Academy of Sciences opens doors to SF State
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When visitors stroll through the light-filled halls of the freshly constructed Academy of Sciences this weekend, not all will be speechless.

“Normally the first thing people say when they walk in here is ‘Wow,’” said John Hafernik, president of the academy and professor at SF State.

The building, a monument to scientific research and education, is ready to open its doors to the public on Sept. 27. And with several diverse attractions, the academy is sure to impress many.

The site includes a four-story living rain forest exhibit, the 38,000-specimen Steinhart Aquarium, the world’s largest all-digital planetarium and a classic attraction brought over from the old academy — the alligator swamp.

The academy hopes to reforge people’s opinions of what a museum is, Hafernik said. And while many residents and visitors of San Francisco enjoy state-of-the-art attractions, SF State students will be given the opportunity to receive valuable experience using the innovative facilities for research.

Together, the academy and SF State’s biology department offer a degree program that helps students learn more about the natural world by utilizing the $488 million building, Hafernik said.

“Students involved in the program take classes at SF State and do research at academy.” Hafernik said.
“It’s a great opportunity for students and they get invaluable hands-on experience.”

Hafernik’s favorite area of the academy is the living roof where densely covered native California plant species have been arranged on 2.5 acres of architecturally created sloping knolls, built to simulate the rolling hills of San Francisco.

Even before the imminent opening, students have started a year-long study on the colorful living roof, tracking migration patters of insects living in Golden Gate Park.

Jessica Van Den Berg, a biology graduate student at SF State, is among some of the first students to work with the academy, conducting on-site scientific experiments.

“SF State has a close connection to the academy,” Van Den Berg said. “When there is a need for research assistance, they outsource to SF State students.”

“College students really have a place here,” said Don Heyneman, a guide at the academy. “I think there is going to be a great deal of interaction between SF State and the academy.”

Hafernik said biology students interested in the joint degree program are encouraged to inquire about further details with their academic department advisors.

“We [the academy] are a valuable resource used by scientists around the world.” Hafernik said. “SF State students really should take advantage and get involved.”

The on-time completion of the largest cultural project in California history is a monument to how driven and dedicated all involved with the building’s construction have been, Hafernik said.

“How often are things finished on time in San Francisco?” He added with a slight grin. “It just goes to show how dedicated everyone here at the academy truly is.”

Hafernik, who has been teaching at SF State since 1977, has been on the academy oversight committee since the mid ’80s and was elected president by the board of trustees on July 1, 2008.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to be president,” Hafernik said. “It’s great to be at the forefront of an institution that has really great exhibits and attractions but also has strong educational and research programs.”

With his expertise in entomology — the study of insects — Hafernik has been able to help shape insect friendly exhibits and guide students with on-site research, like the living roof.

At the academy, there are 16 million different specimens that track the history of life on the planet, Hafernik said.

With rich biodiversity and visually stunning facilities the opening of the Academy of Sciences hopes to garner and educate residents along with visitors of San Francisco for decades to come.

“Now that the building’s done and the public is ready, we are ready to show everyone what we’ve got ,” Hafernik said. “This is the stage and now we’re putting the play on.”

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PHOTO
Molly Stetson | photo editor
Kevin Herbert lifts daughter Bailey, 3, in a walk-through tunnel beneath the 100,000-gallon tank of the Amazon Flooded Forest at the new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The tunnel connects exhibits in the Steinhart Aquarium, and the flooded forest tank serves as the bottom level of the three-story, self-contained Rainforest exhibit.

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