Developing a dino exhibit

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by Ben
Publish date
15 February 2011
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Ben designs exhibitions at Scienceworks, Melbourne Museum and the Immigration Museum. He has previously worked designing sets for theatre, and running workshops for kids. Ben loves surprises and performing silly dances.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be working on the new animatronic dinosaur exhibition at Scienceworks called Explore-a-saurus. The dinos we’ve been given by Questacon are in need of a bit of a repair, repaint, and re-interpretation. We decided we needed to supplement the existing dinosaurs with new exhibits to present more scientifically-based themes and a more contemporary approach to palaeontology. No more daggy cargo pants and pith helmets for our paleos!

Our first step was to look at interesting overarching themes to base our interpretation on. They needed to respond to current research since paleontologists regularly make new discoveries that overturn previous understanding. They must be engaging for kids, put kids in the shoes of palaeontologists and demonstrate scientific practice. One element I am particularly interested in is the idea of absolute knowledge. The evidence is open to interpretation, and thus, our knowledge about dinosaurs changes due to new research on old material and discovery of new fossils.

Old dinosaur evolution chart An example of how our understanding of dinosaurs evolution has changed: this old chart in the MV collection suggests the dinosaur branch of the evolutionary tree was a dead end, but current research suggests some dinosaurs evolved into birds.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We decided the most interesting angle would be forensic palaeontology – a kind of CSI Cretaceous. We’re using the phrase ‘how we know what we know’ as the exhibition focus. Our interactives will use evidence-based research to demonstrate particular theories, and, if possible, show the palaeontologist’s methods,

With this in mind we turned to popular dinosaur culture – what do people want to know? What are the interesting facts which we can debunk or expand upon? We started with the way dinosaurs are portrayed in films and TV because this is the most prevalent form of education for kids! We looked at the way dinosaurs moved, how we know the sounds they made, the colour of their skin, whether they evolved to become birds or reptiles; and how well they could see. We came up with a 'how we know what we know' list and then another list of types of exhibit that we know Scienceworks visitors have liked in the past.

The interactive elements of the exhibition are now in the final stages of design before we move on to the manufacturing side, then comes the exhibition installation! Before you know it, it will be June 1, when Explore-a-saurus will open and visitors can come and try the interactive components for themselves.

Links:

Explore-a-saurus

MV Blog: Open wide! 

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Ben 16 February, 2011 13:50
I hadn't heard of Mary Anning, but I've now had a quick Wikipedia lesson! She sounds great - what a pioneer. Her story reminds me a bit of the Bone Wars between Edward Cope and Charles Marsh, but this was a lot more aggressive prospecting. I like being able imagine the personalities of Paleontologists. Unfortunately we don't have any Plesiosaurs in the exhibition, but we've got pretty much everything else! I bet we have some plesiosaur fossils in the collection though - I'll ask next time I'm down in the store...
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Peter Wilson 16 February, 2011 08:50
Hey Ben sounds awesome, great post! Can't wait to go exploring.
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Katie 16 February, 2011 08:01
Ben have you heard of Mary Anning? She discovered the first plesiosaur fossil. The plesiosaur is my favourite dinosaur by far.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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