PLoS (in the form of myself) took a little time off last week to attend the press opening of the California Academy of Sciences, and got a sneak peek of their brand new, completely re-designed, and all-around very shiny aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium.
You may be thinking, “PLoS and a fancy new aquarium… did you really get to take off work for that? Isn’t that a bit of a stretch for a blog post?” Only a little bit! Obviously the California Academy of Science exists to spread knowledge and understanding of the scientific world, but their commitment to making this information accessible and affordable to the community at large goes a few steps beyond that of any aquarium/museum/planetarium I’ve ever come across. Besides offering neighborhood free days, and allowing full access to every part of the museum with a single ticket, CAS will also provide local 4th and 5th grade classes with free day trips to the museum, including tours, activities, lunch, transportation, free family passes, and best of all, t-shirts which will give the students free-access to the building for the next year.
Of course, making information accessible and affordable to students is only helpful if you can keep them interested, a fact which the Academy clearly took to heart. Their message is plain and simple – Biodiversity is remarkable and important. We’re losing it, and there are things you can do to help – and beautifully realized with a remarkable array of creatures (albino alligator!) and stunning exhibits (Indoor rainforest! An elevator that goes underwater!). Beyond the exhibits, the building itself is a living testament to sustainability, and is on track to earn platinum LEED certification, lit almost entirely by natural light, cooled with natural ventilation, covered in solar panels, and, hard to miss, roofed with a rolling layer of local plants and wildflowers.
I spent most of my childhood in the Academy’s earlier incarnation, so it’s safe to say I was relieved to see that everything had changed for the better in the intervening decade. More than that though, I was reassured to see that the scientific community at the other end of the spectrum from PLoS (you know, the end of the spectrum that has to deal with children) is still in very capable hands.