The Draw and Appeal of Virtual Gel Electrophoresis

As someone who has spent much time walking past gel boxes of various shapes and sizes, a gel electrophoresis kit is not the first item that would draw my attention in a room with touchable casts of hominid skulls. But a single gel box, to my surprise, drew the attention of visitors to the Sackler Educational Laboratory this past Sunday, where four of our student interns were facilitating the new interactive experience, CSN: Crime Scene Neanderthal for the first time.

Gel electrophoresisRight off the bat, one of the first things were learned this weekend was that visitors are drawn to equipment on a table, wanting to know what the gel rig was used for and how.

But that was not the only thing we learned. In fact we noticed several other interesting things: Continue reading

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Jamming with Dinosaurs!

I am Eric, a First Year MFA student at NYU Game Center, studying about and designing games. Barry asked me and the other interns to help put together a game jam last Sunday to support an ongoing project. Here’s a brief report.

Last month, during the regular Night at the Museum Sleepover, the Museum tried something new: Playing with Dinos. Developed with teens last January, inspired by the app Tiny Games, families used the new mobile site to play quick games within the dino halls that connected them with each other and the exhibits. In preparation for the next beta test during the June sleepover, and to triple the number of games available, we decided  to host our very first dinosaur-themed game jam (or Dino Jam for short).

Dino Jammers!

Dino Jammers!

Now, if you have never heard of a game jam, it is an event where people come together for a short period of time (usually 2-3 days) and create games! These game jams usually have a theme and, for our game jam, it WAS to create easy to play, social games using the exhibits and space in both Hall of Ornithischian and Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs.

With an awesome weather to set our mood and lift our spirits, the participants Continue reading

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Slides and Twitterfall from the Elevator Pitch(fork) Death Battle at #MW2015

This afternoon I had the pleasure of participating in this rocking panel to close out the Museums and the Web conference: A Creative Confluence: When Educational Products & Youth Programming Collide. I wrote earlier about the fun plans we had to engage our audience in the waining moments of the conference here (re: Support #TeamAMNH at the @museweb Elevator Pitch(fork) Death Battle) and, I have to say, from the moment we welcomed people to the room with a funk music soundtrack to the :30 we spent talking with the audience 1:1 after it concluded, it was a blast! More importantly, it was inspiring to hear from and work with such accomplished colleagues.

In any case, here’s some of what went down.

Here’s the power-point (minus both the videos and learning who actually won…)

Also, here are some stand-out Tweets (stand-out only because I saw them!)

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Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 3.45.30 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-11 at 4.05.49 PM Continue reading

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A Hyperlapse Tour of Chicago’s Museums

One of the great things about going to a conference like Museums and the Web, as I did in Chicago this week, are all the opportunities I get to LEAVE the conference to visit other museums – sometimes with the rest of the attendees, like for evening parties, and other times grabbing one or two others and taking a sprint between sessions.

Back home I’ve recently been experimenting with possible museum-uses for Hyperlapse videos (more here). While I’ve been running around the city these past few days I tried to further explore what it could do. Below are some examples.


Chicago’s Cloud Gate

Often referred to as the Bean, this gorgeous sculpture in Millennium Park, which I visited right after the first night part at the Art Institute of Chicago, looked even more magnificent at night.

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A Rapid Tour of Chicago Youth Spaces for Digital Learning

I was in Chicago recently for the Museums and the Web conference. Between sessions I ran around the city to meet with my colleagues in museums and libraries who were willing to share their youth spaces and how they’ve been designed to support digital learning. (Interviews will follow in subsequent posts). Below are a few highlights from each location.


I began at the Field Museum, with Eve Gaus, their Digital Learning Manager. Two years earlier I had visited with Eve to visit her educational space and learn more about their programs. This visit we talked about what they’d learned in the intervening years and their plans moving forward. Below is a panoramic photo of their room (click for a larger image):

Classroom at the Field Museum

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Revisiting Digital Engagement at the Field Museum

I was in Chicago recently for the Museums and the Web conference. Two years ago, in town for a different conference, I wrote about my visit to the Field Museum to learn how they were deploying digital media to engage hall visitors. I was impressed with much of what I saw, both in the specifics and in the wide range of approaches they employed. This week I returned to see what might have changed in the intervening years.

The first thing I was delighted to experience was a new digital interactive in association with their two enormous 20 feet tall red cedar totem poles from Haida Gwaii. In days of old, the Field and my museum battled to have the best totem pole collections. So now we each share a similar legacy, and challenge – how do we present these important cultural treasures to a public which often has little awareness of the Native Canadian communities from which they originate.

The Field found two solutions, which I think they collectively call “digital rails.” One is signage (not shown) which includes a piece of cedar one can touch. The second is the interactive below, which I filmed, composed of text, videos, old and contemporary photos, and a step-by-step visual guide for interpreting both the crests represented on the poles and the iconography used to represent them. The frame of the interactive seems designed to directly address questions that must have been common amongst their visitors – what are they and how are they made? where are they from and are those communities still around? And why are they here (and do they belong here)?

You can see the Field’s answers in the video below:

The second thing I saw was another screen interactive, this time in the Wallace Gallery. Featuring the work of Bunky Echo-Hawk, I’ll let the Field’s web site describe it:

Contemporary artist Bunky Echo-Hawk‘s live painting events, colorful skateboard decks, and his design partnership with Nike all debunk stereotypes about Native Americans today.  And by merging Native American images with pop culture references– such as the Stars Wars-inspired painting If Yoda Were an Indian– Echo-Hawk uses humor to shed light on current issues facing Native American communities. Now, see what happens when this artist, activist, and traditional Pawnee singer draws inspiration from historic Field Museum collections, from a richly painted ceremonial dress to traditional spoons carved from bison horn. Experience Echo-Hawk’s large-scale paintings, and see how an artist can fight as a modern-day warrior– striving for constructive change and keeping his Native culture alive and flourishing.

The Webber Gallery at the Field Musuem

In the image above (click for enlargement), the room on the left begins with a video about and with Echo-Hawk, who is talking, in part, about the creation of the red painting you can see next to the video, produced during his visit to the museum. His contemporary art fills the room alongside objects he selected from the Field’s vast collections. The interactive screen below then allows visitors to dig deeper into Echo-Hawk’s selections to learn what the items from the Field’s collections mean to him.

In other words, not only has the Field developed a strategy for bringing contemporary Native voices into their Halls but they have also figured out how to use those voices as the filter and framing device for displaying the cultural artifacts within their collections.

As you exit the gallery you realize it has now become the entrance to their Hall of North American Indians.

Finally, I experienced a Kinect-powered wall-sized interactive. I had experienced the same space during my earlier visit. A small-screen interactive let you build your own cabinet of wonder from the Museum’s collections and then manipulate it on the wall-screen. I wrote about it at the time, and found the wall part confusing. Apparently I wasn’t alone. The small-screen interactive is still there, I was glad to see, but now a new gesture-controlled experience was featured on the wall. The video below gives you a small sense of it. In short, visitors work together to interact with projected elements within a nature scene to save it. I was particularly impressed with a simple strip of light on the floor. With Kinects, you have to stand IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Rather than put a giant sticker on the ground or draw a red line, the strip of light was intuitive and, at the same time, didn’t call undue attention to itself.

A big shout of thanks to both Jeremy Keninsky of Geomedia, who kept me company and posed in my shots, and Eve Gaus, who generously took time out of her day to show us around.

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Crime Scene Neanderthal – Public Launch and Coverage in Rotunda

Under the headline, “Solve a Science-Based Mystery Designed by Teens,” the AMNH’s seasonal Rotunda magazine featured a full page article describing Crime Scene Neanderthal in the week before it’s public (beta!) launch this Sunday. (It also includes an official teaser for MicroRangers later this year!).

Check out some of what they had to say below:

High school students Monica Chhay and Sarah Carrillo show a visitor how to use a smartphone to create virtual Neanderthal tools. © AMNH/M. Shanley


The Museum’s Sackler Educational Laboratory is looking for a few good
Neanderthal detectives—and you just might fit the bill.

Earlier this year, 19 high school seniors from Millennium Brooklyn High
School wrapped up a 14-week program in which they worked with a science
advisor and Museum staff to develop an interactive experience for family visitors
based on cutting-edge research and rooted in the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins
and the Sackler Educational Laboratory. Drawing on the latest findings about our
relatives Homo neanderthalensis, it even has a ready-for-prime-time name: CSN:
Crime Scene Neanderthal.

Family visitors who participate in CSN will be led by student interns, armed
with a paper guide and a mobile app, to explore both virtual and cast Neanderthal
fossils to solve a science-based mystery. It’s part of an experimental approach to
engaging youth in science learning by challenging students to co-design a unique
Museum experiences for families.

“CSN is both a fantastic opportunity for the students and a 21st-century learning
experience for Museum visitors,” says Barry Joseph, the Museum’s associate
director for digital learning. “CSN helps us explore what digital layers—like mobile
games, augmented reality, access to real-time information, and more—can add to a
young visitor’s engagement with scientific content within the Museum.”

In April and May, Members will have a chance to experience the program
firsthand when the student developers return to the Museum to test the
prototype with the public, guiding groups of families and youth to dioramas and
microscopes to unravel such puzzles as: how do we know a Neanderthal’s hair
color? What can clues tell us about Neanderthal culture? What killed off this
recent human relative? (See the sidebar for details on how you can participate.)

“This interactive experience will add new content to the hall and show visitors
that science is a dynamic process with new information emerging all the time,”
says Julia Zichello, manager of the Sackler Educational Lab. “CSN more directly
links the hall to the hands-on experience in the lab.”

Coming soon from another student digital learning project: MicroRangers, a
mobile game to solve problems related to microbial organisms, biodiversity, and
human health, that will launch this fall as the Museum opens a special exhibition
on the human microbiome.

Download the full issue and read the whole thing here.

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