New Exploratorium will dive into new technology with interactive ocean

July 2, 2012 8:42:52 PM PDT
When San Francisco's Exploratorium moves into its new building on the waterfront next year, it promises to use new technologies in ways never before seen in a museum. One of those experiences will be an interactive ocean.

"You'll have this little magnifying lens that shows you, 'Wow, look at all these teeny, tiny creatures that are living in the ocean!'" says Jennifer Frazier, who demonstrated a new interactive screen for us that she is developing for the new Exploratorium.

Frazier is passionate about those teeny-tiny creatures, called plankton, one species of which, she eagerly points out. "That's something really tiny call prochlorococcus, which produce almost half the oxygen you breathe."

And she is passionate about sharing her passion with you and me. As a scientist in residence at San Francisco's Exploratorium, she conceived of a new way to share what she and other scientists are discovering. It combines touch screen technology refined for mobile devices with the growing field of data visualization.

The Exploratorium is the place that introduced the world to "cab spotting," a visualization of every Yellow Cab in the city of San Francisco, moving and animated according to its GPS position in real-time.

Other examples include ships crossing the English Channel, commissioned by the BBC, and air traffic over Britain. All mesmerizing.

"In some ways, visualization is a like a new microscope," says Frazier. "There is all this data, you can't really see it, and a visualization sort of brings it into focus and allows you to see something you couldn't see before."

Even better, her new visualization responds to touch. In one example, a little spy glass pops up, revealing the tiniest creatures at work in that tiny part of the world. It was created in collaboration with the Darwin Project at MIT and computer scientists at UC Davis.

When the Exploratorium re-opens on Pier 15 early next year, Frazier's installation will be the centerpiece of a focus on real-time interaction with the museum's surroundings.

"The Exploratorium is about letting people experience the process and joy of science," says Frazier. "In the new building, there will be a very large 55-inch table with actual lenses. More than one person can collaborate on exploring it."

Want to explore the ocean? Now there's an app for that -- a really, really big app.


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