Get to Know Ken Phillips, PhD

07/17/2020 (updated 07/24/2020)
Curator Ken Phillips, buckled into an airplane seat, wears a headset with microphone and smiles

Ken Phillips, PhD, on a flight of SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

Ken Phillips, PhD, is the curator for aerospace science at the California Science Center. Ken joined the Science Center team in 1989, and his main goal was to develop a superior science learning experience for the general public. In 2000-2001, Ken was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation that he used to create an experimental air and space gallery that was once housed in a Frank Gehry-designed building in Exposition Park. This experimental gallery allowed the Science Center to test different concepts in science learning and various ways to interpret its artifact collection. The challenge with the early gallery was to repurpose the exhibit experience from one that was largely historical into one that utilized interactive learning experiences to interpret the scientific and engineering principles associated with aeronautics and space exploration. That gallery would lay the foundation for the design of the future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, under development right now!

Two men, one wearing a hardhat with space shuttle logo on it, stand side by side, looking at the camera and smiling. In the background, part of a space shuttle orbiter is visible, attached to a crane.

Ken Phillips, PhD, stands beside Dennis Jenkins on the Los Angeles International Airport tarmac as space shuttle Endeavour is being offloaded from the shuttle carrier aircraft behind them.

Shortly after Ken arrived at the Science Center, he began envisioning the possibility of attaining a real space shuttle for display. Ken’s vision became reality in 2011, when NASA awarded the Science Center the shuttle orbiter Endeavour.

Ken’s fascination with science learning acts as a complement to his love of teaching. He attributes his greatest professional accomplishment to three important efforts, the first being his three decades of work that laid the foundation for the development of the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. When complete, this 200,000 sq. ft. expansion will be the final phase of the Science Center’s three-phase Master Plan, expanding its science learning impact on its guests and providing a permanent home for space shuttle orbiter Endeavour. Ken also prides himself on teaching as an adjunct professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Southern California and as a science instructor for the New Village Girls Academy.

“These three activities together have given me a critical perspective on the efficacy of our work at the Science Center and what it can mean both in an informal learning environment and in the classroom.”

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Ken first came to the California Science Center as a young parent in 1982 when it was formally known as the California Museum of Science and Industry.

“I brought my daughter to see the old “O-scale” model railroad that used to be on display on the second floor of the Hall of Industry. I love trains and the layout was particularly good and very, very large.”

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