APS News

December 2004 (Volume 13, Number 11)

Semper Finds Ways to Entertain While Teaching Science

The Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco, is known for being a fun place to learn about science, filled with fascinating exhibits and scientific toys for all ages. It's also an interesting place to work, says physicist Rob Semper, who is now the Executive Associate Director.

In his position at the Exploratorium, Semper gets to interact with scientists and educators, learn new things about science, travel to amazing lab sites around the world, and oversee the production of live webcasts on topics from the science of music to the transit of Venus.

Semper has worked at the Exploratorium since 1977, and now manages many of its projects in his current role. In the past ten years Semper has been working on extending the museum beyond its walls, through webcasting and other media. These projects often take Semper all around the world, something he really loves about the job, since he gets to learn about science and nature as well as experience new cultures.

One such project he and a team recently completed was called Origins, which takes visitors to the Exploratorium's website on a "virtual field trip" to six laboratory locations, from the world of high energy particle physics at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, to the biodiversity in the jungles of Belize, to the extreme environments of Antarctica.

The site includes live webcasts and interviews with scientists, as well as explanations of the ideas behind the science and pictures of the lab environment and the equipment. "The idea was to give people through the web a sense of what it's like to be doing science in the real world," says Semper.

Semper traces his interest in science back to his visits to science museums when he was young. He grew up in New York, visiting the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, and was also intrigued by television science shows like Mr. Wizard.

Semper says he had good science teachers in elementary school, and his father pursued hobbies like radio and electronics. Electricity and magnetism especially captivated Semper. "That was really what pulled me into the world of physics," he says.

Semper also enjoyed building experimental apparatus. He went to graduate school at Johns Hopkins, where he studied solid state physics, then went on to use his skills in building detectors and instruments to work in high energy physics for a few years.

When a job at the Exploratorium opened in 1977, Semper decided to take it. "I was always interested in teaching nonscientists science," says Semper, explaining his reasons for moving out of the lab and into the museum.

Courtesy of Physics Central.com

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette

December 2004 (Volume 13, Number 11)

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Articles in this Issue
LA Hosts 2005 APS March Meeting
Heckman, Hodas Capture 2004 APS Apker Award
World Year of Physics Flies High At Young Scientist Challenge
Three American Physicists Share 2004 Nobel Physics Prize for QCD
New Optical Devices, Techniques Highlight Laser Science Meeting
World Year of Physics Gets Early Kickoff at Sigma Pi Sigma Quadrennial Congress
George E. Valley, Jr. Prize Goes to Ivo Souza
Physics Enlightens the World, and Battles Light Pollution Too
Semper Finds Ways to Entertain While Teaching Science
Sounds of the Subway
APS Fellows Enjoy College Park Event
New Results from RHIC Highlight 2004 DNP Meeting
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Washington Dispatch
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science