“Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze at the Museum of Science & Industry” by S.M. O’Connor

The Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) in Chicago opened Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze, a permanent exhibit described by one source as 7,500-square-feet and by other sources as 8,000-square-feet about mathematical patterns in nature, as well as music, art, and architecture, on Wednesday, October 8, 2014.  To create the exhibit, the Museum of Science and Industry handled content development and graphic design in-house.  Luci Creative was responsible for exhibition design.[1]  Leviathan, which worked closely with M.S.I.’s curatorial staff, was responsible for film and interactive design. [2]   Joel Corelitz of Waveplant composed the original score.[3]  Lightswitch was responsible for lighting design.[4]   Ravenswood Studio was responsible for exhibit fabrication.[5]  Harvest Moon Studio produced the script.[6]

“The Museum is thrilled to open an exhibit that illuminates mathematics and numbers in a fun, interactive way,” stated Kurt Haunfelner, M.S.I.’s Vice President of Exhibits and Collections. “By showcasing that fascinating numerical patterns are all around us, we hope that both kids and adults alike will become inspired to discover more about how math, as a part of the STEM fields, is a strong and important presence in our daily lives.”

“What we didn’t want was to hit museum guests over the head with complex equations and mathematical principles” explained Kevin Snow, Creative Director of Luci Creative. [7]   A.J. Goehle, Director of Strategy and Design at Luci Creative, added, “We wanted to create an exciting environmental for guests to learn about math – without them being aware they’re learning about math!” [8]

At the entrance of Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze has lenticular images and a large-format film on a curving, twenty-five-foot-long by seven-feet-high immersive screen with 4838×1400 resolution delineate repeating patterns in nature, such as spirals, occurrences of the golden ratio (ɸ), Voroinoi patterns, and fractal branching.  The centerpiece of this mathematics exhibit is the 1,800-square-foot Mirror Maze.  Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze occupies the space on the Main Floor in the southwest corner of the Farrell Family Court (South Court) that formerly housed Petroleum Planet.  One might recall that exhibit also featured a Mirror Maze, but the new one is much more elaborate.  A guest in the Mirror Maze will find himself or herself surrounded by equilateral triangle chambers that repeat in reflected images.  According to Luci Creative, the equilateral triangle system highlights “symmetry, repetition, and tessellation.”

This exhibit should be of particular interest to teachers and homeschooling parents interested in S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education.  The Museum of Science and Industry’s Center for the Advancement of Science Education created pre-visit and post-visit lessons and field trip exploration guide that correlate what students learn in Numbers in Nature with what they learn in the classroom.  These documents are PDF files that can be found here to be downloaded and printed out.

NiN_MAZE_0076

Figure 1 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: The centerpiece of Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze is the 1,800-square-foot Mirror Maze.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry ChicagoFigure 2 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: These schoolchildren are exploring the 1,800-square-foot mirror maze in Numbers by Nature: A Mirror Maze during a preview on October 6, 2014.

The final, interactive gallery outside the Mirror Maze has twelve stations spread out over three sections called “Patterns in Nature,” “Patterns in Yourself,” and “Patterns in Music, Art and Architecture.”  Here, guests learn at interactive displays and stations about patterns and ratios in nature (including the human body), music, art, and architecture.  Hands-on activities in “Patterns in Nature” include one station where one can draw patterns on a digital screen – such as connecting dots to draw spirals and creating Fibonacci rectangles – and see real-world objects that show the same pattern; a station where one uses templates to try to align a spiral to a series of objects from nature and the manmade world; and a station where one learns how fractal patterns are used to make C.G.I. (computer-generated images) landscapes, such as mountain ranges, in movies.

The exhibit is next door to Fab Lab and ToyMaker 3000: An Adventure in Automation and close to the Coal Mine entrance.  It is covered by general admission.

NIN_mud_608

Figure 3 Credit: Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Mathematical patterns appear throughout nature, such as this cracked, dried mud.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry ChicagoFigure 4 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Reveal the ratios and proportions in the body by stepping in front of a large, two-way mirror and striking poses, as this girl did during a preview on October 6, 2014.

 

In “Patterns in Yourself,” one can step in front of a large, two-way mirror and strike various poses while a projection superimposes patterns and proportions on one’s body in real time; look through an eyepiece to observe how blood vessels branch within one’s eyes; compare similar patterns, like fractal branching, that appear in the human body and in nature as a whole by viewing a plastinated human lung and a Lictenberg figure, a sculpture that captures a lightning strike in a piece of acrylic; and observe just how symmetry – or the lack thereof – is present in the human face.  In “Patterns in Music, Art and Architecture,” one can compose a piece of music using symmetry; create a musical scale with mathematical proportions using a playable harp; and discover and compare similar patterns in architecture from varying parts of the world from the Taj Mahal to the Beijing National Stadium.  The exhibit also features an array of artifacts—Bighorn sheep antlers, honeycomb and an aluminum anthill casting—that demonstrate real examples of patterns in objects from the natural world.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 5 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Guests can learn about fractal branching by exploring digital animation, as this girl did during a preview on October 6, 2014.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 6 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: With interactive touchscreens, guests can explore patterns hidden within everyday objects.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry ChicagoFigure 7 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Interactive touchscreens in Numbers by Nature, such as the one this boy used during a preview on October 6, 2014, allow guests to explore hidden patterns hidden in nature.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 8 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: An immersive theater in Numbers by Nature displays a large-format media piece that introduces guests (such as these schoolchildren during a preview on October 6, 2014) to a new way of seeing the world around them.

NiN_Maze_0176Figure 9 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: In Numbers by Nature: A Mirror Maze, guests can navigate a seemingly infinite 1,800-square-foot mirror maze, as these adults did on December 4, 2014.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry ChicagoFigure 10 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: At some of the dead ends within the Mirror Maze, guests can learn additional facts and solve mathematical puzzles.

Numbers In Nature Exhibit @ the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 11 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: The 1,800-square-foot mirror maze in Numbers by Nature: A Mirror Maze features a pattern of repeating triangles, as seen here during a preview on October 6, 2014.

The permanent exhibit Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze has proven sufficiently popular that the Museum of Science and Industry turned again to Luci Interactive to build a traveling version that can expand from 7,000-square-feet to 10,000-square-feet.  Luci Interactive was responsible for exhibit master planning, interpretative planning, content development, exhibit design, graphic design, interactive development, production management, and project management.  Luci Interactive stated, “The traveling exhibition was designed and built for easy crating, quick set-up, and tight storage.  Tensile fabric structures, modular graphics, forklift-friendly bases, and Erector Set-like connectors allow the exhibit to be easily set up in a matter of days.”  Leviathan, Lightswitch, Ravenswood Studios, and Harvest Moon Studio also worked on the project. The traveling exhibit has a theater, a maze, and a discovery area.  The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia became the first museum to host a traveling version of this math exhibit, A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature.  It opened on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 and ran through Monday, September 4, 2017.

Currently, the exhibit is at the Museum of Science, Boston.  Later this year, it will travel to the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix and Spring Preserve Las Vegas.

“When we first started the process of creating Numbers in Nature, we spoke with a lot of guests who said they didn’t like math or were not good at it,” recounted Anne Rashford, M.S.I.’s Director of Special Exhibitions and Business Relationships.  “We wanted to make math approachable by highlighting how numbers and patterns surround us, from the leaves that grow on trees to the amazingly intricate colonies ants create underground.”[9]

“We’ve seen an incredible response to A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature from guests, with an overwhelming number of adults noting this exhibit opens their eyes to the fact that math is everywhere, helping them to see the world in an entirely new way,” stated John Beckman, M.S.I.’s Director of Design and Development.  “We are thrilled that we were able to lean into Luci’s expertise to help us travel the exhibit and help thousands more people examine and experience the beautiful patterns of everyday life.”[10]

“There’s a common misconception that math is daunting and, quite frankly, irrelevant to the general public,” stated A.J. Goehle, Director of Strategy & Design at Luci Creative.  “Luci was challenged with making math in the everyday world accessible, relevant and fun, without intimidating museum visitors with complex or scary numerical equations.  The exhibit is designed to inspire visitors to leave the museum with a newfound appreciation of math, and help them to see the world in a new way; mathematical patterns are everywhere!  The exhibit has even become one of the most Instagrammable exhibits ever to appear at The Franklin Institute.”[11]

Located in the northeast corner of Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry stands on 57th Street at the intersection with Lake Shore Drive.  Currently, the Museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but during peak periods (including March 24-30, 2018 and April 2-8, 2018) it is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.  The Website is https://wwwmsichicago.org/.  The phone number is (773) 684-1414.

 

[1] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[2] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[3] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[4] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[5] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[6] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[7] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[8] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Mad for Math,” (https://segd.org/mad-math) Accessed 03/02/18

[9] Society for Experiential Graphic Design, “Hitting the Road – How ‘Numbers in Nature’ Became a Traveling Exhibit,” (https://segd.org/hitting-road%E2%80%94how-%E2%80%9Cnumbers-nature%E2%80%9D-became-traveling-exhibit) Accessed 03/02/18

[10] “Award-winning Numbers in Nature exhibit expands to Philadelphia,” artdaily.com (http://artdaily.com/news/97542/Award-winning-Numbers-in-Nature-exhibit-expands-to-Philadelphia#.WpkIC-jwaUl) Accessed 03/02/18

[11] Ibid

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