On Sunday I went to the Exploratorium with Melinda and several of her friends, including the 6-year-old niece of Melinda's friend Elaine. I hadn't been to the Exploratorium before so I was just as excited as Rachel (the 6-year-old) to go. And I wasn't disappointed.
The best thing about the Exploratorium, at least for me, is how the exhibits are designed and distributed throughout the building. Each exhibit is wholly self-sufficient -- you don't need to have gone through several other exhibits to understand any one in particular. Each one also takes about a minute to understand, but can usually be interacted with for several minutes beyond that. For example, one exhibit explained how geysers worked. Reading the text takes under a minute, and then you can look carefully at several manmade geysers that erupt every few minutes. The concepts are generally clearly explained and demonstrated in the hands-on parts. The Pacific Science Center in Seattle does a good job of this, too, but the Exploratorium wins for being more concise and "punchier."
The best exhibits were:
- How geysers work, featuring a few man-made geysers.
- The cloud chamber, which shows high-energy particles as they crash through the cloud. I'd never seen a cloud chamber before.
- How steam engines work, especially how a constant pressure source can turn into a reciprocating motion.
- What light (visible, infrared, ultraviolet) actually comes from a light bulb.
- Several exhibits about standing waves and earthquakes, especially the one that shows the standing wave patterns using sand on plates shaken at 3-4kHz.
We made it through less than half of the exhibits by the time we had to leave but I signed up for an annual membership, which lets me come back as often as Melinda and I want for the next year. So I'm sure we'll enjoy a few more visits to the Exploratorium over the rest of spring and summer.