The Exploratorium is an interactive museum of science and art located in San Francisco, California that welcomes over 500,000 people annually. It was founded in 1969 by Frank Oppenheimer, a physicist, cattle rancher and high school teacher. He wanted to create hands-on learning experiences to explain science and natural phenomena to anyone interested. Oppenheimer believed that science and art were complementary methods of understanding the world, and scientists and artists continue to work together today to create new exhibits, ideas and directions for the museum.
The Exploratorium remains a leader in science education and outreach. Beyond the physical building, the museum offers online and classroom material as well as professional development programs for teachers and structured learning programs for families. Additionally, the museum strives to bridge the worlds of formal and informal science education. Education outreach programs allow the museum to reach thousands of underserved families and children in the San Francisco community.
The exhibits at the Exploratorium are created and built on site. Visitor evaluation is sought, and input from poets, visual artists, musicians and partners such as NASA are used to both create exhibits and improve existing ones. The exhibits are ever-changing and never done. Allowing visitors to interact directly with real phenomena is a goal always present in the minds of the Exploratorium staff.
The Traits of Life exhibit explains the basic elements of life and helps visitors understand the traits of living things. The exhibit opened in the fall of 2002 and offers four different sections. Together, these sections explain the underlying similarities among all living things despite their apparent diversity:
- “The Stuff of Life” explains the basic building blocks of living things – cells, proteins, and DNA.
- “Life Needs Energy” describes the ways in which plants and animals get energy from the world around them.
- “Making More Life” focuses on the ways in which living things make more of themselves and thus perpetuate their species.
- “Change Over Time” delves into the information contained in DNA and the ways in which changes in DNA drive evolution.
The Traits of Life exhibit was made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation, the Genetech Foundation for Biomedical Sciences, National Endowment for the Arts, and The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, inc.