Everything's an exhibit at San Francisco's new Exploratorium


At night, one gallery there looks like science fiction, but by day, it's all about understanding science facts.

"This is the area of the new Exploratorium where we focus on biology," said Kristina Yu, the living systems director.

You can examine huge forms of life like a 330-year-old Douglas fir that blew down in a wind storm.

"Right around the year 1670 is when that little pinecone popped open and that little seed sprouted and became that large, large tree," said Michael Brown, an artist and exhibition designer.

Or check out the tiny creatures that live in a single drop of salt water, magnified to give you a good look.

"This is really the heart of the living systems gallery. This is where we grow or maintain or culture most of the critters that actually wind up in the exhibits," said Yu as she was showing us around.

Yu: "We like to think of it as kind of the open kitchen for biology."
Ashley: "The open kitchen. In other words, you'll be able to see the scientists at work doing what they do."
Yu: "Exactly."

Many of the new art and science exhibits here focus on water to complement their location right above the San Francisco Bay.

"When you put one of these lenses on [this surface], it shows you the distribution of the plankton at that spot in the ocean," said Isaac Liao, Ph.D., from UC Davis.

Ashley: "This is a piece of modern sculpture, right?"
Yu: "This is an algae chandelier."
Ashley: "Wait a minute, there's actually algae living in there?"
Yu: "Yes, probably trillions."
Ashley: "Trillions of algae, green algae and brown algae."
Yu: "So the color comes from the algae themselves. They are pretty concentrated right now, but over time the color will become more saturated as the population gets more dense."

This new gallery has also given an old favorite fancy new digs. You don't want to miss the cow eye dissection. When you stroll around the rest of the building, expect some surprises. One special mirror was originally made for a flight simulator in Germany.

"It makes a three dimensional image. The secret is the curved mirror. So every point of light on your body is reassembled into a new point, but it just happens to be upside down and switched side to side," said Paul Doherty, an Exploratorium physicist.

Just about anything you see here could actually be an exhibit. Sound developer David Torgersen is playing musical lockers. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it.

As you can see, there's a lot of cool stuff happening at the new Exploratorium. It's really a remarkable place.

This Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on ABC7 News, you can get a preview when we present the special: "More to Explore, The Making of the New Exploratorium." I'll be hosting the half-hour special with an exclusive inside look at San Francisco's newest treasure.

Opening Day is April 17, 2013.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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