Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is one of the ten largest natural history museums in the world. It is located in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and comprises of an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. The Academy began life in 1853 as a learned society and still carries out a large amount of original research, though its main role is now public education. The Academy's main buildings in Golden Gate Park are closed for major refurbishment until 2008, though it has reopened in temporary accommodation at 875 Howard Street as of May 1, 2004.
Whilst in Golden Gate Park, the Academy attracted around half a million visitors each year. The main thrust of the exhibits is natural history, with halls containing specimens from across the world and the "Life through Time" gallery housing a large display on evolution. There is particular emphasis on aquatic biology, with the aquarium housing fish specimens from all over the world, and a "fish roundabout" offering a unique aquarium experience -- visitors stand in the middle of a large ring-shaped tank watching fish swimming endlessly against a small generated current.
Other sciences are also covered: as well as the astronomy shows in the planetarium, there is a "Gem & Mineral Hall" containing many samples, and a section of the Academy devoted to earthquakes — appropriately enough considering the influence that these phenomena have had on San Francisco in general and the Academy in particular — including a simulator which recreates the experience of the Kobe earthquake.
The focus of the public exhibits in the Academy's temporary quarters will be the aquarium, since live fish cannot be stored in the same way as the other displays, though there will also be a shifting schedule of temporary exhibits trying out new ideas for the re-opening.
The Academy carries out research in a number of fields, largely but not exclusively branches of biology: anthropology, aquatic biology , botany, entomology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, inverterbrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology. There is a strong emphasis on environmental concerns, with all the various departments collaborating closely to focus on systematic biology and biodiversity.
The California Academy of Natural Sciences was founded in 1853, only three years after California joined the United States, becoming the first society of its kind in the Western US. Its stated aim was to undertake "a thorough systematic survey of every portion of the State and the collection of a cabinet of her rare and rich productions". It was renamed to the more inclusive "California Academy of Sciences" in 1868.
The Academy had a forward-thinking approach to the involvement of women in science, passing a resolution that the members "highly approve of the aid of females in every department of natural science, and invite their cooperation" in its first year of existence. This led to several female botanists, entomologists and others finding work at the Academy during the 19th Century, when opportunities for women in the sciences were limited, and often restricted to menial cataloguing and calculation work.
The Academy's first official museum was opened in 1874 on the corner of California and Dupont Streets, and drew 80,000 visitors a year. To accommodate this popularity, the Academy moved in 1891 to a new, larger building on Market Street, funded by the legacy of James Lick. However, only fifteen years later it fell victim to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which also wiped out large swathes of the Academy's library and specimen collections. Luckily, an expedition to the Galapagos Islands (the first of several sponsored by the Academy) was already underway, and it returned seven months later, instantly providing replacement collections.
It was not until 1916 that the Academy moved to the North American Hall of Birds and Mammals in Golden Gate Park, the first building on the site that was to become its permanent home. In 1923 the Steinhardt Aquarium was added, followed in 1934 by the Simson African Hall.
During World War II, the Academy contributed to the American war effort by using its workshop facilities to repair optical and navigational equipment for navy ships (San Francisco being a major port for the Pacific War). The post-war years saw a flurry of new construction on the site; the Science Hall was added in 1951, followed by the Morrison Planetarium in 1952. In 1959, the Malliard Library, Eastwood Hall of Botany and Livermore Room were all added.
Throughout the 1960s, as universities concentrating on the new field of molecular biology divested themselves of their specimen collections, entrusting them to the Academy and leading to a rapid growth of the Academy's holdings. 1969 saw another new building, Cowell Hall, added to the site. In 1976 several new galleries were opened, and the following year saw the construction of the "fish roundabout".
In 1989, the buildings were damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. Subsequently, some areas had to be closed off for safety reasons. As plans were made to repair the damage and make the buildings seismically stable, it was realised that a considerable amount of work would be needed to bring the buildings up to modern standards. This led to the idea of giving the Academy a complete overhaul, thus motivating the current closure of the main site, which will continue until 2008. When reopened, the new building will be at the forefront of environmentally-friendly design, in keeping with the Academy's focus on environmental concerns.
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