Museums as Inspiration: California Science Center

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how museums are a great possible source of inspiration for journalists and multimedia producers. The next few posts will explore how the age old institutions are incorporating new media into their exhibits.

The California Science Center in Los Angeles is a part of a new generation of museums in which interactivity and hands-on exhibits enhance the visitor’s expereince.

One of the Center’s most fascinating exhibits is its earthquake simulator. Visitors walk into a dimly lit room constructed to resemble a control center and watch as a talking head explains the earthquake safety features of the museum. Suddenly, there is a loud rumbling, the TV signal begins to crackle and the floor of the room actually moves, giving awe stricken visitors the sensation of a real earthquake. After the 4D sensation is over, the exit leads to a series of models and printed materials that further drive home the point of earthquake safety.

But what does this have to do with journalism? Just like the previously mentioned online news games, the exhibit is an example of immersive education. Rather than having photo slideshows or text that explains a news story or phenomenon, online multimedia can actually place site visitors in the experience and give them a greater understanding of the concept behind the news.


(Earthquake exhibit, Flickr photos by diabetesisfun and Leadershipper)

The California Science Center is full of similar exhibits that encourage visitors to experience rather than be preached to. One area designed to teach visitors about the effective of fuel cell energy uses a full-sized car, cut in half and equipped with computer screens, to explain the science. Like the earthquake experience, the exhibit is given a boost with traditional placards and computer screens.

Other interactive exhibits that may or not be recreatable online include a hurricane simulator and a lever which explains how balance and force can be used to easily lift a large pick up truck.


(l to r) Fuel cell exhibit, hurricane simulator, large lever outside of the museum. Flickr photos by Nick Humphries and Beautiful Freaks

The Center has many captivating exhibits that encourage new ways of learning, but none so much as Tess, a 50-foot woman with exposed organs and a great sense of humor. The “body simulator” was built to teach museum guests about homeostasis, the body’s process of maintaining equilibrium while reacting two external factors. As Tess and her animated assistant Walt discuss the various components of the body, organs light up, her blood (a series of tube lights) pumps and gauges painted on a nearby wall swing back and forth. The ten-minute long demonstration is a lot more exciting than reading about homeostasis in a news article or worse, having a talking head discuss the process.

In short, there are many concepts that text or moving images just won’t capture, something museums like the California Science Center are hip to. Instead of simply using multimedia to rehash print or broadcast stories, consider using Flash or interactive video to create a more immersive experience.

Also on 10,000 Words:

Museums as Inspiration: Museum of Modern Art
Museums as Inspiration: Brooklyn Museum