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San Francisco's Exploratorium Celebrates Pi Day as It Turns 50 Years Old

The hands-on discovery museum continues a mission its chief executive says is more important than ever in the age of connected devices

32 years ago, at a staff retreat, Exploratorium physicist Larry Shaw came up with the idea to celebrate pi — the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter — as a fun activity for his co-workers.

Today, much like the irrational number it celebrates, Pi Day has gone on and on — and may continue forever. The holiday, celebrated on March 14th — that's 3/14 — has spawned a worldwide following, and attracts hundreds to the Exploratorium each year (though all the free pie — the kind you eat — probably doesn't hurt).

"We love math!" exclaimed a teacher from Los Altos, who brought her students to San Francisco to walk in the Pi Day procession, held at 1:59 p.m. each year. Participants each hold a digit of pi, at the end of a yardstick, inscribed on a paper plate — the kind you eat pie from, of course.

"I'm number 73!" exclaimed one young boy, proudly holding his digit in the air.

The 73rd digit of pi is a zero, by the way.

3.14 isn't the only number being celebrated at the Exploratorium this year.

"It's our 50th year, we were founded in 1969," explained CEO Chris Flink. "This is the golden anniversary of the Exploratorium."

In half a century, the museum's mission hasn't changed. In fact, Flink said, it's become arguably more relevant than ever.

"We stimulate people to open their eyes, to make sense of the world around them for themselves, to connect the dots, if you will," he said. "If that was true in 1969, before the internet and before we each had a device in our pocket, how much more true is that today?"

From the beginning, the Exploratorium brought scientists and artists together under one roof to craft hands-on exhibits that would be tested with museum visitors, re-worked, and re-released from the Exploratorium's own workshop. Now, in its still-new home on Pier 15, Flink said the museum is ready for another half century of discoveries.

"I think this is one of the most inspiring places on earth," Flink said. "People come here and their eyes are opened in new ways."

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