Chicago Museum Features Tech Personalities In Video Exhibits

SOCORRO, N.M. September 9, 2010 – The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry visited New Mexico Tech in late June 2009 to film explosions, lightning and chemistry experiments for a new multimedia exhibit that debuted earlier this year.
The lightning exhibit room at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
A Tesla coil in the lightning exhibit
The fire exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry features a video of Dr. Christa Hockensmith discussing the chemistry of explosions.

Dr. Olivia Castellini, the museum’s senior exhibit developer, said she was pleased with the production trip to Socorro. She oversaw the filming by Cortina Productions of California. The crew filmed two segments with two different “screen stars.” Castellini designed the new permanent exhibit called “Science Storms,” which was unveiled earlier this year. The 26,000 square-foot exhibit is dedicated to basic physics and chemistry.

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry opened in 1933 and is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. The museum has dozens of exhibits, an IMAX theater, special events, live science experiments, hands-on activities and regular tours.

“We are committing ourselves to a presentation of basic science,” Castellini said. “Science is our natural desire to understand natural phenomena and how they work. The idea with Science Storms is that we are learning about science through these natural phenomena like fire, combustion and lightning.”

Senior Research Chemist Dr. Christa Hockensmith is featured in a 4-minute video explaining the chemical reactions in explosions. Former Master’s of Science Teaching student Elissa Eastvedt is the star of another 4-minute video – an interactive digital video exhibit discussing how thunderstorms become electrified and produce lightning. She then explains how she and other physicists trigger lightning by firing rockets into overhead thunderstorms.

“This exhibit means we’ll have international exposure that we couldn’t buy,” Hockensmith said. “I’ll bet our peer institutions will be green with envy. These exhibits will be there day after day, every day. The people who go to this museum are folks who have an interest in science and engineering. We are extremely lucky they chose us.”

One of Castellini’s staff members heard Hockensmith speak at the ETech Conference in California in early 2009 and suggested the Tech scientist because of her straight-forward speaking style and dynamic personality.

“This project has been going on for several years,” Castellini said. “We did extensive content research to find the people who are the tops in their fields and we came across New Mexico Tech.”

The film crew visited during the inaugural Explosives Camp that Hockensmith organized through the Energetic Materials Research Testing Center, or EMRTC. Hockensmith’s video is part of the “Fire” portion of the exhibit.

Elissa Eastvedt, a 2010 Tech graduate with a Master's in Science Teaching, works summers at Langmuir Lab. She is featured in a video exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
Christa Hockensmith being filmed for the Chicago museum exhibit during the summer of 2009.
Hockensmith spent a good deal of time explaining why she chose science as a career, including a movie about Marie Curie she saw as a child.

“Go to the laboratory and discover something new. Then go to lunch. Then come back and discover something new. I thought, ‘That’s a cool way to live’,” Hockensmith said. “It’s a physical high and a mental and emotional high to discover something new.”

Hockensmith was filmed mostly at work – in the field, in the lab and in the classroom; but she was also filmed in front of a green screen.

“With Christa, we approached the idea of understanding the chemistry of explosives to allow people to be more informed about chemistry and how it allows people to do cool research,” Castellini said.

Eastvedt spent several months writing her script. Her screen experience was predominantly several hours talking on camera in front of a green screen. She repeated her scripted lines until the film crew got it just right. A resident of Long Beach, Calif, she is a high school physics teacher and has spent nine summers working at Langmuir Lab at New Mexico Tech. Much of job and research involves lightning, firing rockets and triggering strikes. She first was inspired to work at Langmuir Lab after watching a Nova program about lightning that included footage from Langmuir Lab.

“My job is to launch rockets and make sure everyone gets data [from lightning strikes],” Eastvedt said. “The high-speed camera gives you a new perspective of what’s going on. It shows a lot of unanswered questions.”

Four years ago, she entered the Master’s of Science Teaching program at New Mexico Tech. She earned her degree earlier this year.

For the Chicago museum video, Eastvedt talks about lightning and thunderstorms. The result of her interactive exhibit is that museum-goers are able to launch virtual rockets that trigger lightning. Castellini compared Eastvedt’s portion of the exhibit to a digital video game.

“You walk up and get to see me talking and explaining what goes on in a thunderstorm,” Eastvedt said. “Then, you’ll get to try to launch a virtual rocket. You’ll touch a button and launch one of three rockets. The end of the show will be high-speed video of triggered lightning. So, kids will think they’ve just triggered lightning.”

For the museum exhibit, Eastvedt explains how scientists are expanding their knowledge of lightning and electricity by analyzing data captured on high-speed video. She said this Chicago Museum of Science and Industry exhibit gives great exposure to the cutting edge research happening at New Mexico Tech.

The new “Science Storms” wing is an ambitious undertaking for the Chicago museum, with the goal of explaining both the fundamentals of science and chemistry, as well as shedding light on how research is conducted.

“This exhibit is as large as some medium-sized museums,” Castellini said. “We are the largest science museum in the country and this is an entire wing. There is nothing else like it in the world.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech