By Patti Reising

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Explore, explain and sustain life on Earth. That’s the motto for San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences (CAS). The globally-recognized facility brings the wonders of the Earth, sea and sky to us and has a new Executive Director Dr. Jonathon Foley, and environmental scientist and an expert on climate and global food issues.

Before joining the Academy about four months ago, Dr. Foley was the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and founded the University of Wisconsin’s Climate, People and Environment program at their Center for Sustainability.

The California Academy as an institute is over 150 years old, but its new green facility, which opened in 2008, remains in Golden Gate Park. “We’re the only place in the world that has a planetarium, aquarium and a natural history museum all under one roof and our roof happens to be alive,” Foley said. He added that Morrison Planetarium happens to be the world’s largest all digital planetarium.

Their research facility houses 45 million biological specimens, the fourth largest collection of all human history, according to Foley.

Foley talks about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. “Our economy crucially depends on a STEM-educated workforce and yet we seem to not always be doing the best job of that. I think that’s a bigger public-policy issue of how we think about our schools,” he said.

He adds that the Academy and similar institutions can help fill some of these education gaps and does play a role. Foley had some fascinating facts about science in the U.S.

 

  • 850 million people visit a museum in the U.S. annually.
  • 60-70% of what Americans know about science is learned informally in museums, national parks, through television programming (Nova, Discovery Channel).
  • Museums are the most respected institutions in America. (comments that people are distrusting of government and media.)

 

Foley said there are some contributing factors as to why so many people come to the CAS. “We have a higher proportion of adults who come to the academy than maybe other cities. We also have more single people in San Francisco than any other American city. We have a program called Nighlife for 21 and over folks where we open up bars and we have music, but we also have science. Ours is the largest and most popular program of its kind in the nation.”

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