Exploratorium tinkering exhibit gives visitors chance to get creative


San Francisco's Exploratorium has been at the forefront of the maker culture for years led by a dynamic couple whose latest project is a new twist on a relic from the past - a book.

The Exploratorium has always been a place for innovative minds to stretch their limits, featuring artists and scientists not afraid to take chances and get a little silly.

Tinkering Studio Co-Director Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich wanted to give museum visitors that same opportunity to get creative.

"There's this real spirit of tinkering, DIY, do it yourself and making," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson and Petrich have been partners in life and work for two decades.

"Early on, Karen taught me how to weld and I taught her how to use the computer," Petrich said.

It was a match made in heaven and their passion for each other and for education eventually turned into The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium.

"There's this idea that many people carry around that if you can just explain something the one best way that everybody is going to learn it. We don't believe that exactly. We think that everybody learns in a different way and especially when they are using their hands," Petrich said.

The next step is to encourage people to do more tinkering on their own with a first of its kind book.

"It's got conductive ink printed right on the cover," Wilkinson said.

Dan: "Wait a minute, conductive ink, you mean ink that conducts electricity?

"That's right. You put the battery directly on the ink and then it's going to send the current thru this LED. Tiny, tiny, little bits of metal are in the ink essentially," Wilkinson said.

Dan: "Wow."

Inside the book, artists show off their tinkering projects with suggestions to get you started on your own creations. Many use inexpensive things you can find at home.

But to really set the tone, the artists were challenged to hack the book itself.

"We love the fact that they're are all so different," Wilkinson said.

Its got a servo motor that lives up the book cover and two little LED eyes stare out at you.

A woodworker made one book into a miniature work bench with lights that really work.

"I love that she camouflaged the battery as a stool," Wilkinson said.

This one was done by a felt artist.

"She started by actually creating bite marks and claw marks in the book itself and then felted all sorts of creatures and different elements into the book to show who might be taking this thing apart," Petrich said.

A flower came from a researcher at MIT.

"There's a thin piece of wire in each one of those leaves and when you run electricity thru it, it moves and bends into a new position," Petrich said.

The artist created tiny stickers embedded with lights, motors and computer chips, an idea Wilkinson and Petrich think will revolutionize the craft world.

Dan: "This looks like something Karen I shouldn't take with me thru the airport security."

"Yeah you are right about that," Wilkinson said.

Inside the artist installed a simple nightlight.

"This is the light sensor that would be in the nightlight," Wilkinson said.

Then he attached a cellphone playing video of an eye. When the dark part of the pupil moves under the sensor, the light turns on.

Dan: "Look at that! I don't know how we're gonna make an app out of this, but I gotta say that's not one I would've come up with."

The book called The Art of Tinkering is on sale at the Exploratorium now. It costs $30 and will be available on Amazon.com in February.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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