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JME in Action: The Field Museum

August 4, 2014

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." 

- Daniel Hudson Burnham

 

This summer I spent a day at the Field Museum in Chicago. It was just your typical day on vacation - great food, walking the city streets enjoying the phenomenal weather, riding the 'L' train, and of course catching a few dinosaurs. The Field Museum offers an array of exhibits, including Sue the dinosaur, one-of-a-kind discoveries from the World's Columbian Exposition, ancient American artifacts, and countless treasures of the animal world.

 

Sue holds the record as the largest, best-preserved and most complete T-Rex ever discovered.

 

While exploring the treasures of the Field Museum, I ran across some surprisingly cool and modern technological discoveries - Joint Media Engagement (JME) opportunities embedded in the exhibits. 

 

So how does a concept like JME come into play in a natural history museum? It all started in 1893 when Chicago hosted the World's Fair, marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. It lasted 6 months and had 27.5 million visitors. Under the direction of Chicago's architects, chiefly Daniel Burnham who arguably was one of the country's most influential urban architects, magnificent buildings housed unique and state-of-the-art collections and inventions unlike any other showcase at the time. Many of the collections were donated to the city of Chicago following the fair, resulting in the creation of the Field Museum. A current exhibit included items from the World's Fair that have never been on public display since their debut over a hundred years ago.

 

 

The exhibit was more than looking at items housed in display cases. When you walked in you heard the sounds of the fair as photographs and short movies of the fair grounds were projected throughout the rooms. The curators helped the fair come alive as you walked through the exhibit. Some of the artifacts were presented in untraditional cases that looked like shipping crates or grand wooden cases, similar to ones seen in the old photographs. 

 

 

Two Peruvian mummy bundles were at the fair dating back to AD 1100-1450. CT scans had been taken by scientists, uncovering the contents of the bundles without disrupting them. It was one thing to see a picture of the CT scans, but curators took an innovative step in making the scans interactive for visitors. 

 

 

Visitors had the opportunity to explore the scans layer by layer and at various angles. A touch table allowed the visitor to manipulate the scans while a second screen projected a mirror image for others to see. Such technology not only let visitors interact with the artifacts, but also unknowingly inspired them to return to the original case to learn more about the bundles. Every aspect of the bundle was scanned and available on the touch table - the bundle, contents, skeleton, and teeth. 

 

 

CT scans also provided detailed analysis of three mysterious figurines within the bundle. It was reported that the Peruvians often buried small ceramic offerings with the mummy. Information gained from the scans was detailed enough that curators were able to recreate the figurines using a 3D printer. 

 

 

BonangGamelan instruments were also on display at the World's Columbian Exposition. Several instruments were featured, all of which appeared to be percussive instruments from Java and Bali. Below is a , which was played with a padded stick.

 

 

Museum visitors were given the opportunity to play each of the Gamelan instruments using a digital touch screen. Visitors selected the desired instrument, pulling it into the section of the screen closest to them. Participants could touch various components of the instrument creating various sounds and thus their own tunes. 

 

 

Periodically, the instruments automatically played together producing a traditional Javanese tune. As each instrument digitally played, various parts of the instrument were lit corresponding to the note being played. Participants could play along tapping the parts of the instrument in front of them as they were lit.

 

What qualified this as a Joint Media Experience?

1. There were at least two people participating in the media experience. At this particular moment there was a collection of children and adults. 

 

2. A minimum of one media source - the touch table - was utilized.

 

3. Depending on the number of participants and the activity, the common referent was the table, either as a whole or in smaller sections. On one occasion, an adult led a group taking time to talk about and play each of the instruments. At another time, a group of 2-3 participants played instruments in a smaller portion of the touch table.  And finally, when the instruments demonstrated a traditional tune, participants were drawn to the table as a whole.

 

4 and 5. The participants shifted their attention between the instruments in front of them and the other participants. Visitors played their instruments but stopped to watch their neighbor and talk with them about the experience. 

 

6. Interaction occurred between the participants and the media source. The visitors selected, viewed, and touched the instrument to play their own tune. During computer-guided activities, participants watched and played along, touching the corresponding keys.

 

7. Engagement occurred between the participants. Each person may have been playing their own instrument, but everyone at the table heard the collection of tunes throughout the experience. Comments and conversation was made between the players regarding the experience and Javanese tune.

 

The last bit of JME was spotted in the Biomechanics exhibit. Here visitors discovered how the shape of a bird's feather affects it's flight by using large feathers to spin in a chair, examined how a cheetah's body is designed for sprinting through viewer controlled stop-action photography, and experienced first hand the force a giraffe's heart must exert to pump blood up it's long neck (well as best offered by a mock giraffe and plastic hand pump). 

 

In order to illustrate how heat is stored and exits the human body, interactive infrared thermography allowed visitors to see it for themselves, literally.

 

 

A real time sensor detected the infrared energy being released by objects, and in this case, the people standing in front of it. The information was converted to temperature and viewed via a flat screen (see the vertical bar on the right). Visitors saw themselves and others in real time, comparing and contrasting the visual differences displayed. Women tended to have cold noses and hair appeared relatively cool, debunking the myth that body heat primarily escapes through one's head.

 

 

The technology infused within these exhibits created opportunities unlike any other. Guests of all ages had unique, hands-on interactions with the artifacts and science on display at the Field Museum, while preserving the delicate relics preserved by time.

 

 As a new interactive standard has been set, what will they think of next? As new technology is created and integrated into our daily experiences, the past is not obsolete. Like Daniel Burnham, we too dream big, moving forward into an unknown reality. We not only use technology to create tomorrow's experiences, we also use new innovations to forge new discoveries, answering questions raised by the past.

 

Want to learn more about using JME? Download our free informational handout.

 

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