The Robert and Elizabeth Karplus Outdoor Nature Lab

"Where Inspiration Grows"

A butterfly landing on the fingers of a young person.

The Outdoor Nature Lab—under construction right now—will be the first new addition to The Lawrence in 20 years! Nestled next to the building and overlooking a stunning view of San Francisco Bay, this nature center will be a native landscape attracting birds, pollinators, decomposers, and insects that you’ll develop relationships with and learn to identify when you visit other green spaces. Facilitated experiences and exhibits will encourage wonder, curiosity, and stewardship.

In the Outdoor Nature Lab visitors can choose to:

  • Experience a guided observation that inspires deep thinking through your senses
  • Solve a nature mystery
  • Try your hand at nature journaling and photography
  • Explore decomposing logs as well as lichen, fungi, and spider webs
  • Climb into a tree canopy and crawl under a willow thicket

These experiences not only will nurture a scientific mindset, but will also spark connections to environmental issues ranging from invasive species and bee die-offs to individual actions that can positively impact our natural resources.

A drawing of the Outdoor Nature Lab at The Lawrence

Who Are Robert and Elizabeth Karplus?

Elizabeth Karplus (Betty) dedicated her professional life to teaching and learning, including running a radiochemistry laboratory and teaching at Mills College. Professor Robert (Bob) Karplus was a theoretical physicist and a pioneer in science education. Their work had a seminal impact on the work carried out by The Lawrence Hall of Science. Bob was the principal investigator of the Science Curriculum Improvement Study—the first hands-on, laboratory-based, comprehensive curriculum program for grades K–6 ever created at the Lawrence Hall of Science. He also served as Associate Director at The Lawrence for more than 10 years, including one year as Director. "Professor Bob" pioneered the methodology of field testing and classroom revisions that is at the center of learning-design today. Together, Bob and Betty coauthored papers on the development of scientific reasoning that have had a lasting impact on the field of science education. They shared a lifelong love of discovery and the outdoors, as well as a strong desire to see everyone else enjoy discovering nature!

A child with a magnifying glass examining nature

A Tradition of Outdoor Learning

The Lawrence Hall of Science has supported outdoor learning since our earliest days. In the 1970s, we developed the very first high-quality instructional materials for use in outdoor science, which we called Outdoor Biological Instructional Strategies (OBIS). Since 2011, our BEETLES Project has been dedicated to improving outdoor science education and environmental learning nationwide. But ironically, we have never had our own space for outdoor learning for our own community here in the Bay Area! So we have never been able to test or prototype or study outdoor learning onsite at The Lawrence. We look forward to welcoming you to our new Outdoor Nature Lab in November of 2021.


Major support for the Robert and Elizabeth Karplus Outdoor Nature Lab is provided by Barbara Karplus and Rodney Womer. Additional meaningful support is provided by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Shimizu Family in memory of Lakas Shimizu, Helzel Family Foundation, William Knox Holt Foundation, Brian Metcalf, and many more donors.

To learn more about giving opportunities to grow the Outdoor Nature Lab, please contact Susan Gregory at