Take a tour of Santa Barbara’s new science museum

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Santa Barbara’s new science and technology museum, MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation opened its doors to the public this past weekend. It sits on lower State Street, between the train tracks and the beach on the edge of what’s known as the “Funk Zone.” The space is being leased to MOXI by the city of Santa Barbara for a dollar a year. In turn, the museum must provide experiences for as many people as possible.

“There’s a huge role for us to play in training the next generation of problem solvers,” said MOXI president and CEO Steve Hinkley.

He showed KCRW some of his favorite spots in the museum.

Handprint Globe

Hinkley: “It’s hard to look at this hand-print globe and not want to run up to it. It compels them to understand how this system works, and what’s going on with this massive projection of thermal images that’s suspended from the ceiling. Then, they get to be part of it. So, right off the bat, they’re drawn into something visually beautiful but also understanding this museum is about science and technology experiences and getting hands on. It sets the theme for what this museum is all about.”

Innovator Workshop

“This is more commonly known as a “maker space.” We’ll always give people an opportunity to build or create something. On certain days, we’ll pick the theme and run with it. One day, it might be robots. One day, it may be laser cutters or 3-D printers. Other days, it may be no-tech kinds of things with crayons, glues and scissors.

For example, right now we’re talking a lot about the rain and how there are bridges and dams susceptible to collapse. Well, we can take that idea and bring it into the space, and talk about bridge and dam building. We can have people build and experiment with their ideas to see which things do better than others. In a way, we’re giving them real life engineering challenges inside this space. Potentially, they might start thinking that, one day, they’d like to be an engineer that works on these types of issues.”


“It’s essentially a huge digital DJ beat box. You can make your own sounds and music just by playing the shapes on the screen. Every time you shift the shape, you get a slightly different tone. Again, it’s an open ended experimentation model. When visitors first come up, it doesn’t sound all that great. But, within five or ten minutes you can wind up getting some really cool stuff. People who love music enjoy this, but then they start diving into what’s driving it.”

Build it, test it, race it

“For folks who want to hearken back to the days of pinewood derby, this is a blast from the past, but with expanded capability. You build and design your own car, place it on the conveyor belt, hit the button and the conveyor belt takes the car up to about nine feet. It does a countdown and then releases the car. Three cars can race at a time, and this becomes one of the most competitive areas of the museum. It’s hilarious to watch people get so emotionally invested in what they’ve created.

Not only does it show who finished the race first, but it also gives a huge amount of data. All that data is logged in a database, and you can email it back to yourself. Our work with the school districts helped us understand that sometimes they want to have that fun here, and then do the number crunching back at the classroom. So, this is the way for them to do that. They can send 50 races back to their classroom, and really start to understand the math behind what’s being observed as the cars race down the track.”

The rooftop

“It’s exciting to be a part of the town that has a rapid growth mindset, especially since we have been one of those things that’s growing and helping to change what this part of Santa Barbara looks like.

And then, the fact that we have the train station next door is a huge boon. Maybe there’s a school group coming from North County that’s struggling to find funding to get a school bus here. But, they can afford to get on an Amtrak train through grant programs. We’re right next door to them. It’s a perfect opportunity.”

To check out our other museum tours, click here.