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Charged: American Museum of Natural History’s expansion sparks new digital experiences

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Science is at the core of many of today’s most pressing issues: human health, climate change and biodiversity conservation. An expansion of The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation will address the equally critical need to address key challenges in STEM education.

 Prototype virtual reality experience, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, N.Y.

Photo: © AMNH/R. Mickens Prototype virtual reality experience, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, N.Y.

The new 235,000-square-foot, six-story facility, expected to open in 2020, will join the museum’s existing galleries and enhance circulation.

“The Gilder Center will allow students to carry out research projects in data visualization and assembly that mirror those conducted by museum scientists, and better prepare them for secondary education and the workforce,” said Scott Rohan, senior publicist for American Museum of Natural History. “Learning spaces will provide students with access to advanced scientific tools and methods of 21st-century disciplines, such as computational science and genomics, as well as specimens and artifacts from the museum collections.”

Rohan said while plans for the Gilder Center are underway, the museum is in a highly experimental phase. For example, the museum’s technology experts are collaborating with the institution’s scientists to visualize the artifacts of modern science, which are increasingly large data sets.

“Using emerging technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality, these collaborations have brought big data to life in a range of projects,” Rohan said. “This includes overlaying CT scan data on a Mako shark model in the museum’s Hall of Biodiversity and the development of a virtual reality experience that educates users about insect anatomy.”

Explorer is the museum’s current flagship app that allows visitors to personalize their on-site experience by using location-detecting technology. By combining a student’s location and their selection of up to a dozen interests, the app serves up a customized list of exhibits that recalibrates as one moves through the museum.

Explorer app, Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, N.Y.

Photo: © AMNH/R. Mickens Explorer app, Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, N.Y.

“For instance, if the ‘Really Big’ interest was selected, a student might be offered directions to the iconic blue whale.” Rohan said. “As they move toward it, Explorer recommends other ‘Really Big’ points of interest along the way.”

Other features of Explorer include an “Avatour” augmented reality adventure and a quiz-based game called Tree of Life.

“The proliferation of mobile devices, along with the emergence of new technologies like voice and conversational user interfaces — and the suite of mixed, augmented and virtual reality technologies — means that it is no longer enough to focus on only mobile apps,” Rohan said. “As we plan for the Gilder Center, we recognize the need to develop an overall digital visitor experience for not only the new building, but ultimately the entire museum, that seamlessly integrates visitor-owned devices, existing in-gallery media and unimagined new technology.”

New learning “zones” and classrooms will directly address the need to enhance STEM teaching and learning, and enable teachers and students to access the museum’s extensive scientific resources.

“The museum’s education facilities and offerings will be transformed by the Gilder Center project in the museum’s most comprehensive addition and modernization of educational spaces in nearly 90 years,” Rohan said.

For more information, call 212-769-5100 or visit amnh.org.

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About Author

Cortney Erndt, Associate Editor

Cortney Erndt oversees Student Group Tour magazine and contributes to all Group Tour Media publications, online and in print. She has an affinity for adventure travel; find her on a sky ledge — maybe sky diving — and reporting on it. Her favorite destinations connect cityscapes with captivating culture and good coffee.

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