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D-Lib Magazine is pleased to feature the Exploratorium, a museum of science, art, and human perception founded in 1969 by physicist and educator, Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, and physically housed at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts. Since 1993, resources of the Exploratorium have also been available on the World Wide Web. The Exploratorium was the second science museum to build a site on the Web, and the site receives more than 12,000,000 unique visitors each year. The online Exploratorium has won many awards including (to name but a few): the Webby Award for Best Science Site, three years in a row (1997-1999); best science museum web site by Yahoo! Internet Life (January 2000 and 2001); and the 2000 Award for Innovation from the Association of Science-Technology Centers for worldwide leadership in the development of Internet-based science education resources.
The Exploratorium's mission is "to create a culture of learning through innovative environments, programs, and tools that help people to nurture their curiosity about the world around them." The Exploratorium web site makes a significant contribution to the achievement of that mission.
The Exploratorium's approach to science education involves integrating the observations made by scientists and artists in order to arrive at a clearer understanding of nature and natural phenomena. This collaboration may result in the creation of temporal works (such as performances, films and videos, workshops, or public presentations) or artworks and installations that may become part of the museum's regular collection. The artwork entitled Aeolian Landscape, shown in the photograph above, was created by one of the museum's artists-in-residence for an exhibit entitled "Turbulent Landscapes".
The photograph entitled Colored Shadows, left, is one of the over 650 science, art, and human perception exhibits that have been housed at the Exploratorium. The exhibits provide an interactive approach to experiential learning and "invite visitors to make their own discoveries about how their world works. They can blow giant bubbles, look inside a cow's eye, leave their shadows on a wall, or touch a tornado. They can paint with light, explore illusions, or surf the World Wide Web. Since the museum opened, art and science have complemented each other on the exhibit floor."
The Exploratorium web site reflects these interactive experiences for those who may not be able to visit the museum in person. For example, see the web experiments on "Colored Shadows" located at <http://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/colored_shadows.html>, which is just one page of a collection of experiments entitled Science Snacks Online. As the Exploratorium web creators explain, "We've created 'real' things for people to explore and interact with, not 'virtual exhibits.' The medium of the Internet makes it possible for the museum to reach homes and schools all over the world. This has changed the way formal and informal learning takes place, both in the classroom and in the home. The Exploratorium online, and the resources it provides, are available 24 hours a day, worldwide, to anyone with an Internet connection."
Although some of the interactive online exhibits require the use of technologies such as Shockwave, many, if not most, of the resources use simple technologies and can be viewed on any type of web browser even over low speed Internet connections. Over 200 simple experiments can be printed out and used off-line.
Another exciting resource at the Exploratorium web site is the webcast archive. Since 1998, the Exploratorium has created an array of webcasts, including live programs of solar eclipses (from Zambia and Aruba), the sweet science of chocolate, robot races, and the Hubble Telescope. At the time of this writing, nearly thirty webcasts have been archived and are Web accessible. In addition, the Exploratorium currently has a team in Antarctica that is in contact with different researchers and is providing the museum with dispatches from the field, including live webcasts. See <http://www.exploratorium.edu/origins/antarctica/index.html>.
The Exploratorium has been constantly adding to and improving its web site since its inception, and today the site contains over 12,000 pages with many more projects "in the works" that aren't yet visible. As Kurt E. Feichtmeir, General Manager of the museum's Learning Tools division says, "we are in the process of digitizing many of our archival assets -- still images, video, audio, text -- with the intent of making them available on the Web to target audiences, including our museum partners, educators, and eventually the general public. This initiative is being supported by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and we're in the early stages of implementing the plan. Within two years, our online "collection" will be even more extensive and accessible. So my hope is that you will 'stay tuned' for future developments."
The Exploratorium web site is located at <http://www.exploratorium.edu>.
Copyright© 2001 Corporation for National Research Initiatives