Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has dedicated its efforts to research and education about the natural world.
The academy began life in 1853; only three years after California became a state, becoming the first society of its kind in the western U.S., as a learned society and still carries out a large amount of original research, though its main role is now public education.
The Academy of Sciences is the oldest scientific institution in the West, founded after the California gold rush to survey the vast resources of California and beyond.
Today, it has grown to be one of the 10 largest natural history museums in the world, including the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium, and is an international center for environmental research.
The California Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution, supported by donations from corporations, foundations and individuals, by admission fees, store and cafeteria concessions, and by the City and County of San Francisco, specifically for the operation of Steinhart Aquarium.
The California Academy of Sciences is open year round, including all holidays. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm, with extended summer hours from 9 am to 6 pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The California Academy of Sciences, the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home to the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, and the Natural History Museum, as well as eight research departments and over 18 million scientific specimens.
After celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2003, the Academy left its long-time home in Golden Gate Park and moved into a transitional space in downtown San Francisco in order to embark on an extensive rebuilding project in the park.
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new academy, which is expected to open in 2008. Meanwhile, the academy is open to the public at 875 Howard Street in downtown San Francisco.
The site houses thousands of animals from the Steinhart Aquarium as well as changing natural history exhibits. Visitors to the Howard Street museum can enjoy daily penguin-feeding shows, come face to face with the slithering inhabitants of Snake Alley, touch live sea stars and hermit crabs at the Touch Tidepool, watch as a wetsuit-clad diver feeds the fish and anemones in the academy's two-story Coral Reef tank, and explore the current natural history exhibits. Additionally, visitors can examine scientific specimens and participate in hands-on activities with academy naturalists in the Naturalist Center.
While in Golden Gate Park, the academy attracted around half 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 offering a unique aquarium experience, visitors stand in the middle of a large, ring-shaped tank watching fish swimming endlessly against a machine-generated low-volume current.
Other sciences are also covered. As well as the astronomy shows in the planetarium, there is a Geological Hall containing many samples of gems and minerals. 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, Japan, 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, including several branches of biology: anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate 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.