When I was eleven, my three primary interests were science, art, and magic. That hasn't changed. In 1981, I visited San Francisco for the first time and my big brother took me to the Exploratorium, a pioneering museum that exists at the intersection of science, art, and magic. It blew my mind wide open. And more than three decades later, it's become a very special place for my children, aged 7 and 4. Part of the Exploratorium's stated mission is to ignite curiosity about human perception. But the Exploratorium doesn't just teach people about human perception. Like the best science, art, and magic, the museum experience actually changes your perception of reality.
Earlier this year, the Exploratorium moved from its vast warehouse space near the Golden Gate Bridge into new digs on a pier overlooking the Bay. The massive new space retains the raw, inviting "rustic" warmth of the original location but with better amenities and, most importantly, far more room to showcase classic and new exhibits and also inject even more of the DIY spirit that fuels the museum's creators. This motivation is made tangible in the exposed workshops (just like the old facility) where staff prototypes new exhibits, and in the new Tinkering Studio, a bustling workshop where every guest is encouraged to "learn by doing." And if you need inspiration, just look around at the permanent and temporary exhibits like Scott Weaver's "Rolling Through The Bay," made from 100,000 toothpicks and seen in action above.
The Tinkering Studio's directors Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich have just published a wonderful book, titled "The Art of Tinkering." It's filled with projects, profiles, and recipes that remind us that, as Arthur C. Clark once said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and also, as interactive media artist Scott Snibbe riffed, "any sufficiently advanced form of learning is indistinguishable from play."
My children and I recently spent most of a Sunday exploring the Tinkering Studio. Below are some "postcards" from our day.
The circuit-building table is a wonderful mess of wires, motors, switches, and bulbs that are easily (and safely) connected into all kinds of creative electronics:
We spent more than an hour at the Animation Stations where my kids painstakingly placed and moved bits of random hardware to create fun stop-motion shorts:
Once your animation is complete, you can upload it to YouTube. Below, "A fish's life" by Lux (age 7):
The space is lined with cabinets of curiosity filled with whimsical, ingenious, and bizarre creations by Exploratorium staff, visitors, and artists-in-residence.
One part of the Tinkering Studio is built from pegboard walls for the construction of Marble Machines. Check out the Exploratorium's video below:
That's barely a taste of the activities within the Tinkering Studio. During previous visits to just this one zone in the Exploratorium, we've made motorized "Scribbling Machines" and launched everyday objects in wind tubes to study air flow! And now with The Art of Tinkering book, we're looking forward to turning our house into our own museum of science, art, and human perception. Here's a video about the book's hackable conductive ink cover:
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