I recently went to the San Francisco Exploratorium and was disappointed. The new San Francisco Exploratorium is in the heart of the tourist district on a wharf. It is very large, expensive and architecturally lovely. The setting on the Bay is magnificent.
It was a conception of Frank Oppenheimer, the brother of the famous Robert Hiroshima Oppenheimer. Frank believed that science could be better taught with hands on demonstrations especially demonstrations that children and young people could play with. He created the Exploratorium in the early 1970s. It is a fun place for kids to go.
I was disappointed because there are five very important facts of life that deal with science but this massive tribute to science ignores or misrepresents.
The first is the fact that wind is not what it feels like. In fact wind is the laminar flow of air at different speeds in different directions. The Exploratorium has a demonstration outside with a 30 foot pole with wind speed and direction indicators each foot of the way up. Each is going a different speed and direction.
You can see the same phenomenon by looking at a tree with leaves or watching a butterfly. The explanation with this display is that this foot by foot variation is caused by the hills in San Francisco which create turbulence. Bull shit. This phenomenon would be observable on a desert or on a boat at sea with no hills for 100 miles.
The second is a startling fact which puts all of scientific theory into question. It is called a standing wave. In a long steel column or a canal of the right harmonic length a wave can start at one end and travel to the other end and come back an infinite number of times with no additional energy. A true perpetual motion machine. This is not only not discussed it is not displayed anywhere. I heard one such wave when listening to a long cable on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Number three. We are surrounded by radio waves and electromagnetic radiation of all sorts. It is coming from high-power wires, transmitters, batteries and electric wall outlets. There is no discussion of how this radiation interacts with humans. Humans can sit in a microwave room and be very comfortable.
Humans are frequently hysterical about radiation from cell phones causing cancer as well as from cell phone towers and electric power lines. No discussion of this, no examples and no displays on this subject.
Number four, one of the hottest discussions in our society and around the world is the role of nuclear radiation in our lives. No discussion anywhere at the Exploratorium about the various types of radiation or the ways in which they interact with humans.
No discussion of the fact that an entire professional population regularly flies at 35,000 feet in the air; that enormous populations live a lifetime at 6000 feet and these populations are subject to 3 to 4 even 10 times the level of radiation that the rest of the population experiences. No discussion of these effects.
No discussion or examples of the few particular types of radiation that can do human harm and the vast amount of radiation that has no impact at all.
Number five is my personal issue. Human beings do not have the ability to know whether they are breathing too much or too little oxygen. We cannot detect the level of oxygen in the air. The mechanism we have to detect this core survival issue in the air around us is our detection of CO2. CO2 comprises a tiny fraction of the air around us and yet its detection is the only mechanism we have to know whether we are in a safe environment. No description, explanation or discussion of this at a time when there is global hysteria about CO2.
You can see why I am a little disappointed in this massive expensive demonstration of science. It is off base when it comes to our vital daily issues of science.