As a mechanical engineer who doesn’t really enjoy machining or designing things on the computer, I’m pretty screwed when it comes to industry jobs.  I’m also not really sure how to turn playing with kids and robots (which is what I like to do) into a career path. Luckily, Caltech has a scholarship for people who don’t know what they want to do with their lives, so I got a job volunteering in the San Francisco Exploratorium for a month while Caltech pays my rent. Pretty sweet deal, right?!

If you don’t know what the Exploratorium is, think giant science playground. At the museum, I am a Field Trip Explainer, which means that in the mornings I greet the field trips as they come, giving the students a short orientation before they go into the museum, and then I run demonstrations during the rest of the day. Sort of. I divide my time between the equally important tasks of building demo lightbulbs with visitors, performing magic card tricks, playing with the exhibits, chatting with other explainers, and getting a larger-than-average daily dose of vitamin D as I look out over the bay. It’s a pretty cush gig. And the people I work with actually get paid!

Some highlights from my time at the museum so far:

  • At the beginning of my very first day, I went to greet one of the buses that had just pulled up.  Immediately after the door opened, this little boy (couldn’t have been more than 8 years old) galloped sideways onto the sidewalk doing an impressive rendition of “Smack That”.  Gestures and everything.
  • I was at the magic table with another Explainer (Cesar) when an elderly couple came up to the table.  Cesar proceeds to fan out the cards and ask the gentleman to pick a card, any card, and the trick proceeds like normal.  But then when Cesar laid the cards face up in three columns (part of the trick) and asked the gentleman to say which column his card was in (also part of the trick), he proceeded to put his face about two inches from the table and look at every column in minute details as he scrolled down them with his face.  We found out afterwards that he’s mostly blind, but it was a pretty entertaining sight nonetheless.
  • I had an electromagnetic coil taped to my forehead and connected to a radio because if you plug your ears, you can hear the vibrations of the radio signal and thus the sound, actually listening to the radio through your forehead.  It’s pretty legit.  Anyways, I’m sitting with wires taped to my forehead and my fellow Explainer is holding them in place while I plugged my ears, and I looked up a minute later to find a gaggle of kids just kind of staring at us across the table.  We explained the demonstration, and while most of the kids wanted to try, one middle school girl just kind of shook her head and walked away.  I can just imagine her saying to herself, “So that’s what they’re calling it these days.”
  • Two of my fellow Explainers look incredibly similar.  Think tall white guy with longish curly frizzy hair.  Their names are Rob and Dan so I just call both of them Robdan.  Anyways, we all had to introduce ourselves and describe our first pet for one of our trainings (as I said, very serious job) and I discovered that Robdan’s first pet was a bird in a cage named Doorknob.  Interesting name for a pet.  Although I must admit that I once had a fish named sushi.  So there’s that.