Academy of Sciences to open in Sep.

February 9, 2008 2:08:37 PM PST
When the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco reopens in its Golden Gate Park location in September, visitors will have the ability to fly to Saturn, get a close-up view of a whale and hear the call of a rainforest bird.

The museum is closed while it moves from its temporary Howard Street home back to Golden Gate Park. The remodeled site is scheduled to reopen Sept. 27.

David Marks, owner of Teecom Design Group, the firm in charge of the museum's technology, said it will be one of the greenest and smartest museums in the world.

The new facility will have a living roof with plants and trees covering the surface. Inside, there will be a biosphere that will benefit from natural photosynthesis on sunny days.

But nature will meet high-tech when it comes to the museum's electrical system, including telecommunications, security and the audio-visual set-up, Marks said.

The system will run on one information technology network, he said, allowing displays to be connected. The outcome will be a facility that could teleconference between exhibits and even across the world.

Marks gave the example of a research team in Antarctica that would have the ability to stream live data to the museum, feeding into the exhibits, the auditorium and even the planetarium.

Curators will have the opportunity to instantly update what visitors experience, depending on current events, Marks said.

He explained that if a whale was stuck in the San Francisco Bay, in two hours the museum could update the aquarium with information on whales.

The academy's planetarium will be more interactive as well, Marks said. It will be one of the first digital planetariums, he said, with a digital projection system that he described as "kind of like Google Earth but for the galaxy."

"You can fly to Saturn and dynamically create a show," he said. A new rainforest in the facility will have an updated version of those classic audio guides. According to Marks, instead of a few channels, the new guides will have dozens of audio channels and the ability to pinpoint animals to listen to.

The high-tech, interactive experience can begin before visitors even step into the new facility.

When it reopens, the museum will offer the chance to buy tickets online and at digital kiosks at the facility, said Marks. Visitors can also download tours to their cell phones or PDAs.

Eventually, visitors will have ability to purchase paperless tickets on their cell phones and flash the phone at the entrance, Marks said.

There will be free Wi-Fi and a distributed antennae system to provide cell phone service inside the building.

With all the technology, it might be hard to imagine the traditional museum-going experience. But Marks said he expects people will respect other people's desire to learn. There is also the added benefit of greater communication.

"Maybe (visitors will) want to call a spouse or friend and invite them to come over, or say, 'Hey, did you know this?'" Marks said.

The museum has begun the moving process, transporting furniture, transferring staff, getting exhibits ready and growing coral for a fish exhibit. When everything is finally in place, going to the California Academy of Sciences will be a new experience for a new generation.

"When it opens, I think the public will be surprised and really love it," said Marks.