Natural History Museum of L.A. Simulates Submarine Exploration


An Ocean Experience is a museum education outreach program that visits Los Angeles middle schools. A 50-foot tractor-trailer simulates a submersible dive off the coast of Southern California. Students act as marine scientists to discover ocean biodiversity through HD portholes and examine actual specimens in the interactive lab.

Nominating Company: New Media Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Venue: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles/An Ocean Experience, Los Angeles, California
Project: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles/An Ocean Experience
Category: Education & Healthcare

Natural History Museum of L.A. Simulates Submarine ExplorationBACKGROUND
The Ocean Experience program was designed around the new vision of instruction reflected in the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The 45-minute educational program is held in a modified 50-foot tractor-trailer that simulates a human-occupied submersible dive to the bottom of the San Pedro Channel. Students experience the work of a marine biologist first-hand and are given an opportunity to make observations, develop questions and discover the biodiversity of the local coast. The experience includes 12 HD screens, synchronized LED lighting, sound design and real marine footage supplied by underwater cinematographer Howard Hall, NOAA and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

The goals of the program are to 1) increase students’ awareness, interest and appreciation for the ocean, 2) provide students with first-hand experience with research techniques used by scientists, and 3) enhance students’ ability to think like scientists and develop open-ended scientific questions.

This unique and exciting project posed some significant challenges: 1) the physical space was constrained with the added need to maintain all floor space to accommodate up to 20 students and three educators at a time 2) the exhibit is mobile, driven school-to-school weekly, so it needed to be rugged 3) the client wanted to create a realistic submersible using very large HD screens to show the ocean and an interactive touch-table but had a very limited budget 4) the A/V system needed to be “bulletproof’ with no down time. The operators were educators, not A/V techs, and they would be on school campuses often far from tech support. 5) the end users of the exhibit were very active 11-to-1 3-year-old kids, so all surfaces had to be both durable and easily cleaned.

We developed creative solutions for each challenge. Inspired by actual submersibles, the architect created curved walls that could hide the video equipment and maximize floor space. Samsung displays and BrightSign network players made it possible for us to deliver a high quality experience that worked repeatedly without downtime and was still affordable. We applied our experience with building portable broadcast solutions and were able to create customized mounts to hold the fragile A/V tech. Rather than an expensive interactive multi-touch table, we designed a custom RFID solution that allowed students to place actual marine specimen jars on a table that triggered stunning HD footage of the animals in their natural habitat and ask marine scientists questions about that animal’s behaviors via a set of four interactive buttons. Finally, screens were covered by plexi and porthole covers that were easy to clean, yet could be removed if tech access was needed.

Natural History Museum of L.A. Simulates Submarine ExplorationRESULTS
An independent survey of students and teachers who participated in the program was commissioned by the museum. When asked about what they had gained from the program, students had a number of positive things to say: 87 percent of students felt that participating helped them understand how scientists explore marine habitats, and 67 percent felt that it increased their interest in science. The overwhelming majority (91 percent) of students felt they had an increased knowledge and appreciation for the ocean.

The following quote reflects student reactions: “l think it was really fun, because it made me feel like we were actually underwater.” A recurring remark from the students related to the exposure to new careers in science. They enjoyed having the feeling that they were working in authentic scientific research settings. “I liked that feeling that we are actually on a real submarine and that we were like a real scientist.”

Creative Direction/Design/Project Management: Flux
Production Company: Logan
Project Architect: hughesumbanhowar architects
AV Integration: New Media Hollywood


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