Atmosphere: The Science Museum Opens Amazing Interactive Gallery to Explain Climate Change (Photos)


Image by Leonora Oppenheim

We first heard about The Science Museum's new climate change gallery back in March this year when we read an exasperating report in The Times saying the museum was "revising the contents of its new climate science gallery to reflect the wave of scepticism that has engulfed the issue in recent months." It seemed a shaky, less than confident start, so we've been waiting to see what the fuss was all about ever since. Now we're pleased to say that the gallery is open in London and TreeHugger was first in line for the Atmosphere experience.
Image via The Science Museum
Avoiding the Climate Debate
Sensibly The Science Museum has avoided the potential political pitfalls of choosing between the 'Climate Change Gallery' and the 'Climate Science Gallery' and has just simply called the space Atmosphere. But still the curators are at pains to point out that this new exhibition simply communicates the facts of climate science and that the museum takes no position on any cultural climate debate.


Image by Leonora Oppenheim
Layers of Digital Technologies
The gallery space, brilliantly designed by Casson Mann, is contained in just one compact mezzanine level, which on first impression appears rather small. But, once you start moving through the gallery, you quickly realise the enormous amount of information that permeates the exhibition at every level, mostly thanks to the inherently compact nature of the digital and touch screen technologies developed by creative agencies Nick Bell Design and All of Us.


Image by Leonora Oppenheim
Interactive Learning
The Science Museum is famous for brilliant interactive learning that engages adults and children alike. And this gallery feels like it has arrived not a moment too soon to play an important part in making climate science accessible and interesting for the general public.

The Atmosphere Gallery has, as expected, uses up to the minute technology to enable visitors to not just play interactive games on specific subjects around climate science, but to manipulate the whole gallery space through a central console that visualises how much carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere.


Image by Leonora Oppenheim
A Dynamic Space
After a few moments of being in the Atmosphere Gallery you realise you're walking though a constantly changing environment. Above your head there are cloud like translucent ribbons weaving their way across the ceiling with little triangles (visualised carbon) floating across them. Makes you wish we could visualise carbon dioxide in the real world.

The brightly coloured floor under foot is also moving subtly as projected digital images continually morph and tessellate like moving tectonic plates. This dynamic space, although digitally manipulated, amazingly manages to give some impression of the living and breathing world outside and how we interact with it.

Image by Leonora Oppenheim
Illustrating the Complexity of Climate Change
While all the digital wonders look visually stunning in the space, it was easy to feel slightly bamboozled and distracted by how they actually worked. The real actual complexity of controlling carbon emissions in our atmosphere was accurately reflected (unintentionally perhaps) by the slightly unclear rules of the game.

But that's not to say that younger digital natives won't get it straight away. It will be interesting to see how different age groups respond to the different levels of digital interaction. We were told that the gallery is aimed at families, children of 8 yrs and upwards, and adults with no specialist knowledge. My impression is that perhaps the latter, less tech savvy, group will be happy the exhibition is nicely balanced with physical exhibits.


Image via The Science Museum
The First Ice Core on Display in the World
There are models of climate measurement tools from the high tech (satellite altimeters) to the low tech (tree trunk growth rings). The new technologies section boasts solar panels and a prototype of the Riversimple hydrogen fuel cell car. Black and white portraits of historic climate scientists, such as Guy Callendar and John Tyndall, lend an old school museum feel to one corner, while in another area the past and present are brought together in the display of an Antarctic ice core (a world first apparently), holding trapped air bubbles from 700 years ago.


Image by Leonora Oppenheim
David Shrigley's House of Cards
And finally to offset all the science and technology The Science Museum has engaged in a bit of good old fashioned creative symbolism by commissioning, arguably the least techy artist in the world, the humourist iIllustrator David Shrigley, to summarise climate change in one large mural at the back of the gallery. This is the first in a series of commissioned artworks for the gallery space.

Shrigley, ever the master of the concise direct message, has simply painted an enormous house of playing cards which, appropriately, looks ready to collapse at any moment. I was amused to see though, that even Shrigley's static artwork was accompanied by an explanatory digital touchscreen.

A Finely Balanced Atmosphere
This gallery is interactive to the last, but while the fascination with the possibilities of digital threatens to overload and possibly over complicate an already very complex subject, I think in the end Atmosphere just about achieves the right balance between visual drama, clear information and playful education. There are certainly hours, if not days, of scientific exploration to be had in there.

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Tags: Carbon Dioxide | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Science | London | United Kingdom