The Tech quickly becomes a landmark attraction

SAN JOSE -- The Tech Museum of Innovation, which opened late last year, gave San Jose a new exhibit worthy of its place as the gateway to Silicon Valley.

Within its 132,000 square feet of exhibit space are examples of gadgets and gizmos of every conceivable stripe.

It houses hands-on (or, as the operators of the museum prefer to call it, "minds-on") displays, interactive exhibits, laboratories, a lecture series and more.

Among its most popular features is a 295-seat IMAX dome theater with an 82-foot-diameter screen and 44 speakers powered by more than 12,000 watts of amplification. Nobody sleeps in the IMAX! Some of the highlights include:

  • A virtual bobsled ride, using the kind of simulation equipment used to train Olympic athletes away from the bobsled chutes.
  • Ultrasound monitors that allow visitors to see inside their own bodies, the same kind of machines used by physicians in diagnosing patients' internal ailments.
  • Equipment that allows visitors to "draw" a 3-D map of their own heads, using a laser scanner with 360-degree rotation capability.
  • The scanner produces a bar-code ticket that is then presented to one of two stations, where the outline and contours of the head are shown and a photograph may be printed out.

  • Med Tech, a tour of a virtual operating room.
  • Not surprisingly, The Tech, as it is commonly known, is designed as an educational and fun resource for people of all ages, according to officials. The facility is regarded as Silicon Valley's newest. Strictly speaking, only the building is new; the museum has been in operation, on a smaller and less grandiose scale, since 1990 when the Junior League of Palo Alto, later joined by the San Jose Junior League, first opened it in temporary quarters.

    Just 20,000 square feet in size, these quarters had to suffice until last Oct. 31, when the new, much bigger premises were completed. The Tech cost $113 million to create, an expenditure to which more than 500 high-tech companies in the nation's most inventive valley contributed $32 million of in-kind services; the remainder of the outlay was provided by the City of San Jose Redevelopment Agency and by private citizens.

    Museum officials projected that between 650,000 and 700,000 would pass through The Tech's turnstiles in its first full year of existence. Based on the results achieved so far, some people believe that they might need to revise that figure upward.

    The Tech has become an instant San Jose landmark. Not only has the museum become a big-time visitor attraction, it has also become a reception facility for local businesses and groups.

    Last month, it got a thorough exposure to the retail travel industry when it was the site of a gathering of almost 500 travel agents at a function sponsored by San Jose Airport, Host Marriott Services and Travel Weekly.

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