Mike Horn’s Life on Earth Exhibit Now on Display at Field Museum

Mike Horn’s Life on Earth Exhibit Now on Display at Field Museum

Mike Horn at Field Museum

The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago is now displaying an innovative exhibit developed by SESP assistant professor Michael Horn and his colleagues. The Life on Earth installation invites discovery about evolution and the history of life on Earth.

"For the first time, we're enabling visitors to explore the entire tree of life in one interactive exhibit. You can take an awe-inspiring journey from the very earliest organisms that appeared on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago, to the remarkable diversity of species that we see today," says Horn, a faculty member in the SESP Learning Sciences program.

Located on the upper level of the museum in the Evolving Planet area, Life on Earth allows museum visitors to view, touch and explore more than 70,000 related species through hands-on activities. Visualization of large scientific databases is one of the innovative aspects of the exhibit.

“Fly through the branches of the interactive tree of life to explore the incredible biodiversity of our planet and uncover the shared evolutionary history of all living things,” reads the introductory text.

To improve museum visitors’ understanding of evolution, Life on Earth uses interactive tabletop technology, which invites collaboration among family and friends. The exhibit contains three types of activities:

  • The DeepTree visualization allows visitors to “zoom” through thousands of images of living species, seeing the traits they share and how their evolutionary histories diverge.
  • The FloTree activity allows users to simulate how organisms change over generations and how new species form.
  • A Build-a-Tree puzzle game lets visitors construct tree diagrams to show the evolutionary relationships of organisms.

The interdisciplinary project team that created the Life on Earth exhibit includes computer scientists, learning scientists and biologists. In addition to Horn, the lead developers are Chia Shen of Harvard University, Judy Diamond of University of Nebraska and E. Margaret Evans of University of Michigan.

The exhibit is also on display at the California Academy of Sciences, the University of Nebraska State Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The National Science Foundation funded the development of the Life on Earth exhibit. 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 5/29/13