Review: New Reflections exhibit at Exploratorium draws crowds

Exploratorium visitors check out the spherical mirrors at the Reflections exhibit. ROBERT ROMANO / THE GUARDSMAN
Exploratorium visitors check out the spherical mirrors at the Reflections exhibit. ROBERT ROMANO / THE GUARDSMAN

By Liska Koenig

San Francisco’s Exploratorium, a hands-on museum where children and grown-ups can explore science and human perception, has a new attraction – Reflections.

An 8 by 11 foot spherical mirror, the most spectacular piece of the exhibit, can be found right at the entrance. Spherical mirrors are concave mirrors which reflect incoming light rays off the mirror surface and converge together. They form what is called a real image because the actual, reflected rays of light form the image.

Real images can be projected onto screens — it’s possible to see the objects in the museum projected on a white shirt if a person stands close to the mirror. Real images reflected from a concave mirror are also inverted and left-right reversed.

Another quality of this mirror, originally used by NASA for telescope research, is that even the smallest, faraway objects appear clear and in focus. Even though an object could be 300 feet away, it looks clear and in focus. Look for the eye chart at the other end of the museum to test this characteristic.

“We’ve had this mirror in our back stock for a while, so we decided to curate an exhibit about reflections. It originally came from NASA. They didn’t know what to do with it any longer, so that’s how it ended up here,” said Cassandra Byrd, a research assistant and science teacher at the museum.

Reflections, which opened on June 19, combines re-imagined Exploratorium exhibits and museum classics like the popular Heat Camera, which detects infrared heat emitted by visitors and displays it as a color image on a large screen.

Also shown are installations by New York-based artist David Rozin. His mixed-media pieces, most  created with mirrors, invite viewers to interact with the artist’s provocative take on self-examination.

“I am a photo enthusiast and came here all the way from Davis to see this amazing exhibit,” museum visitor Laurie Friedman said. She plans to treat her sister to a special birthday present and take her to the Exploratorium before the exhibit ends on Sept. 20.

Their visit will also include a journey into the Tactile Dome, one of the most popular museum attractions. The dome is designed to disorient the senses. Completely dark, visitors use only the sense of touch to find their way through a maze. Visitors must feel their way past materials which change, blend and contrast.

General admission to the dome is $17 and includes complimentary admission to the museum on the day of the visit. Discounted tickets are not available for the Tactile Dome.

Visitors are encouraged to pick up, touch, play, tinker and experiment with hundreds of Exploratorium science models. Permanent exhibits include giant soap bubbles, an audio lab, a microscope imaging station, water and sand experiments, sport science, tornadoes, illusions and more.

The museum is open Tuesday — Sunday, 10 a.m. — 5 p.m. General admission is $14. Students, youth (ages 13-17), seniors and people with disabilities pay a reduced admission price of $11, which covers all museum exhibits except the Tactile Dome. Admission is free on the first Wednesday of every month.

The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco. For detailed information visit the Exploratorium Web site at or call (415) 561-0360.

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