New Adler exhibition explores the universe

Julianna Nunez

The Adler Planetarium presented its new exhibition, The Universe: A Walk through Space and Time, to the media and museum campers Tuesday and is slated to open to the public Friday.

The new exhibition on the universe’s origin was built in a year on a one million dollar budget. Karen Carney, associate vice president for Visitor Experience and Learning, said the idea for the exhibition was considered four years ago, when organizers noticed some key questions about the universe weren’t being answered.

“At the Adler we do a lot of space science… we did some human space exploration and the solar system and the Milky Way, but we didn’t have anything before that… took on the biggest questions in astronomy and space science,” said Carney, the education lead for the exhibit. “We really wanted to make sure that we have that opportunity for people to explore those questions and also some of the cutting-edge interesting science that’s going on right now.”

In Pritzker Hall of Cosmology, Carney, along with astonomer Dr. Mark SubbaRao and Director of Experience Design Julian Jackson, welcomed the first visitors to explore the exhibition.

“We live in a really big universe and so we have a really big story to tell you,” SubbaRao said. “3,000 square feet and we’re covering 14 billion years of time and a hundred billion years of space. It’s a pretty exciting journey.”

After SubbaRao spoke, Jackson stepped forward and talked about the challenges of building the exhibition. One of the challenges he noted was the content the exhibition would be able to provide. Unlike other exhibitions at the planetarium, a display on the origins of the universe would not provide any artifacts for the planetarium to use, he said. Instead, the exhibition included videos and interactive displays for the visitors.

After the introductions, the directors of the exhibition cut the ribbon, and visitors were allowed to begin exploring the display.

According to Carney, the first part of the exhibition concentrates in the Big Bang, where the universe began. The first part of the exhibition allows guests to take a walk through a tunnel lit by an array of changing lights. After the tunnel, guests encounter two large, segmented screens which show pictures of Earth and space. The screens moved between a variety of images such as the Chicago skyline and the aurora.

According to Jackson, one of the first issues that confronted the exhibition coordinators was how to clearly present the concept of the universe to children.

“This is extremely exciting content and it’s where a lot of the best discoveries, in my opinion, are being made in science right now,” he said. “But it’s also pretty complex and it’s very easy to overwhelm people with the amount of content that we’re trying to deliver at any one time.”

Jackson said he had to think about what the exhibition could do for the public depending on what the public already knew and what it wanted more information on.

“We couldn’t cover everything, but if we could cover some of those things, we felt we were advancing people’s understanding and moving them to the next level,” he said.

Many of the children present were members of Adler’s Technology Camp, a summer educational program that teaches children how to use software and build robots.

Josie Kelpsas, 10, explored the exhibition with her fellow campers and counselors.

“(The exhibition) is really cool,” she said. “It taught me a lot about the Big Bang.”

Josie, who said she wants to become an astronomer, also said her favorite part of the exhibition was an interactive display on distance in space. The program first allows visitors to send email from a variety of locations in the universe, and then notifies the user how fast the message sends. Josie chose to send herself an email from the Voyager spacecraft, which she said takes 16 light hours.

Camp Instructor Brittany Ransom said she enjoyed the exhibition because it took advantage of its subject matter and innovative technology.

“As far as technology goes, this is a lot of new technology,” Ransom said. “It is far more engaging if you can touch the technology and interact with it.”

Jackson said she hopes the level of interaction the exhibition supplies will encourage children to explore the universe for themselves.

“I would love for them to walk away feeling a sense of wonder and appreciation for the amount of things that are in the universe,” Jackson said. “If people walk away with some sense of excitement about all of that, I would be very happy.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the Adler Planetarium. The Daily regrets the error.

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