360 Videos in Museums: Shot 5 – Camera as Clock at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

In our fifth in this series of interviews with museum staff around the country about their use of 360 videos, this time we hear from Caroline Record, Creative Technologist at the Innovation Studio at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, where she specializes in designing and developing software for custom exhibit-facing projects. Today I spoke with her about their use of 360 videos in  something they call the Light Clock project.

Light clock in the HallWhen did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

I started exploring 360 video as the web component of the larger Light Clock project. First I will back up and explain the project as a whole.

The Hillman Photography Initiative invited the Innovation Studio to imagine a project that embodied the broad theme of a “camera as a clock for seeing”. We made a town center “clock” in the front plaza of the Carnegie Museum of Art that, rather than telling time, had a single continuously swooping solitary hand. The hand made a rotation every 5 minutes at which point the clock would take a 360 picture of the plaza.

The Light Clock. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Bryan Conley.
The Light Clock. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Bryan Conley.

An interactive visualization directly inside the museum lobby placed the museum visitor in a semi circle of screens where they could navigate around the 360 view by physically rotating their bodies left and right. The visualization didn’t display a single static 360 image, instead it displayed a constantly shifting remix of all the imagery the clock had collected up to that point. Every time the clock took a picture it would momentarily flash onto the screen, so that if you took a picture outside with the clock you could have an opportunity to see it.

The project was ambitious and had several interesting technical components. I was the creative and technical lead on the project and we created all the software and design plans in house. One of the biggest challenges was finding a robust 360 outdoor affordable camera that I could interface with through our software. I ended up working directly with a security camera manufacturer and designing a custom rig to stitch the two 180 cameras into a single 360 dome.

I wrote the software in C++ and it required a powerful computer to run well, so making a full web version would have been a significant project. Instead I modified the code I already wrote to export 360 video that could be shared and embedded via Youtube and Facebook.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

It was a remix of time lapse imagery taken from outside the Carnegie Museum of Art.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

Warning: I’m going to get technical about this!

We created a custom outdoor 360 camera by mounting two 180 security cameras back to back. The cameras are triggered to save a recording to a SD card via a hard wired contact switch that is triggered every time the clock hand makes a rotation. We use the camera’s api to automatically take a screenshot from the recording. Then we use the imageMagick command line tool to mask and edit the photos. Finally we used the hugin command line tool to stitch these two images together into a single equirectangular image. Onsite my software would read in different days based off of the weather data and change the point of view based off the visitor’s movement.

To make the 360 video I wrote another version of the software that remixed all the imagery together and exported each frame as a still. Since the imagery was 4k I couldn’t edit it using my version of Adobe Premiere, so instead I used the FFmpeg command line tool to turn all of these stills into a video that we could upload to Facebook and Youtube as a 360 video.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

The project as a whole was designed for people passing through the museum plaza and museum visitors in general. It was meant to appeal to the photography-curious as well as more expert photographers alike.

 

Wall label for the Light Clock. Photo by Jeffrey Inscho.
Wall label for the Light Clock. Photo by Jeffrey Inscho.

The web version was designed to be shared via the museum’s Youtube and Facebook page. So far the Facebook version has been viewer several thousand times and the Youtube one several hundred.

360 Videos in Museums: Shot 4 – Student Tour-making at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

In our fourth in this series of interviews with museum staff around the country about their use of 360 videos, this time we hear from Katy Noelle Scott, Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who is not just offering visitors 360 videos but supporting youth to use the aquarium to make their very own.

Katy, when did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

We started exploring 360 images and video shortly after Google Cardboard was first released about three years ago.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

As an educator, my goal is to have students create things to communicate their learning. So we work with teachers and students to leverage free and low-cost tools to create their own 360 images and tours. We have students use their own phones (or one of our department’s iPod Touches) to capture 360 images of an exhibit or outdoor space they connect with. We then support them in connecting multiple student images to create their own 360 tour of a place, such as the Aquarium.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

For students and teachers, they can simply use their smartphone or iPod Touch. They can use the free app Cardboard Camera to create an almost-360 image with their own narration. They can also use the free Google Street View app to create full 360-degree images. After their images are created, they can export them into Roundme to connect the images into a tour of the space.

In addition to these options, we have also had students in our on-site teen programs use our Ricoh Theta S and GoPro Fusion cameras to capture higher quality images and videos.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

Some teachers are creating 360 tours for their students, to better prepare them for field trips. This is especially helpful for students with special needs. Students create the tours to share with their peers, other classes, other teachers, and their families.

What are you hoping 360 video will help you or the museum to achieve?

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean. All of our education programs are designed to help students connect with the natural world. We know that one way to do that is by helping students develop a strong connection to outdoor spaces in their own communities. We hope that, through curriculum like “A 360 Sense of Place,” we can support teachers in helping students develop such connections. We also hope that students who create such tours while on a field trip to the Aquarium will be able to maintain a connection to our exhibits, even when they’re back in their classrooms.

360 Videos in Museums: Shot 3 – Dancing at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

In our third in this series of interviews with museum staff around the country about their use of 360 videos, I got to work a little closer to home. Ellen Bari, curator and writer at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM), invited me to walk the ENTIRE two avenues that separate our two venerable institutions and learn up close what they’ve been up to these past two few year (and, if I was behaved, get to do a little dance).

 

Dance at Children's Museum
Every day is a dance party in Let’s Dance! as visitors dance with Féraba – African Rhythm Tap Company on the Dance Portal screen.

Ellen, when did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

About four years ago, we were developing an exhibit called America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far and wanted to give our visitors an immersive experience with Muslim architecture on a very limited budget. We were thrilled when we found Elumenati, a company that specializes in projection design. We licensed magnificent 360 images of mosque architecture from around the world and displayed them on Elumenati’s off-the-shelf GeoDome Panorama. The result – families were able to enjoy a truly unique immersive experience.

At this point, just 360 still images, not video yet, right?

Right. At this point we were featuring still images shot in 360 by various photographers around the world. The response from visitors young and old was so favorable that we applied for a grant using similar technology to create a Dance Portal introducing the world of dance through immersive video footage. We received the Museums for America Award FY2016 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and began prototyping. The beta version of the Dance Portal was so well received that we were inspired to develop an exhibition/dance space around it. Let’s Dance!, currently in CMOM’s lower level gallery, introduces children and families to the delights of dance. The Dance Portal is the cornerstone of that exhibit.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

Dance in all its multicultural glory! We divided the content into simple categories: SEE, for performance clips, DO, for tutorial clips, and LEARN, for cross-cultural explorations of basic choreographic terms.

One of the great challenges to producing and curating the Dance Portal was that there is a very limited amount of dance footage that has been shot in 360. This prompted us to shoot some original video of our own. Working with videographer Paul Anderson, we shot 180 degree video in the studios of a number of world-class dance companies including Camile A. Brown & Dancers, and Elisa Monte Dance. We also filmed a number of dance companies in 180 while they were in performance at the Children’s Museum including Ajna Dance Company, Féraba – African Rhythm Tap Company, Kanu Dance Theater and Thunderbird American Indian Dancers.  In addition, we were able to procure a number of 360 clips and decided to include some HD footage, even though it does not fill the screen in the same way.

CMOM educators dance with visitors in Let's Dance!, while Elisa Monte Dance demonstrates a Soul Train on the Dance Portal screen, which is flanked by mirrors and a ballet barre.
CMOM educators dance with visitors in Let’s Dance!, while Elisa Monte Dance demonstrates a Soul Train on the Dance Portal screen, which is flanked by mirrors and a ballet barre.

Why doesn’t it fit the screen?

The portal screen is a ½ dome – basically a semi circle. It’s looks like a blow-up amphitheater. Video shot in 360 or even 180 will fill the portal screen from end to end.  Standard HD footage, will display in the shape of a rectangle, or traditional video format, which has an aspect ratio of 16 x 9. We were able to stretch our HD footage a bit, and found that these clips have impact as well, in part because the content is so compelling, but also because many of our viewers are small and the screen is big.

Most 360 footage displays, whether in a dome or on a standard screen, allow viewers to scroll around the video to explore every angle. We eliminated the interactive aspect of scrolling so that our visitors will be moved to dance, as opposed to getting caught up in their ability to control the video.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

Beyond filming our own material, lots of research, personal referrals and persistence. A few of the large international dance companies have some 360 footage but the licensing was either unavailable or out of our reach financially. Others were very generous, like Blanca Li Dance Company, Mark Morris Dance Group, Martha Graham Dance Company and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre who all gave us permission to use their footage.

I found some wonderful surprises online too, like an authentic hula performance shot in 360 atop Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. We also had a wonderful collaboration with Mickela Mallozzi who shared more than 30 multicultural HD clips from her Emmy award-winning show “Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi.”

Filming Elisa Monte Dance for the Dance Portal in the company's Queens rehearsal studio.
Filming Elisa Monte Dance for the Dance Portal in the company’s Queens rehearsal studio.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

Visitors of all ages can enjoy the Dance Portal daily in the Let’s Dance! exhibit. Each video clip includes a short description of the featured company and dance located on an interactive tablet near the domed screen. Museum educators and adult caregivers use the Portal as a jumping off point to get children moving.

The Dance Portal content is reinforced throughout the exhibit. For example, the Dance Parade photos highlight the diversity and energy of New York City’s dance community. Children can engage with colorful bolster pillows with the same choreographic terms that are featured in the Portal—skip, jump, turn, etc.— and they can enjoy fun dress-up opportunities inspired by the dance groups.

What are you hoping 360 video will help you or the museum to achieve?

By offering our families the opportunity to immerse themselves in dance forms that they may not be familiar with, we are hoping the Dance Portal will inspire our visitors to seek out more dance in their own lives, at home, in school, and in their communities, both as dancers and spectators.

Do you have any initial findings?

The Dance Portal has been very well received thus far. We look forward to adding content and increase the offerings as 360 video becomes more popular and as we continue to host dance performances of all kinds at the Museum.

If you have a 360 dance video clip, please reach out to me at ebari@cmom.org.

 

360 Videos in Museums: Shot 2 – In the Field with the Field Museum

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

Today we turn to Eve Gaus, the Manager of Digital Learning at the The Field Museum (a natural history museum in Chicago with scientists that conduct research on all seven continents). Centered in the Learning Center of the Museum, Eve connects visitors and youth with their collections and research through technology (games, 3D printing, animated video series, and more).

Eve, When did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

360 video, which we also refer to as immersive video, has been on our radar since late 2016, and in summer 2017 I was green lit  for the project. I was drawn to immersive video because of its rich storytelling capabilities. Since our scientists are carrying out research across the world, and in many cases, in areas that are difficult to travel to, 360 video offers an opportunity to immerse our viewers in our research in a whole new way.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

We’re using 360 to explore our collections and research in two different ways. The first is by taking our viewers out into the field with our scientists. Our scientists see and experience the diverse beauty of our natural and cultural world, and we want to bring our visitors along on that journey. And, as any of our scientists will tell you, what they collect in the field is just the beginning of the journey, and so the second way we’re using 360 videos is going behind the scenes to capture our collection. We’re creating a story arc for our visitors to walk alongside our scientists as they engage in a process of exploration and discovery.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

When our scientists head out into the field, we equip them with a 360 camera (we’re currently using Garmins and will soon be adding a GoPro to our collection), a couple of extra batteries and SD cards, and some solar charging panels. Before they leave, we sit together and rough out a shot list. Of course, the reason our scientists are in the field is for research purposes, not to capture amazing video content, so we go in with pretty flexible storylines that we can easily adapt.

Taking the footage behind the scenes is a bit easier, but still includes a pre-conversation and a shot list that we co-build with the scientist so we’re all on the same page about what story we’re telling through the footage. We use an Insta360 for our behind-the-scenes footage. After we collect the footage, we work with our scientist and our video editor to craft and edit the story.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

The videos are designed for visitors to the museum (children through adults) and they’ll be able to encounter them in a variety of ways. The videos will be available on The Field’s Youtube channel, and select videos will also be featured in our Grainger Science Hub, a dedicated space in the museum for visitors to meet our scientists, engage with our collections and learn about our latest research.

What are you hoping 360 video will help you or the museum to achieve?

The purpose of the videos is to help connect our visitors with the science of The Field, and also to explore why we conduct the research we do. It is one thing to talk about conservation and the critical importance of biodiversity, but it is another thing altogether to hike through the Solomon Islands, to be on boat going down the Amazon, or to be working alongside communities in Kenya providing rabies vaccinations for dogs — that has transformative power. We hope that through our 360 videos, visitors to the Museum, and even those who may never walk through our doors, feel excited and empowered to embark on a journey of discovery with us.

Do you have any initial findings?

We’re launching in 2018, so will have some findings by spring/summer 2018!

360 Videos in Museums: Shot 1 – Underwater at the Shedd Aquarium

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

Today we turn to Miranda Kerr, the Manager of Digital Learning at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Miranda, What is your role where you work?

As the Manager of Digital Learning, I work with our Learning Group departments to set up digital frameworks and respond to evaluation and research trends as they relate to digital programming and audience needs. I use evidence-based decision making to pilot and integrate digital learning experiences and concepts into Shedd’s on-site, off-site and online programming channels.

When did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

Part of my job is to follow what’s new in the museum technology space and any digital tools that are trending in other spheres, then consider implications for the work we do in Learning at Shedd.  I don’t remember exactly when 360 video came up on my radar, but I purchased our first equipment in the summer of 2016, a 360 camera and a set of 5 unlocked phones and VR headsets to enable us to pilot both creation and viewing of 360 video with learners.

Then in late summer and fall of 2016, along with a few other staff members, we did a 360 video pilot in one of our programs.  The Park Voyagers program brings educational programming to Chicago Park District facilities often in underserved communities. Shedd works in collaboration with 10 other Chicago museums to provide this free after-school program for children, ages 8 to10, and their families.  The 360 video and headsets were the technology we needed to answer the question, “How can we bring the experience of viewing Shedd Aquarium’s exhibits and animals to children offsite?”  We recorded 360 degree videos in three of our exhibits that would connect to the three ecosystems explored in the program.  To learn more about this pilot, check out the blog we wrote: “Virtual Reality: Bringing Shedd Aquarium to Learners in 360”.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

Our first attempts at integrating 360 video have been capturing our exhibits to share in other locations.  Because we have fishes and other animals that are swimming around, a simple photo doesn’t capture this in the same way.  We also have done some pilots to see how 360 video can capture our programs in a new way, which includes taking the camera on a snorkel during High School Marine Biology, or on a nature hike during Summer Road Trip.  The most recent 360 videos we’ve captured have actually been inside our exhibits with the animals, which provides a completely new experience.  You can view the underwater Caribbean Reef Exhibit 360 Video here:

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

The process for obtaining 360 video depends on where we are filming. If we are hoping to capture a 360 video of an exhibit, we aim to film before the aquarium opens so the footage is just the exhibit without guests in the shots.  In the spring of 2017, we acquired an underwater 360 camera.  To film underwater, we’ve explored a number of creative techniques including  having SCUBA divers and snorkelers hold the camera on a selfie stick, setting up a tripod inside of our exhibits and using zip ties to attach it to an underwater robot.  You can see examples of all of this footage on the Shedd Learning YouTube page.

Editing 360 video footage is a simple process with the software available, but time consuming.  The Ricoh Theta S has a user friendly cell phone app that makes for quick editing, and you can even tweet 360 photos directly from the app.  We shared a 360 photo of campers doing water quality tests at a nature center in a tweet:

The Nikon Keymisson editing works better on a desktop computer, and is a free download.  This process can take hours, even for a video that is just a few minutes long, because of how large the files are.  Although the process is not difficult, each of the steps takes time, transferring from camera to computer, then trimming or editing, and then adding meta-data to be able to upload to YouTube.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

We have used 360 video in a handful of programs to connect with different audiences. In Park Voyagers, Learning staff brought the 360 videos on our devices to be viewed by kids using our VR headsets.  In the Teen Work Study program, teens created their own 360 video, and then shared with guests waiting in line to buy tickets using our VR headsets.  The 360 videos are also posted to our YouTube and shared on social media channels.

What are you hoping 360 video will help you or the museum to achieve?

My big question is, how can 360 video take our learners to new places and enhance experiences?  This year, Park Voyagers participants are viewing 360 videos from inside our exhibits, to have an underwater view and see fishes swimming right at them.  We captured 360 underwater video at the 2017 underwater robotics competition, so that students at the 2018 competition can view a 360 robot-eye view of the underwater course.

Do you have any initial findings?

I have comments from the Digital Learning Staff Reflections completed by Learning staff.  From the Teen Work Study project, “Teens gained skills on the applications of VR, including design goals concerns and troubleshooting of the equipment…Teens were able to bring the Wild Reef [exhibit] out to our guests!”  We also gathered reflections from the teens themselves who did that project:

“Finishing the VR project was a pretty big victory for me. I don’t finish things when I start them, and I finished a lot of things being in the teen lab.”

They were all happy with the outcome of the VR project. They were scared of not doing a good enough job on it or not finishing it. They thought it was cool when the adults they look up to got excited about their VR project. They felt special.

“I was scared of technology – terrified of technology  — until now.”

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I had asked?

What’s next for 360 Video?

Although I don’t know for sure where we’ll take 360 video next, I do know the entire Learning group has this technology tool in their pocket now.  Every year for every program, we do a technology brainstorm we call a SAMR brainstorm.  We can think about how we could use 360 videos to bring Shedd Aquarium to new audiences or give learners additional experiences like 360 videos from inside other exhibits.  We can also think about how to use 360 video assets we collected last year, like from underwater robotics and snorkels in the Bahamas.

Next up: 360 VR at the Field Museum…

Why Museums Should Dive Into VR: An interview with Susan Poulton of the Franklin Institute

Below is my latest post for DMLcentral, an interview with Susan Poulton of the Franklin Institute about their recent exploration of a museum-wide VR strategy. Please read it on DMLcentral or in full below.

The mobile 360 VR cart
The mobile 360 VR cart

Why Museums Should Dive Into VR

The photo I took as a boy visiting the Giant Heart in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute
The photo I took as a boy visiting the Giant Heart in Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute

As a young child, I took this photo (above), of the Franklin Museum’s Giant Heart, my way of expressing my love for this immersive, interactive experience. A few decades later, last month, I returned with my colleagues, on a field trip from NYC to Philadelphia, to visit this venerable institution and learn how they’d been implementing their newest museum-wide strategy for immersive, interactive experiences, but this time using virtual reality. Led by Susan Poulton, their Chief Digital Officer, I learned that the future might be arriving sooner than expected and museums need to develop more agile practices with rapid prototyping in order to catch up.

Susan, why don’t we start by learning more about you. How’d you get to the Franklin?

When I started here two years ago, I was new to the museum world. I come from digital publishing — 10 years at AOL and eight years at National Geographic — creating online storytelling experiences for broad audiences. I got really excited about science and communication at National Geographic, which has always been my true passion as a science nerd. So, I was really excited about the opportunity to come and develop a digital strategy for a science brand well known locally, but doesn’t have much of a national and global presence.

How old is the Franklin Institute?

The Franklin Institute was founded in 1824. We’re almost 200 years old. It was founded as a science and technology learning institute, like almost a technical college. And, the museum opened in 1932, here in Philadelphia, and we’ve been in this location ever since.

How do you begin to think about bringing digital learning into an institution that was founded before electricity was even invented?

The fun thing about the Franklin Institute is that its mission has always been to inspire learning for science and technology. As a result they’ve always been at the forefront of all of these new experiences as they were launched to the public. So, when electricity was kind of a new thing, the Franklin Institute did an entire exhibition on electricity to showcase it to the public in all of its wonder. It was almost a carnival, World’s Fair-style exhibition where the public could experience what electricity could do. And, we sort of continued that tradition with the observatory, with the planetarium. The Franklin Institute was the first place that a movie camera was demonstrated. It was also the first time live television was ever broadcast; the first sporting event ever broadcast on live TV was played on our front lawn. I’m not exactly sure who played whom, I think it was probably a Penn game. We’ve always been at the forefront, so this is really about taking that spirit and applying it to new and emerging digital technologies.

So, what is the new emerging technology today that you are introducing to the public?

The Holodeck
The Holodeck

Last October, we created a broad-based, virtual reality strategy that was built on top of a mobile app. The goal of both was to push what museums were doing in both of those spaces, to start to think about mobile technologies, virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, including things that the public has not adopted broadly, and ask: How can museums be part of that?

Let’s expose the public to these technologies, get the public interacting with them, and get feedback about those experiences. And, let’s learn about how they can enhance the museum experience at the same time. I think museums tend to adopt things very slowly. In the technology world, it’s all about experimentation: try, fail, see what happens. Museums tend to take a much more academic approach to how they do things.

Usually, when you take an academic approach, that is a multi-year time scale. You test it, you study it, you evaluate it, you publish it, and then you release the published results, and then you build, and you iterate on published results, which is how the scientific process is done.

When you are talking about media and communicating to the public, the public is now moving at a different pace. The entire industry is now moving at a different pace, and it’s my personal belief that museums can no longer follow this rigid academic approach to testing technologies. We have to get more comfortable with just raw experimentation and prototyping much, much more rapidly than we have in the past.

What have you been prototyping recently?

Inside the mobile cart
Inside the mobile cart

We’ve launched a mobile app with an embedded virtual reality library, and paired that with an onsite virtual reality experience. The goal was to create the New York Times’ Virtual Reality experience for an all science-themed and educational experience.

There are virtual reality enthusiasts, or people with Google cardboards, or teachers who had download a set of nature-themed, or science-themed experiences, and have a library of that at the ready. But, I think, for everyone else, virtual reality is a bit of the Wild West right now, as far as content is concerned. It’s interesting — when a new technology comes out, we cycle back to some of the old ways, like with constant curation. That ship has sailed on so many other platforms, but it’s absolutely necessary in virtual reality, because right now we are just making content and organizing it, distributing it, going back to some of the basics. Content curation is really needed in the VR world. It’s not needed in the news world, or whatever people are using Facebook and search for. But, right now, in the VR world, people are really confused. They want people to just tell them what the good content is. “Here it is. We vetted this.” I think that was our goal in the virtual reality library in our mobile app.

And, then, we carried that out with an on-site experience, which is really about exposing the public to all the different virtual reality technologies that are currently available in the market. We have an Oculus Rift and a HTC Vive. We have device-based experiences that are thematic. You can just watch 360-degree videos. You can watch immersives, interactives on the Samsung Gear VR.

It sounds like you are describing an experience for visitors before their visit, throughout the museum during their visit, and to take home after their visit.

When I say it was a broad approach, it was an extremely broad approach. We tried a little bit of absolutely everything. What would it look like if you were to insert a themed virtual reality experience inside a 17-year-old exhibit? What would it look like if you created a permanent physical space to experience virtual reality? What would it look like if you made a mobile app? What would it look like if you handed out Google Cardboards?

All of these different experiences explore all the different ways visitors can encounter VR, and allow us to see how it goes.

I think probably most museum educators will be horrified by how I’ve implemented this, because we don’t have protocols. I set up parameters, we just did it, and we’re sort of anecdotally responding to the feedback.

What kind of feedback have you been receiving?

The Holodeck
The Holodeck

Visitors love it. They really enjoy engaging in it. The biggest thing that I think we’ve discovered is that most people just have never experienced VR in any format like Google Cardboard. So I think a lot people like myself who are involved in digital assume that the public is far more exposed to it than they actually are. And, when you think about the behavior sets of people who are going to try virtual reality, a lot of the resistance we got was, “You can just go demo this at the mall.” Well, people have to self-select for that, they kind of have to opt in to “I’m going to go to the mall. I’m going to go to the Microsoft store. I know what a HTC Vive is, so I’m going to stand in line to try one.” This is a certain type of person. It’s the early adopters. It’s the people who are probably aware of VR.

What I’m trying to do is put VR in front of people who came to a science museum, and just looked over and go “What the heck is that?” And, then gave it a try. So, it’s introducing virtual reality to new audiences that are not the sort of hyper-aware early-adopters. What you find is people are really excited by it; even the very, very simple experiences really light them up. And, some of the experiences I thought would disappoint the public, they love. I think 360-degree video has been around for ages, in my opinion. I see it on Facebook all the time. I’ve tried Google Cardboard compared to what you can do in a HTC Vive. Then, you see somebody try a device — you know a mobile app-based 360-degree video — and they freak out. They think it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen.

And, so it goes to my lifelong philosophy that a focus group of one, myself, is a really terrible focus group.

As an educator myself, of course, I agree that other educators might not be happy to hear that there’s no education objectives connected to these experiences. But, why not? When do we get to see those incorporated as well? You will not only learn about visitor engagement, but also the kind of learning being achieved along the way.

I don’t think our experience is really designed for that. I have heard about virtual reality experiences that are being specifically created to see how VR affects the learning process. I’m not sure that will ever be one of our objectives. I’m more interested in how the public reacts to the technology. I’m more interested in exposing the public to the technology. I think we will probably learn from others about how it affects the learning environment. Virtual reality is a serious challenge in those experiences. Throughput is big — you know, if you’re going to put someone through a meaningful learning experience in virtual reality, it’s extremely hard to do that in two minutes or less.

Is it fair to say that you are currently content agnostic, as long as it’s about science, and you have no specific learning objectives connected to that learning of science? I do see you have learning objectives around teaching people what VR is, and offering them a context for understanding the VR they’ll experience after they leave the museum.

Right. And it might not be teaching people about virtual reality so that they walk away with specific knowledge points that they’ve gained about VR. It’s exposure, to the medium, exposure to what’s it like to have a 360-degree visual moment which you can explore, and how it can light people up with wonder. Again, I think there are experiences that we do, and museums should do, that measure outcomes, and then there are experiences that are just for the sake of experiencing. I think it’s a balance of both.

And, I think one of the challenges that we have in museums is, because it’s unmeasured and untested, we don’t do it. I think that’s a shame, a loss. I think museums have to get over some of these self-proclaimed barriers that they’ve put in place to using technologies. I hear this a lot. “We don’t know what its learning objectives and the impact are, so we haven’t adopted it yet.” I was like, “Well, quite frankly, by the time you figure that out, it won’t exist anymore.” It’s the truth. This is the pace at which technology development is happening now. If Moore’s law holds true, I mean, we’ll be down to every two days; we’ll be inventing something completely new, and everything will be out the window. We have to adapt our educational methodologies, for lack of a better term, to a process that involves rapid prototyping.

Also, the public expectation is changing. The public is going to expect that museums have these experiences. Their tolerance for museums being digitally behind will eventually wane, and that will spell trouble, I think, for museum visitorship.

Do you have any other advice for museums that are thinking about bringing VR or 360 video to their visitors?

Just do it. Don’t ever think it. Just do it.

Internal promotions for the Museum's VR strategy.
Internal promotions for the Museum’s VR strategy.

Looking Back at Digital Learning at the Tate Gallery: an interview with Kat Box

Below is my most recent column for DMLcentral, which you can read in full here or below.

kids with signs

Disclaimer: The Tate Modern is one of my favorite museums. My previous apartment held a place of honor, above the couch, for a poster I picked up there. And, in 2014, I interviewed the developers of their awesome app, the Magic Tate Ball (re: Using “String and Sellotape” To Build the Magic Tate Ball). So, imagine my excitement when I was recently introduced to Kathryn Box at the Tate Gallery in London.

Kathryn manages and produces content for the Tate Kids website and the Tate Kids social channels, which focuses on games and films and articles that speak to kids’ interests in art and the wider world. After three years invested at the Tate, she seemed like the perfect person to speak with to learn about their latest innovations in digital learning and across the British art scene in general.

Kat, thanks for speaking with me today. How much of your work is focused on the physical spaces?

Kat BoxEighty percent of my job is online. The other 20 percent is mainly in the London-based galleries. There is a digital studio, Taylor Digital Studio at Tate Britain where I run a program with colleagues called Digital Makers. And, then, up in Tate Liverpool, I help with the families program as well, sometimes mainly recording and maybe capturing those events through digital content. And, then, down in St. Ives, they do like a competition to get kids’ art in the gallery spaces and I do a digital element for that, too.

What does digital learning mean for the Tate?

I think it’s just another form of engagement, and another form of connecting people to the collection. Everyone has a phone in their pocket now so it feels really natural for us to be using that as a tool to connect people to what we have in the building.

We’re really trying to work out as well not just using digital tools to connect people to the collection but also working with artists and showcasing artists that use digital in their practice and showing audiences and visitors that that’s a way of making art as well. There are just loads of different types of digital making now, like a digital painting on your iPad that we’re trying to show as an authentic way of making art. It’s really important for us because the future of our making will be digital. We’re trying to showcase that to the audiences and making sure that we’re making participatory projects so people really feel like they’re adding to something and not just, like, watching something on the wall.

When you think back at some of the successes you had with new digital learning initiatives in the past three years, what jumps to the top?

About three years ago, code clubs started really taking off in the U.K., and kids were really engaged in making video games, and I was excited to connect both that digital making with the collections at the Tate. So, everything we’ve done is part of an experiment to innovative ways of thinking about digital in kids. But, for me, the most exciting stuff has been when we did an activity with Aardman, an animation studios in the UK that made the Shaun the Sheep movie and the Wallace & Gromit cartoons. They came in and we did an animation workshop with them; that was really great. Super popular. It was really fun, and disrupted the gallery.

Another one that was really exciting is that we did a series of events with special educational needs children, who had learning difficulties. And, we worked with a group of sound artists called Pyka, that go into schools and teachers sound art. We made, like, a sound landscape with these young people. That was really exciting because it was part of a bigger project about diversity and thinking about how artists respond to that need.

What are some things you’ve done online or in mobile?

Back in May, we launched the new Tate Kids, based on really thinking about how kids are interacting online now. Tate Kids was launched in 2007 and was feeling a bit like a dinosaur. We did some research starting with what kids are interested in now and how they engage with digital now. Ultimately what came out of that is they’re going to have two personas: they’re looking for art homework help or they’re looking to just have fun online with art.

We were trying to also think innovatively, about how websites work now, and how people engage with content that is snackable, such as with short-form film content. They are a YouTube generation, wanting step-by-steps of how to do digital making. We also started producing more HTML5 games as well, thinking about art games and how we can inspire creativity online through the process of games.

One of our most recent games is Art Parts, basically a series of Tate artworks that have kind of had a piece taken out of them. And, the narrative of the game is that it’s the future and the machines have stopped working and that you have to use your human creativity to fill in that artworks. And, that came out of a conversation with children about the fact that they are quite intimidated sometimes by the work in Tate. Everything looked really professional and done and it took a lot of time to do. And, I was like, okay, well, we need to find an easier quick way for people to engage and kind of create and remake the Tate collection.

What’s coming up in the next year or two that gets you excited about digital learning?

I’m quite excited about getting more children’s voices on the site. I think, for me, that’s really exciting and important. We’ve a Tate Kids media team where we invite kids in to respond to the displays. And, I want to make more stuff with them, really, and to think about what other kind of digital experience they can co-produce.

I’m also looking forward to a kids game Jam. I’m looking forward to giving the steering to them and letting them be the ones in the driver-seat, doing some design thinking, and then pairing them up with some game designers. I think that will be super fun. So, if anything, I just want to have more kids involved with what I’m doing because I know they had all the answers.

When you look out at the landscape of digital learning in museums, what jumps out at you as major trends that you’re helping to lead or ones that you’re trying to learn from?

I am really inspired by the British Museum Samsung Digital Discovery Centre. They have made a VR Bronze Age site and to gets kids to experience history in that way is really exciting. They got school kids to come in and experience what it was like to be in the Bronze Age. Some of the objects had been scanned and you could see them actually working in this kind of virtual reality house. That was really good.

The FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) Gallery in Liverpool recently did an exhibition called Group Therapy: Mental Distress In A Digital Age, which explored the complex relationship between technology, society, and mental health.

And, then, in relation to trends, it’s kind of an exciting time but you’ve got to be careful with trends, not to get too excited by them. But, I think there is obviously something with VR and AR — we’re looking at how it could be really beneficial, as a beautiful and exciting and educational experience, which hopefully would create some empathy and understanding about art and artists.

And, then, what’s also quite interesting are the realms of chatbots and voice activated machines. We’re doing some research into that right now, and how we could potentially put content through voice in Amazon’s Alexa, how we can get audio content into the home differently.

I’m also thinking about STEAM, how we mix both engineering technology with art now and how we can make that as accessible as possible. There are some really cool festivals that happen in the UK like Blue Dot Festival and Abandon Normal Devices and Playable City. They’re all about bringing science and technology and digital into your everyday. And I feel art has a real part to play in that.

I’m in a constant state of jealousy around how cool the sector is. We really try to push people to connect to history and culture, and digital is definitely the transportation device for all that.

Using Mobile VR to Convey WONDER: An Interview with Sara Snyder, the Chief of the Media and Technology Office at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Below is my most recent post on DMLcentral. You can read it here or just continue below:

Last year I was gob-smacked on a trip to D.C. by the temporary WONDER exhibit at the Renwick Gallery (and wrote about it here). Last fall I was excited to see the Gallery release a mobile VR version of the now-closed exhibit. I reached out to Sara Snyder, the Chief of the Media and Technology Office at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to learn how and why it was developed.

Sara, Thank you for joining us today? Why don’t we start by introducing your museum (the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and your department (the Media and Technology Office).

When people think of the Smithsonian, they often think of the big museums on the mall, but the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and its branch museum, the Renwick Gallery, belong to the “off-mall” contingent of Smithsonian destinations. SAAM shares a grand, historic building—the old Patent Office—with the National Portrait Gallery, in the Penn Quarter neighborhood.  The Renwick Gallery, just under a mile away, is a fabulous little jewel of a building hidden on the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue better known for another tourist destination, the White House.

In the Media and Technology Office (MTO) we manage SAAM and the Renwick’s websites, blog, and social media accounts, and we lead emerging media projects, such as our current experiments in VR.  We produce all of the in-house video and live streams for the SAAM YouTube channel, and also provide day-to-day IT support for the museum’s staff.  In addition, we oversee the Luce Foundation Center, an innovative visible storage space within SAAM.  For a fairly small department, we Media and Technology staff wear a lot of hats!

For sure! To be frank, I’ve spent my life visiting museums in D.C. but had never heard of the Renwick. Then EVERYONE I knew told me your WONDER was the D.C. exhibit not to be missed. In fact, when I saw it last May, I visited it twice – once on my own, when I was in town for a conference, and then again that same week, once my family had joined me. I did NOT want them to miss it. For those who couldn’t make it, how do you even begin to describe what they missed?

Ha, you are not alone!  For many years, the Renwick was something of a hidden gem, a place known primarily to D.C. locals, or devotees of craft, but not, perhaps, on the top of a tourist’s “must-see” list.  Then, in 2013, the museum building closed for a two-year renovation.  While it was closed, then-curator Nicholas Bell conceived of the idea to invite contemporary American artists to completely take over the nine galleries in the building, an unprecedented opportunity for the Renwick to reinvent itself as a 21st-century destination for art lovers.

The result was the WONDER exhibition, a magical, immersive experience unlike anything people had ever seen.  As Nicholas said in the introductory video, the artists took everyday objects that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in an art museum—tires, index cards, sticks, string—but “pulled them together in such a way as to completely amaze you.”

It’s true. I was amazed.

As you experienced, the show had incredible word of mouth and social media exposure, which led to huge attendance figures.  Visitors of every generation truly were overcome by a sense of wonder, and people came back (as you did), again and again.

So let’s shift over to the virtual reality app, Renwick Gallery WONDER 360. Did you know from the beginning you’d be creating this app? How’d it come about?

We had no idea we’d end up creating the app!  Our energy back in 2015 was focused on producing video content, launching a refreshed Renwick website, and on re-orienting our social media strategy towards Instagram.  However, it was fortuitous that in 2015, VR hit the mainstream, and hardware and software for producing and publishing VR experiences became much more accessible and affordable than it had ever been before, putting it within reach for even a non-profit art museum.  We knew that WONDER was special, and we longed for a way to preserve the experience for posterity.  That same year, MTO staffer Carlos Parada made some contacts with an innovative startup called InstaVR at the SXSW interactive conference, and with their help, we realized that we would be able to shoot, create, and publish Renwick Gallery WONDER 360 using our own equipment and staff, and without the huge budget that an outside contractor would have required.

Was the decision to make the images 360 photos versus a 360 film of the exhibit motivated more by aesthetics or technical constraints?

It was definitely because of technical, practical, and budgetary constraints.  We would have loved to have done video capture…or even better, full 3D scanning and photogrammetry. But that just wasn’t possible, given our resources and incredibly compressed timeframe.  The full show was only up for six months, and the galleries were almost never empty, so we were limited to shooting before opening hours.  I’m actually still amazed that we pulled it all off!

What have you learned from WONDER 360, both through producing it and seeing how visitors are using it, that will inform your future uses of the medium?

My takeaway from producing the app is really the same as my takeaway from seeing the success of the WONDER exhibition: content is everything.  The app has such good reviews because the artworks represented within it are beautiful and astounding.  I don’t want us to employ a new technology—now or in the future—just for technology’s sake.  I want us to employ VR in the future because it is the right tool for the job, and because it enables our visitors to more fully enjoy and appreciate American art.  This is something I want to hold onto as we enter our next phase with more robust, gaming-quality VR.

If you knew then what you know now, and if the decision to make the app had been part of the initial design of WONDER, how might the VR experience have been designed differently? And how might it have been integrated into the experience of the exhibit itself (not just offered as a digital postcard, a virtual memento) in the way visitor’s photography was also incorporated?

Looking back, perhaps the VR app could have had more features, or contained more variety of photographic angles.  And if it had been available earlier, we certainly could have promoted it during the exhibition or in the galleries—something we did not have the time or budget to do.  But the app wasn’t intended to be, and never could have been, a substitute for the real life exhibition.  The whole point of the show was to be present, and to have the emotional experience of being dwarfed by the scale and juxtaposition of materials in the physical installations.

The truth is, I actually sort of like the fact that there wasn’t obvious technology incorporated into most of the galleries (save what visitors carried in their own pockets) because it meant that the focus was on the experience of being present in a room with an amazing artwork and a bunch of strangers.  Why look away from that gorgeous rainbow to tap on some kiosk or stare at a screen?  We did incorporate social media into one screen in a central space, but I think that feature was only interesting because it was so organic and unfiltered, coming from the minds of other visitors.

WONDER was a show that people loved to experience together.  VR isn’t social yet, so that specific technology just couldn’t deliver on the power of sharing the same way that Instagram could.  Instagram let people show their friends what they were seeing, and it looked amazing, which is why it, not VR, was ultimately the defining technology for the WONDER show.

Does Digital Media Have A Place in a Hands-On Science Learning Space: An Interview with Rebecca Bray on the National Museum of Natural History’s Q?rius

 

Below is a re-blog of my most recent post on DMLcentral.

Rebecca Bray is the Chief of Experience Development at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. I reached out to her to learn about how the Museum developed and now runs its innovative Q?rius (pronounced “curious”) space, opened in 2013 as an interactive and educational lab with microscopes, touch screens, interactive activities and a “collection zone” housing over 6000 different specimens and artifacts visitors can handle.

In our conversation below we explored their design process, the role of youth learners, the pros and cons of integrating digital media into a hands-on learning space, and more.

Rebecca, Welcome to Mooshme. So how do you describe Q?rius?

Q?rius is a space, an interactive space, in the museum. We always said that it’s not an exhibit, right?  It’s really an interactive learning space, designed mainly for 10 to 18-year-olds and their loved ones.

The space itself is really very flexible. Everything there is on wheels, except for a large collection space, and even in there everything is very modular and flexible; but it’s really meant to be a space for visitors to do hands-on interactive work around the specific kinds of natural history science that our researchers do. And it’s also a space for the education team to experiment with new ways of interacting with the public; we think of it as our learning lab as well – we do a lot of experimenting and testing of new ideas in there.

image credit: James Di Loreto/Smithsonian

When you think about it overall, what would you identify as some of the key innovations you took on?

So many things! When we were designing the space we had a lot of conversations about this target audience of 10 to 18-year-olds. The outside exhibit design company that we were working with was saying at first, “Oh, you should have a lot of technology, because teens love technology.”  But after we did some front-end studies we saw how much people really value their encounters with the authentic objects of the museum. So we said, “Let’s actually de-emphasize the screens in the space and have the focus be on the objects and doing things with the objects.”

And so, we did that.

But we also at the same time were trying to do a bunch of stuff with screens. We wanted them to see a video of the scientists in the field and we thought the screens could really lead people through the activity. So, you would have a touch screen and then you could kind of click through and it would give you instructions about how to interact with the objects in the room.

After making that, and putting it out there, and having it in the space, we pretty quickly realized that it wasn’t working. People couldn’t do both – they didn’t want to both interact with the screen and with the objects. It was just too much.

So, we actually stripped away even more of the screens from the space. We made the activities more about the objects themselves, with very simple paper instructions, and then kept the screens for very particular purposes, which was really to access more information about the objects themselves, separate from the activities. So, that was an important learning. But it’s still an ongoing question about this balance between screens and non-screen experiences.

What else do you need to consider when thinking about integrating screens?

Making sure that we’re designing for social experiences between groups. Physically designing the space, so that people can fit around things, in the right way. Making sure that they’re big enough for people.

I think at some point in the design process we thought about having everybody carrying around an iPad that would be like their personal digital Field Book as they go around the space, collecting objects  But, again we found that they weren’t social enough and we also had this challenge of object versus screen.

Yet you found another way to do the Field Book, which my daughter enjoyed when we visited.

Yeah, so if I had a million dollars we would redesign the Field Books. And we actually knew that even going in. We knew we didn’t have enough money to do it perfectly but we still decided we had enough that we could pilot something and be an enjoyable experience. We have lots of visitors who really like it and they collect their digital collections into Field Books and look at them at home; but yeah, I mean, I think with software you need to have enough money to continuously upgrade it as you learn more.

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What role do youth play supporting the space?

We’ve had them continuously involved in giving feedback. We have over a hundred teen volunteers, and some of those have been leveled up to be captains. They help us develop activities and programs and give us feedback on a lot of stuff that happens in the space.

How do you design new activities for the space?

Since we use an iterative design process for the activities that we build, we’ll work with a scientist and our design team of educators to develop some very rapid prototypes. And then we’ll go out and do testing and observations. We have developed some assessment instruments that we use to test things and to see, really to understand, how visitors are interacting with it and how to move along a spectrum of understanding. We’ll test things at least 10 times and collect a lot of data about how people are interacting with it and then we’ll use that to refine something as we go along.

A big part of this has been creating a culture of rapid prototyping and testing within our department and helping to spread that to other departments, to test everything that we do in a pretty deep way, beyond just going to visitors and asking, “Do you like this title for this activity?” It’s a difficult thing. It takes a lot of time and you really need to train your staff to know how to do it.

In fact, when we were in the conceptualization stage, we were able to go into the museum and do a bunch of testing of the kinds of activities that we knew we wanted to do. And it was so useful. I wish that we had actually been able to do more of that, to really spend some time actually making the stuff that we thought was going to be in the space and getting it in front of visitors and being really reflective and really thoughtful about how they were responding to it.

 

Creating Context to See the Unseen: An interview with Jasper Buikx of Amsterdam’s microbial museum

Jasper Buikx, microbiologist at the Micropia Museum, in Amsterdam.How do you design a museum around microbes, a subject that is all around and ON us, yet still remains out of sight? How do you design a space to enable visitors to see the unseen? To find out I spoke with Jasper Buikx, microbiologist at the Micropia Museum, in Amsterdam.

Jasper, Welcome to Mooshme. What is Micropia, and what is your role there?

Micropia is officially the first and only microbe museum in the world. I, as microbiologist, am responsible for the content that we produce and that we show our visitors in our schools. I make sure that everything we say is correct, which is quite important of course for a scientific museum.

So, yeah – it’s a really cool job.

Is Micropia more like a natural history museum with specimens on display that represent the natural world or more like a zoo with live animals?

That’s what we have been wondering ourselves. A traditional museum is often what we call a dead collection; its objects are deceased organisms that are on display. Micropia is in that sense special, because we have over 300 different species of microbes there, alive, that people can actually see with their own naked eyes. So in that sense it’s kind of a new type of museum, a combination between micro-zoo and the museum. It’s something new.

The wall with Petri dishes containing different micro-organisms. Photo Micropia, Maarten van der Wal
The wall with Petri dishes containing different micro-organisms. Photo Micropia, Maarten van der Wal

How did Micropia come about and why do you think Amsterdam is the city that is hosting the first microbial museum?

If you look at the history of microbiology, Netherlands have always played a big part in microbiology. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was a cotton trader from Holland, and he was the first to actually discover microbes and make them visible. So in that sense, Netherlands discovered the microbial world and has played a big part in microbiology.

We have been designing Micropia for about 12 to 13 years, which is a lot for a museum that’s not that big. It was mainly trying to find out how we can make these invisible worlds visible. It kind of sounds simple – researchers have been doing this for centuries with simple microscopes – but that is not simple to the general public. So we have to find a way to get them to use such a complex instrument in a way that feels natural to them. So most of our design time, if you call it that has went into kind of making a exhibit that makes it visible in a smart way.

Of course we still use the microscope, but their microscope is about 50,000 Euros, and has to be handled with care by the lab techs and professors, not by the general public. So we’ve designed complete exhibit around a 3D viewer with which you still have the same 3D view that you would normally have through the microscope but you now have a simple joystick. You can operate the entire machine with a simple joystick opposed to the 20 – 30 different knobs and buttons that you normally have on the microscope. Plus we’ve added a nice interactive screen next to each microscope so that not only you but your entire family, your colleagues or whomever, can also join in to see what’s under the microscope.

I am hearing that one of your approaches is to take what are typical tools of science and adapt them so they can be used by visitors in the museum.

Yeah, that’s true.

Are there other tools of science that you’ve also made user-friendly to help the visitors see the invisible world around them?

We understand that if you have 40 microscopes in a row, of course it’s going to be boring by microscope number five. We get that. So we show the microbial world in different ways. We have a lab – all those different kinds of microbes have to be cultivated (I mean they don’t live as long as one of our elephants, so we have to cultivate them). And a lab, to a lot of people, is something that they only know from CSI or a Hollywood movie; they rarely see an actual lab themselves. So the lab in our case is also a part of the experience. It had a lab assistant telling stories, explaining what they do in the lab.

Discover your own microbes with the body scan. Photo Micropia, Maarten van der Wal
Discover your own microbes with the body scan. Photo Micropia, Maarten van der Wal

We also have lot of interactive exhibits where, for instance, we have a body scan where you stand in front of a big screen, it scans your body, and then you can kind of travel through your own body and find out that it’s completely filled with microbes. Then you can actually get to know yourself in a new way.

I presume this is a simulated scan. It’s not actually looking at the real microbes in your body, right?

We get that question a lot. It’s simulated. We find people expect us to give them a small sheet of paper at the end of their visit saying, “You should visit a physician because you have this and this disease.” No, it’s a simulated scan of course, but based on actual scientific facts, It gives a general story about what kind of microbes lives on and in you, based on your size and your width and your age.

Some of the things that people experience are actual real data using digital tools of science, while others are simulations to help the visitor understand things that they otherwise wouldn’t understand.

Yeah, exactly.

Is there anything the Museum does to make science data visible to the public?

One of the more interactive parts with Micropia is that you can collect microbes, kind of like you collect microbes on a day to day basis. I mean, if you touch something or you kiss or you eat or whatever, you collect microbes, and you can also do that in Micropia. You collect them on a stamp card, which sounds very simple but the idea is that you put your stamp card with your microbe collection on a special table with a scanner and it scans your collection and it enlarges it on the elevator wall. We have a big elevator and we have about 12 or 14 meters of elevator wall where your microbe collection is then shown. When we tell people about microbes we say they are microorganisms which are too small to be seen by the naked eye, but there is such a huge variation in size between microbes. We needed a special exhibit to show people how microbes differ in size, so they can see that a fungus is 10,000 times the si ze of a bacteria and the bacterium is a thousand times the size of a virus. So in that sense we try to make data about size visible in a more understandable way.

Can you give me an example of an unexpected challenge you have had with Micropia since launch and how you responded to it?

If people see an elephant, they know, “Oh, this is an elephant.” But if we show them a bacterium or a fungus, you have to tell a lot. Because it’s invisible, it doesn’t have context. It’s way too abstract for many people. So you have to first bridge the gap between what people know and what they see. You have to continuously create context, which in some cases is very difficult because for some people the context is completely different than to others. I mean, if you talk to students which are six or seven years old, you use completely different language than you use with adults. So finding the right context for the right audience has been a big challenge. Look around – you there are many examples of microbes in your day-to-day life, so you have a lot of possible contexts to choose from. But then making the translation to your specific audience, it’s quite difficult. I mean nobody knows microbes, at least out on the streets. So that’s been difficult.

What are you hoping the takeaway will be from visitors who come to the museum?

I hope that people kind of get the understanding that there is more than they can see and that it’s not always negative. If you ask a hundred people out on the streets, “ What do you think of a bacterium?”, 99 people will give you a very dirty look and will try to walk away, because they think bacteria are dangerous and disgusting and they want to get rid of them. But they rarely know that if you look in your own body you have 10 times more microbes than human cells.

Your body is more microbe than it’s actually man.