At the Exploratorium, we invite visitors to engage with exhibits about the real world in both physical and virtual spaces. The virtual spaces live in a fabricated reality that often transcends time, space, and cultural barriers.

In 2006, we began experimenting with exhibits and events in Second Life, a 3-D, multiuser virtual world. There are now hundreds of our exhibits for you to explore at Exploratorium Island and its sister island, ’Sploland, both in the SciLands region of Second Life. We also host public events there that you can attend regardless of where you are physically.

More recently, we’ve discovered that mashing up real and virtual worlds creates even more possibilities for learning about phenomena, society, and culture.  We’re experimenting with exhibits in our physical museum that have virtual elements, and with mobile devices that allow you to see and engage with augmented displays of the real world.

In Fabricated Realities, we feature our experiments and events in these virtual and mashed-up worlds. We invite you to explore and experience them yourself.

We’ve Got a Second Life

What can a museum do in a virtual world that would be difficult—or impossible—to do in the real world? Exploratorium media creators and educators have been exploring this question by experimenting in Second Life (SL), a large, multiuser, three-dimensional online virtual world. You visit this world as an “avatar” (a representation of yourself), and through your avatar’s eyes explore areas and features made by other people or by institutions, or create new environments—or parts of them—yourself. Social interaction is one of the most important features of SL; you can use instant messaging, gestures, or chats to communicate with others. You can also have experiences that are impossible in the real world—from flying anywhere in SL to soaring through the solar system to altering gravity. What you do depends on your curiosity and creativity, which makes it a perfect playground for the Exploratorium.

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To participate in Second Life, go to www.secondlife.com and download and install the
Second Life Viewer software. Second Life is for adults only, so you must be 18 or
older to participate. Once you’re in-world, stop by Exploratorium Island and its
neighbor, Sploland, which have more than 100 Exploratorium-inspired exhibits.

Since early 2006, our staff has been exploring the possibilities provided by Second Life—and has done some amazing things. On March 29, 2006, we mixed real- and virtual-world experiences when we presented a live Webcast of our solar eclipse coverage from Side, Turkey, in three virtual SL amphitheaters. Our eclipse program was also shown on the Web and at the museum, but the experience was different in Second Life. People from around the world, represented by their avatars, gathered at the amphitheaters and shared the unique experience by chatting with each other and with Exploratorium (avatar) staff. In another mix of real and virtual reality, we streamed an entire rare transit of the planet Mercury live from telescopes at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Kitt Peak, Arizona, into the International Spaceflight Museum site in SL. Exploratorium staff members provided voice commentary, and an avatar staff member on stage answered questions posed by avatars in the international audience. A three-dimensional model of the orbit of Mercury hung over the stage; avatars could fly to and examine the orbiting planet.

In the future, we plan to do a lot more in this online world. Exploratorium Island in SL has a growing number of interactive exhibits, many of which would be impossible to create on the floor of our real museum in San Francisco. We put on public events periodically on the island, and at other locations in SL, and also use the island for exhibit prototyping and for professional development workshops for interactive Web developers, museum professionals, and educators. Sploland, an island adjacent to Exploratorium island, offers fun and provocative exhibits in the spirit of the Exploratorium. Check out both spaces and remember that you can easily fly or teleport between them!

We’ll continue to experiment and expand the social, contextual, and educational possibilities of SL through more live events, plus offer other features still in the planning stage.