NPC 5/24/13 Featured Presentation: The Exploratorium’s Virtual Museum and Immersive Science

For the May 24th, 2013 NonProfit Commons in Second Life meeting, we featured Paul Doherty (Patio Plasma in SL), Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco, CA.

About Paul Doherty:

Paul Doherty is a physicist, author, teacher, and the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Exploratorium. He is the discoverer of the shape of Martian Snowflakes, was author of The Explorabook, and he loves teaching online courses.

    •    Paul’s website:

About The Exploratorium:

The Exploratorium uses the virtual world to prototype exhibits for the real world museum. For example, The new exhibit Twinkling Suppressor, which still works better in SL than RL, as well as the design for the human ride-able Newton’s cradle. (See images below.) They run mixed reality events streaming coverage of eclipses and planetary transits into Second Life while showing the virtual audience on screens in the real life museum. It allows them to build exhibits quickly following real life events, three days after the Tsunami in Japan, Emileigh Starbrook built a model of the type of reactor that was destroyed by the tsunami. A Japanese video producer then used this model in her program describing the failure of the reactor. When an asteroid threatened to collide with Mars in 2007 they made a model of the impact, and now in 2014 a comet threatens Mars again.

They also host Virtually Speaking Science in their sim, and present occasional Saturday Science lectures. The experience gained by presenting science lectures virtually has helped the Exploratorium gain insight as they run their online workshops for teachers. Their sister sim in Second Life houses the Splo Museum; having the Splo allows them to experiment with exhibits that might be too edgy for the real life museum, for example they have a building that houses virtual exhibits that make fun of exhibits at the physical museum in San Francisco. The sims are supported by funders both inside Second Life, as well as grants from foundations and individuals.

    •    The Exploratorium website:

    •    The Splo website:

    •    Fabricated Realities blog:


Patio Plasma: Hl all great to be here!

The Exploratorium is the grandfather of hands-on Science museums. Located In San Francisco. Pier 15, 2 blocks from Linden Labs (feel free to ask questions in chat as we go along)

Gentle Heron: Welcome Patio.

Buffy Beale: cheering for you Patio!

Sarvana Haalan: Hello Patio…

Patio Plasma: We have a team to run our two sims, Exploratorium and sploland:

    •    Paul Doherty director

    •    Rob Rothfarb web guru and long time virtual world participant

    •    David Barker Graphic Artist

    •    Linda Shore head of science teacher workshops

    •    Emileigh Starbrook scripter and photoshop expert

    •    And more

I work with many up and coming exhibit builders, often college students

Sarvana Haalan: awesome!!

Zotarah Shepherd: I really enjoyed the Pi Day exhibit.

Chimera Cosmos digs for SL pic of Patio and Chimera at Pi Day years ago…hmmm

Patio Plasma: Why we use virtual worlds: 3D, motion, avatar based, interactive, social.

Our first project in 2006 was to stream live coverage of a total solar eclipse into SL. We did it again in 2008 from the Gobi Desert in China. I was the live coverage announcer on site for both eclipses and so missed being in SL We’ll do it again in 2017. But if you can go see it yourself. August 21. We did one event from a roman amphitheater in Turkey. It is great to see a total eclipse in person

Buffy Beale: wow!

Gentle Heron: aaugh that doesn’t look safe!

Patio Plasma: those are special safe glasses we gave to thousands of local viewers. One of my jobs is to teach people eclipse viewing safety

Here is the path of the August 21 2017 eclipse…GO SEE IT!

We find that people watch coverage much longer in the social environment of SL than they do on TV or on their home computers when alone [my boldface]

We do mixed reality bringing the virtual world into the museum and the museum into the virtual world.

Coughran Mayo: I’ll invite everyone to come to St. Louis!

Sarvana Haalan: safer 🙂

Gentle Heron: That is really important data

Gentle Heron: Now I want to know why!

Sarvana Haalan: an amazing use of virtual worlds

Patio Plasma: we had eclipse lovers from the isle of Man and Japan talking to each other inworld. We made a replica of the turkish amphitheater in SL for eclipse viewing. We had 3 amphitheaters in 3 sims to handle the crowds

Pathfinder Lester: you folks had a good poster about it at SIGGRAPH too 😉

Patio Plasma: Models in Second life can really help people understand eclipses. Here I am with my head stuck in a 3D model of the solar umbra seeing what I would see if I really did that

Hi Pathfinder, yes we did.

And for many live programs we don’t just sit around we dance.

This was a total lunar eclipse program, after the eclipse I was so impressed with SL that I decided to build a museum here

Rhiannon Chatnoir: aww.. Midnight City ♥

Buffy Beale: I love SPLO

Xavier Thiebaud: I remember going there

Sarvana Haalan: Dance? I hooked. 🙂

Frans Charming points out that the left avatar on the photo Pathfinder shared is me and the right on is Jerry Paffendorf. 😛

Buffy Beale: lol Frans you’re everywhere!

Pathfinder Lester: nice

Buffy Beale: Path too 🙂

Sarvana Haalan: yes… the Hypergrid Jumping King

Rhiannon Chatnoir: lol.. yes Frans is always watching

Patio Plasma: yay frans

Aimee weber gave us space in Midnight City for our first museum. A visitor Kirra Ball, loved the museum so much she gave us a sim for 2 years. Now we have two sims supported by grants e.g. from Arthur Vining Davis foundation as well as individual donors. We are funded for 2 more years.

Buffy Beale: fantastic to get the funding, great going Patio

Grease Coakes: wow

Sarvana Haalan: Patio, do you find that getting funding to be a challenge?

Patio Plasma: It took years to get funding. Yes it is a challenge, we had to convince funders about the usefulness of education in virtual worlds. Many funders don’t have a clue…but they are learning. I was very happy when AVD decided to fund us

We taught classes in world for years before getting recognized. Where we created a dozen exhibits to celebrate pi day. We do that every year.

Sarvana Haalan: how many pints of blood did you have to sell? or how did you get the “bankers” to see the value of their investment?

Grease Coakes: I just put my children’s book on sale in SL for a low price

Serene Jewell: I love that poster – Pi Day, It’s IRRATIONAL! lol

Patio Plasma: (I have some great funny graphic artists on my SL team), Notice the Pie-eta

Sarvana Haalan: are any of your graphics on Pinterest?

Patio Plasma: Savana not yet but that’s a great idea. here is a flat exhibit from the RL museum

Sarvana Haalan: It is an excellent platform to share graphics an dposters

Patio Plasma: I wrapped the illusion on a cylinder and set it spinning. To my surprise the Heureka museum in Finland visited SL, saw the exhibit and built it in RL!

Grease Coakes: wow

Frans Charming: o/

Sarvana Haalan: cool

Buffy Beale: amazing that is!

Buffy Beale: usually the other way around 🙂

Patio Plasma: yes, the rotating version is really interesting. Here is the 2 meter tall version in RL in Finland

We prototype exhibits in SL, here is the toy Newton’s cradle

Gentle Heron: Prototyping is a smart way to use SL.

Patio Plasma: I made an avatar ridable Newton’s Cradle in SL Then made one in RL, each ball weighed 400 pounds (200 kg)

Grease Coakes: That looks fun

Jonathon Richter (wainbrave.bernal): watch your fingers!

Patio Plasma: the RL museum is open Thursday nights for adults only, we have 3 bars in the museum and show off new prototype exhibits.

I put my fingers between the balls to test them

Andy Evans: If you put seats on that, it would be a fun ride for kids

Jonathon Richter (wainbrave.bernal): gulp. and?

Patio Plasma: they are thin lexan balls and deformed around my fingers with no damage to me

Jonathon Richter (wainbrave.bernal): oh wow. lol

Patio Plasma: I do believe in safety and humor. The Splo museum is not called the Exploratorium so that we can make fun of the RL museum. Many museums have the exhibit “Your weight on other worlds” for SL the other world is earth.

Jonathon Richter (wainbrave.bernal): like the long bicycle chain exhibit: you guys really go the extra mile to figure out how to make stuff safe

Oronoque Westland: I prefer my weight in SL

Patio Plasma: yes the orginal exhibit would have ripped your arm off, the builder used 1 inch diameter chain links. We made some paint cans in SL that were so popular we made them in RL and they were stolen from our booth .

Grease Coakes: There’s a scale like that at the US air and space museum at the smithsonion in washington DC

Gentle Heron: eek!

Patio Plasma: We also respond to science events, 3 days after the Japanese tsunami we had a model of the damaged reactor built at 1/3 scale, it would have filled my sim! And held a fundraising dance for the victims.

Jonathon Richter (wainbrave.bernal): THAT is inspiring

Patio Plasma: We used an exhibit with 64 moustraps and pingpong balls to show a nuclear chain reaction model.

Merry Chase (merrytricks): That model looks too calm to be a disaster – needs some melty looking graphics.

Grease Coakes: Were any mice harmed in making the model?

Patio Plasma: really hard to get around the “Grey goo” fence in SL to make that exhibit work or at least a blue hazy glow

Frans Charming: I think the mice where saver since they traps where for once not used on them. 😛

Patio Plasma: In 2007 an asteroid just missed Mars, we made an exhibit to show what would have happened if it hit. I’ll give LANDMARKS AT THE END. In 2014 a comet may hit Mars the model will still be there. We believe in whole avatar participation…you can ride a comet.

Serene Jewell: cool

Patio Plasma: this exhibit was made by Amulius Lioncourt a great SL builder

Beth Ghostraven: Like FreeWee Ling’s exhibit, where you could ride into the sun

Patio Plasma: yes love freewee Ling”s work. You can also ride the big bang

We sponsor lectures in our sim, Virtually Speaking Science presents in our sim. And we have occasional Saturday Science lectures.

Xavier Thiebaud: where is sheldon in the picture?

Patio Plasma: Sheldon is dressed in Black. Doing these lectures has helped us learn how to give online workshops for teachers. In conclusion: Come visit our sims. and in San Francisco the new RL Exploratorium

Sarvana Haalan: I may have missed it but are your workshops in text or voice?

Patio Plasma: (image of an SL class on quantum mechanics) workshops are in voice. I love the ability to lecture in voice, and take questions in chat and IM

Beth Ghostraven: voice only, no transcription?

Patio Plasma: we record the lecture

Andy Evans: sorry if I missed this, do you have a link to the class schedule and a LM?

Serene Jewell: I live in San Francisco. Can’t wait to come see the new RL Exploratorium.

Rhiannon Chatnoir: do you have this slideshow up online anywhere?

Gentle Heron: You are so lucky Serene!

Beth Ghostraven: (I’m hard of hearing, that’s why I asked; all-voice is difficult)

Dancers Yao: Love the Exploratorium…saw a first example of the Internet there in 1994!

Patio Plasma: Hi Andy we are about to stop the classes for the summer but IM me and I’ll put you on the list for fall. Yes the exploratorium was the first museum on the web, in 1993 and the first in SL

Sarvana Haalan: Your presentation has been so informative and fascinating, Patio

Merry Chase (merrytricks): As a mostly- housebound person who loved the Exploratorium since I was a kid, I’m excited to learn about Splo but sad to think there can’t quite be a tactile dome here.

Patio Plasma: click the orange splo box for landmarks to the exhibits I showed. click the spaceship to see relativistic length contraction LOL. Click the higgs boson to make it decay.

OK questions?

Sarvana Haalan: cool!!!!

Andy Evans: You could even show quantum entanglement

Patio Plasma: good challenge re quantum entanglement , but yes I think I could.

Rhiannon Chatnoir: any other questions or thoughts for Patio?

Lynne (yt.upsilon): Is it okay for anyone to take students there?

Serene Jewell: What would you say has been your most successful exhibit in SL?

Spiral Theas: Wonderful stuff. And my apologies for TP-ing right into the front (how embarrassing!)

Buffy Beale: you’re among friends here Spiral 🙂

Beth Ghostraven: Spiral, I think we’ve all done that

Rhiannon Chatnoir: I know it has been great to watch what you and the Exploratorium has done.. from your early days of the eclipse events and the Splo opening in Midnight City

Patio Plasma: wow I think it’s a tie between the Mars cratering event and the big bang, we still have fun creating experiences for people in SL

Buffy Beale: It’s a wonderful place Patio and one of the first I visited when I was new, and still love going there

Sarvana Haalan: I must visit…

Chimera Cosmos: Yes, I went to Pi day back in 2008 for the first time, I think.

Patio Plasma: thanks Buffy. I still work with wildly creative people

Rhiannon Chatnoir: Patio, one question.. what do you think were your biggest challenges and pluses for translating work to a virtual space like Second Life

DMeta1: With all the new tech available now, will there be other types of web3d Exploratorium experiences or just in SL?

Serene Jewell: Thanks for bringing all that science and creativity into SL, Patio. I love showing the Exploratorium to people who aren’t familiar with SL. It helps them get an idea of what is possible in virtual worlds.

Chimera Cosmos: Even met Patio

Patio Plasma: yes Chimera

Buffy Beale: hiii Chim 🙂 didn’t see you there

Chimera Cosmos: I remember it well.

Chimera Cosmos: Hi Buffy

Patio Plasma: OH Dmeta yes we are looking at new experiences I just Used Oculus Rift the other day at Unity labs

Spiral Theas: I’m living in the Bay Area now too and am very much looking forward to going to the RL exploratorium – now with new-found interest and insight.

Spiral Theas: Exactly, Serene.

Patio Plasma: Spiral we are closed Mondays, open 10-5 other days and open to 10 PM Wednesday night for families and Thursday night til 10 PM for 18 year olds +

Rhiannon Chatnoir: great on trying the Oculus Rift, any quick thoughts on it and how you could see fitting in to exhibits/the museum

DMeta1: Nice, Oculus is cool and having much fun with the dev kit.

Dancers Yao: what did you think of Oculus Rift?

Zotarah Shepherd: I am in Sonoma. I have not been to the Exploratorium in years. I should certainly go again.

Patio Plasma: absolutely, it will allow people an amazing 3D interactive experience (It’s a little low rez at the moment ), and I always try new worlds.

Merry Chase (merrytricks): SF Native here – always loved the Exploratorium as a kid, brought my own kids there, and now am disabled and can’t go to RL museums – any advice on how the public can encourage more museums to do what you’ve done and create a virtual presense, as an ADD access measure?

Patio Plasma: but I still plan to stay in SL at least for the next 2 years of our funding, because of the great avatars here

Sarvana Haalan: This would definitely get my STEM young ladies excited about virtual worlds

Patio Plasma: Yes Merry, the new Exploratorium is pretty good for access, and I present at museum meetings everywhere showing what we do. but mostly they want complete control using closed sims.

Chimera Cosmos: Spouse and I went to the Exploratorium when in grad school at Berkeley in the early 1970s. hahaha

Patio Plasma: whereas the Exploratorium is willing to take its chances with human behavior and we have had little to no problems

Spiral Theas: Zotorah, Serene (and other Bay Area avis) – maybe we should find a way to all go for an Exploratorium visit together in RL?

Zotarah Shepherd: I would like to see an exhibit on Kitchen Science.

Chimera Cosmos gives away age (graduate young, I promise!)

Patio Plasma: (The RL exploratorium makes one new exhibit every 2 weeks on the average for the last 40 years, wait 10 years and see a totally new museum

Zotarah Shepherd: I’d like that Spiral

Sarvana Haalan: I so enjoyed the 70s, Chimera

DMeta1: I know of a group building a fan based mixed reality (web3d and onsite/LBS mobile) experience for the new SF exploratorium with tech being used by Danish museums and libraries. Those in virtual and real can play together and I can’t wait to try it out.

Chimera Cosmos: Heh. We’ve been married 42 years next month – since grad school!

Serene Jewell: It might be intereting for the Exploratorium to have permanent webcams mounted in some areas so that those who can’t make it in person can get a feeling for it.

Pathfinder Lester: I’ve got to head out. ty for the presentation, Patio. great to hear about all the work you’re doing!

Sarvana Haalan: Woot, Chimera!!!

Rhiannon Chatnoir: Let’s thank Patio for presenting to us today on the amazing work The Exploratorium has done!

Serene Jewell: I like that idea Spiral!

Lynne (yt.upsilon): Thank you.

Chimera Cosmos: Thanks Patio!

Andy Evans: Great

Patio Plasma: Thans for having me here. if you come to the exploratorium RL send me a note.

Spiral Theas: Thank you, Patio!! Great work!

Rhiannon Chatnoir: and for those in San Fran area.. AvaCon did set up a meetup site if you want to arrange something like that:

Buffy Beale: Clapping madly!!!

Silviana Jenvieve: This has been both interesting and inspiring. Many thanks, Patio.

Serene Jewell: Thanks Patio! You rock!

Gentle Heron: Thanks Patio and all the Exploratorium staff. Great job using the virtual world for good.

Sarvana Haalan: Patio… this has been awesome. Thank you for sharing!!!

Chimera Cosmos: Bay Area folks – so jealous! Both of your potential get-together at Exploratorium AND on general principle for getting to live there

Dancers Yao: thanks so much for years of wonderful work

Frans Charming applauds

Chimera Cosmos: Yaay!

Rhiannon Chatnoir: yes Chimera.. I enjoyed my summer there last year.

Merry Chase (merrytricks): bravo


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And tag your avatars in any photos posted!


Written by: Rhiannon Chatnoir