What does World War 2, the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and San Francisco’s premiere science museum, the Exploratorium, have in common? The answer is the founding director…
Dr. Frank Oppenheimer.
Frank was the younger brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, called the father of the WW2 atomic bomb. Frank worked as a particle physicist and helped his brother’s Manhattan Project to develop America’s atomic weapons. After the war, Frank’s membership in the Communist Party brought scrutiny from HUAC and he was blacklisted from holding any university teaching position. He taught high school science until he was allowed to accept a position teaching physics at the University of Colorado. That is when he became interested in improving science education.
In 1965, Frank accepted a fellowship from the University College, London. He saw European science museums for the first time and was inspired to create one in the USA. He chose San Francisco, and specifically the Palace of Fine Arts, as the location. The Exploratorium opened in 1969. Here is founding director, Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, explaining that the new museum needs “Explainers” to help visitors use the exhibits to learn about science:
Now, 44 years later, our Exploratorium has moved from the Marina to an expanded space at Pier 15, right on San Francisco Bay at the Embarcadero. A total of 330,000 square feet allows for 150 additional exhibits and 1.5 acres of free, publicly available space was added. The no-ticket-required spaces include a “Bay View Walk,” an outdoor restaurant and an outdoor activity space for art exhibits.
Dr. Frank Oppenheimer created the vision and produced a new way of learning as another example of San Francisco’s support of social experimentation in the late 1960s. He served as the museum’s director until just before his death at his home in Sausalito in 1985. Today, April 17, 2013, the Exploratorium reopens in its new home. Here is the Web site with the details: