Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Reid Hoffman Joins the Exploratorium Board as Science Museum Uproots Itself

San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the hands-on science museum, is about to move across town.

After 44 years at the Palace of Fine Arts near the Golden Gate Bridge, the new Exploratorium opens next April on a set of retrofitted old piers on the Embarcadero near downtown San Francisco. The $300 million move has been 10 years in the making, and brings the museum into a larger space that’s so much more accessible that it’s projected to more than triple attendance from today’s 600,000 visitors per year.

With the project 80 percent finished, the museum invited a few tech reporters to check it out last night, provided we wore closed-toed shoes, put on hard hats and signed a waiver.

None of the interactive exhibits — which include a totally dark “Tactile Dome” and all sorts of science experiments and art pieces about the physical world and beyond — have been moved over yet, but we did get to taste some experimental cuisine from the Exploratorium’s new chef Loretta Keller; for instance, an egg cooked at 145 degrees for precisely 42 minutes.

The new space is a U of two piers, with a new glass-walled observatory out on the water connecting them. The museum will be mostly in Pier 15.

For the first time, many Exploratorium exhibits will be outdoors. Some will interact with the water in collaboration with boats from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others will reach out onto the Embarcadero to draw people in.

The Exploratorium leadership (minus a few who are at Burning Man) and new board member Reid Hoffman made efforts to connect what’s often thought of as a children’s museum with the tech industry and adults. Just like Silicon Valley, they said, the Exploratorium is about the spirit of thinking for yourself.

Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock Partners venture capitalist, made the parallel to international delegations who pay him a visit to try to absorb learnings about Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation.

“Lots of foreign politicians come through Silicon Valley — less so American,” he said. “Matter of fact, I can name all three of them.”

His point: The tech industry might not appreciate what a cool resource it has in its own backyard.

Hoffman’s attraction to the Exploratorium comes in part from being a local; he was born in Stanford Hospital, grew up in the Bay Area and visited the Exploratorium as a kid. He said he was particularly excited to learn on the tour that the new space will allow for an area devoted to social science experiments.

The Exploratorium is also somewhat Web-savvy by its own nature; it launched the world’s 600th (or so) Web site in 1993, and released a well-reviewed iPad app about color last year.

The old Exploratorium’s last day open will be on Jan. 2, when admission will be free. Then there will be a few months of closure to move everything three miles across town.

Here’s what the new museum will look like:


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald