Our work in the Verge: “20,000-year Old Artifacts, 21st Century Technology”

A new piece came out a few days ago in the Verge, “20,000-year-old artifacts, 21st century technology: Museums are turning to virtual reality, apps, and interactive experiences to keep tech-savvy visitors engaged“. It’s a lovely overview of how a number of NYC-based museums are taking on this topic.

The work of my museum shows up in a number of places. Below I’ll highlight the work from my area, Science Bulletins:

In nearly two decades working at the American Museum of Natural History, Vivian Trakinski, director of the museum’s Science Bulletins, has witnessed the evolution of visitor experiences firsthand. Originally hired to produce short science documentaries, Trakinski now spends most of her time working on data visualizations in a variety of digital formats.

“When I came here [in 1999], we were focused on video,” she says. She still produces videos, but says that “now, we are focusing on more immersive and interactive platforms […] People want to be able to curate their own content. People want to be engaged in the creation of it.”

 Image: American Museum of Natural History

Trakinski’s team is currently working on a number of augmented reality prototypes that will allow visitors to more actively engage with the museum’s specimens and datasets, including an immersive AR experience of what it would be like to play golf on Mars, using data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Context Camera. Her team also took a CT scan of a Mako shark and created an AR experience in which visitors can look through a Google Tango tablet or a stereoscopic AR headset, see the scanned skeleton overlaid on top of the museum’s actual shark model, and make the shark swim or bite.

“It’s not a passive experience where we’re telling you something,” says Trakinski. “[Visitors] are actually creating the learning through the interaction with this real artifact of science.”

And then later on:

For Trakinski and her work on data visualization, the future revolves around “communal creativity,” like open-source projects that elicit involvement from partner institutions and outside developers. She cites the Museum of Natural History’s current involvement in the NASA-funded project OpenSpace — an open-source data visualization software to communicate space exploration to the general public — as an example of a growing movement.

“I think sharing resources, sharing knowledge, open-source software development, customization, [and] using common tools is something of a trend that I would see driving all of our work forward in a communal context,” she says.

I recommend reading the entire piece here.

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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