The Tactile Dome / Getting the texture of the Exploratorium


San Francisco’s Exploratorium is an immense (and immensely widespread) hands-on science museum. Reveals cowl the standard vary of topics—electrical energy, physics, optics, biology, and so forth—however with a level of interactive friendliness that’s uncommon even in one of the best science museums (and I’ve seen fairly just a few). Nearly every thing is designed to be touched, performed with, and experimented on—even by younger youngsters, whose damaging impulses know no bounds.

Though I had been to the Exploratorium quite a few occasions, there was one exhibit I’d by no means skilled however at all times been inquisitive about: one thing known as the Tactile Dome. That is an exhibit for which you should make an advance reservation (and pay further), and I had by no means had the foresight to name forward earlier than visiting the museum to see if there was an open slot. On a go to final summer time, once I went to buy my ticket, I occurred to note an indication saying there have been openings on the dome that afternoon. I instantly signed up—after listening to a brief speech on all of the medical and psychological situations that will preclude a secure go to and consenting to the non-refundability of the ticket.

A Touching Expertise
The Tactile Dome is a smallish geodesic dome inside the museum whose acknowledged goal is to discover the sense of contact—taking the “hands-on” precept to its logical excessive. Contained in the dome is a sequence of oddly formed chambers lined with a wide range of supplies. The chambers are utterly darkish, so guests should navigate via them—climbing, crawling, sliding, and squeezing—utilizing solely the sense of contact for steerage. In an anteroom the eight or so individuals who have reservations at a given time take away their sneakers and any objects that may fall out of pockets and get misplaced. (They’re fairly strict about their “no-extraneous-stuff” coverage; I wasn’t even allowed to take a ballpoint pen in with me, regardless that it was capped and sealed in a zippered pocket behind a Velcro flap. I believed that prohibition was a bit foolish, however don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Then, in smaller teams (in my case, a gaggle of 1), you proceed into the darkish chambers.

A whole journey via the dome takes wherever from 5 to 10 minutes, and visitors are spaced far sufficient aside that they received’t run into one another. The within of the dome will not be a maze; each chamber has only one entrance and one exit. An attendant within the anteroom screens your progress by listening to the sounds picked up by microphones positioned all through the dome. If a customer will get caught or panicked, a verbal request for assistance is all that’s wanted; each spot within the dome is instantly reachable by hidden entry doorways. The intercom (which the opposite guests ready within the anteroom may hear) serves one other goal, too: to discourage, let’s say, extracurricular actions that the darkish and solitary surroundings may counsel. Every group will get to undergo the dome a number of occasions throughout their go to.

As I made my means via the dome, I discovered that regardless that sight was not accessible, it was not a purely tactile expertise. Every time I entered a brand new chamber, I might inform one thing about its dimension and form from the sounds I heard, together with the mixture of temperature and airflow I might really feel. Even scent performed a component—the attribute scents of carpet, wooden, plastics, and the smelly socks of the one who crawled via the dome earlier than me all contributed to a psychological picture. And that impact was a bit eerie—regardless that I couldn’t see something, I had the distinct sensation of visible photos of the rooms constructed from the opposite sensory knowledge I used to be gathering. That impression alone made the expertise worthwhile for me.

Copp-ing a Really feel
The Tactile Dome was designed by Dr. August F. Coppola (brother of director Francis Ford Coppola) in 1971 and has been in use ever since. Not solely within the selections of supplies within the dome, however in its general design and advertising and marketing, it’s positively displaying its age—or maybe I ought to say, “revealing” its age. I’d like to expertise a bigger, extra elaborate, updated-for-the-21st-century model of the dome, if one have been ever to be constructed. By an fascinating coincidence, the Tactile Dome will not be the one dome-shaped, building-within-a-building attraction in San Francisco that was constructed within the 1970s and designed to be skilled in whole darkness. Audium, situated throughout city, shares all these attributes however was designed to discover the sense of listening to reasonably than contact. If there’s additionally a Odor-O-Dome lurking someplace within the metropolis, I’d simply as quickly not know. —Joe Kissell

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