Julie Yu, Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium

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January 25, 2019
Julie Yu, Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium

How I See San Francisco: Exploratorium Scientist Julie Yu

As one of the Exploratorium's Senior Scientists, Julie Yu provides science content support, while working with teachers to foster inquiry-based learning. Her passion at the museum is creating hands-on activities that demonstrate real science with the simplest means possible. As the Exploratorium celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, Julie shares some thoughts with us on how she sees the museum and San Francisco.

The Exploratorium turns 50 in 2019. What are you excited for on this anniversary?

It's a great opportunity to reflect on what the institution has achieved and to get inspired for what's to come. Our founder Frank Oppenheimer created the Exploratorium so that people might feel they can figure out the world for themselves and be able to question information that was presented to them. That was decades before the internet, and the importance of having these skills has only grown.

Do you have a favorite exhibit at the Exploratorium?

The Giant Mirror exhibit is a huge concave mirror that reflects images in a way that they appear upside-down in the space in front of the mirror, rather than behind the mirror as we're used to. Like so many of the best exhibits, it captivates both four-year-olds and physics professors, with the common denominator being joy and awe.

You've experienced the Exploratorium from an outside and on-staff perspective. What makes the museum a great educational visit?

Our goal is to put the power of learning in the hands of the learner. This is surprisingly rare! You're invited to pursue a path through the museum that is interesting to you and hopefully make discoveries about things that pique your curiosity. Rather than facts or formulas, this is really the true essence of science, and it's so much more powerful to learn this way.

What's your favorite place to explore in San Francisco?

Golden Gate Park. You can walk from the center of the city all the way to the beach. Along the way, you can check out the park's American bison, sculptures by Ruth Asawa, or outdoor pianos in the Botanical Garden.

What's your favorite piece of public art in San Francisco?

The MaestraPeace mural on the Women's Building in the Mission. My friend Edy Boone was one of the original crew of women who created this iconic piece. Now more than 80 years old, Edy still teaches art and is the living embodiment of the power of art in a community.

What else should someone do near the Exploratorium to fill out their visit?

Get out on the bay. We're right on the water and close to all the ferries and cruises. Take a ferry to Angel Island, hike to their museum, and check out artifacts of the island's history as a U.S. immigration station.

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What's your favorite rainy day activity?

I'm clearly biased because I believe that exploring science at the Exploratorium is one of the best things to do, rain or shine. I also generally recommend taking advantage of any one of the city's world-class museums.

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What's your favorite place for an evening culture fix?

My favorite way to connect with overall culture is through food. We are privileged to have so many different cuisines here in San Francisco, and you can learn a lot if you take the time to appreciate the story behind what you're eating. Whether it's a $2 Salvadoran pupusa at La Santaneca or Michelin-starred Thai food at Kin Khao, you'll find authentic, delicious food ranging from rustic to refined that connects you to others in the world.

Which restaurant in San Francisco is still on your must-eat list?

There are still so many places where I haven't eaten. From neighborhood spots to fine dining options, I'll never have enough money or room in my stomach for all the food I want to eat in SF. Bottom line: don't stress about it. You're never far from a great meal.

Do you have a favorite spot to observe San Francisco's famous fog?

The East Bay hills. If you can get yourself across the bay and up, you'll be treated to a gorgeous view of the city where you can watch the fog crawl through the Golden Gate. You might still see clear skies above the fog, and the scene provides a visual map of the temperature and condensation patterns above and across the bay.

Any other great science spots in the city to visit?

The Camera Obscura above Ocean Beach. Cameras are now mostly digital components hidden in phones, but stepping into this camera shows you how a pinhole and lens can be used to project an image. Plus, the scenery is beautiful. When you get home, you can build your own out of a cardboard box.

Any last advice for visitors to San Francisco?

Start planning a return visit. You might just leave your heart here.

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