had to do with the connection between the different parts of the brain, and what can happen when certain sections get damaged. For example, Phineas Gage, a railroad worker, and by all accounts an upstanding citizen, had a beam go through the front part of the brain and completely change his presonality. Since the frontal lobe can control impulses, Gage became angry, abusive, and mean. Good thing there were no railroad spikes lying around outside the day I fell off that pole.

A phenomenon that I found really amazing to learn about was called blindsight. If the visual cortex is damaged a person will be blind, yet if the superior colliculus another part of the brain that prosesses relexes can react to visual stimuli. So for example, if a person suffering from this condition had a chair pushed into their path (although this seems really mean), they would move out of the way even though they wouldn’t be able to see what object they were avoiding. Let’s just say we imagined the amazing hackey sack possibilities.

Cutting up the brain also led to discussions of different medical procedures that doctors can perform. Luigi told us about how doctors can remove half of the cerebral cortex in certain situations, especially in young patients. In the early years the brain can more easily re-wire itself and the remaining half of the brain will take over the function of the removed half.

These were only a few of the cool facts that I remembered. Maybe others can share the tid-bits that made a lasting impression on them during the training. It’s challenging to think about all the factors involved in the thought processes leading up to the creation of new on-the-floor activities. But it’s exciting to be pushing boundaries and learning from each other as we ponder the best ways to move forward as a group.

Maker Faire 2007: photos, photos, photos!

by Luigi Anzivino

(For a more leisurely stroll through photos, check out my flickr set.)

As Ryan said, Maker Faire was extraordinary. The ExplOratorium booth was a mixture of high and low tech wonders, simple ideas spun out into marvelous directions. Charles’s fog pool was eerie and magical; the concept if fairly simple: fog is swirled and a green laser visualizes the swirls and turbulence within. However, the exhibit was, I understand, technically challenging to make.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was a homemade battery prayer wheel, which was technically primitive, but because of that had an equally mesmerizing effect.

My favorite moments, however, where the kissing antics at “Ohm is where the art is”, and the reactions from people to the homemade hairdryer Bernoulli ball levitator.

Also, Adam’s mechanical clock had crowds waiting for the big moment at 12:59.

I can’t wait for next year, I hope to be part of it again!


by Luigi Anzivino

April 25th was National DNA Day: created in order to commemorate the completion of the human genome project, it served as an excuse for the explainers to express their unabated love for DNA and everything sciency and geeky. Dawn had been so excited about it that she vowed off caffeine for the week preceding the event, lest the combination cause her to blow a gasket. In fact, on the day of, she showed up, to everybody’s delight, with custom made DNA t-shirts for everyone to wear. This led to a frenzy of customization, tomfoolery, and shenanigans. Case in point (click to biggify photos):

DNA buccaneers
DNA buccaneers: Akiko goes for a low-cut look, while Andre looks badass in cut sleeves.

Sometimes decisions required consultations and extended revisions. The whiteboard helped quite a bit to avoid some fashion faux pas. Here’s a glimpse into the creative process:

Consultation about t-shirt mod ideas
Andre lends his fashion-forward sensibility to Ryan.

Eventually, Ryan found his groove with a style meshing the down-to-earth flavor of Fred Flintstone with the joie de vivre of Richard Simmons:

A little bit Fred Flinstone, a little bit Richard Simmons
Fred Simmons?

Training was a hoot too! Karen taught us to make DNA jewelery:

DNA jewellery-making class
Moleculary accurate, too! Down to the last hydrogen bond.

All in all, it was good explainer mayhem. So a big thanks to Our Lady of DNA, Dawn, who had an extra special DNA extraction demo, squeezing out our beloved grey goo from samples as wild as cow’s eye blood and orange juice:

Dawn, our lady of DNA
Yep, that’s blood on the left! I believe it’s followed by spit (I mean, cheek cells…), wheat germ, and orange juice. Also, please admire the DNA earrings made in jewelery class.

Now all we need is a way to realize our scheme to establish a Galactic Paul Doherty Day…

Scrubbing water clean

by Luigi Anzivino

Once a year, the field trip explainers get to go on a field trip! When the Exploratorium hosts its yearly Awards dinners, there are two days in which field trips are canceled. Therefore, we can afford to cover the museum with only half the floor staff. One half of us goes field tripping on day one, and the other on day two. On day two, five of us brave explainers went on a tour of the Wastewater Treatment Plant of San Francisco at Oceanside.

Completed in 1993, the Oceanside Plant is the City’s newest treatment facility. It is located off the Great Highway near the San Francisco Zoo. The Oceanside Plant treats an average dry weather flow of about 17 million gallons a day and has a total capacity of 65 million gallons during wet weather. It treats wastewater from the west side of the City. Cleaned water is discharged from the plant to the Pacific Ocean through the Southwest Ocean Outfall.

This is how they do it. It was a bit smelly, let me tell you, but very interesting. Here are some pictures.