Lindsey Brown and her son Will, 7, try on gloves to test their warmth on an ice block representing arctic cold.
From a tent in a tropical rain forest to a cabin in the Arctic to a balloon ride over Africa, the “Earth Explorers” exhibit takes you around the world.
And the whole global experience takes place at the Museum of Science and Industry, presented by National Geographic.
The exhibit highlights rain forests, oceans, polar regions, mountains, caves and the African savanna. Mixed into the eco-zones are facts about Chicago, such as the diverse fish population in Lake Michigan – which totals 32 species.
The 6,000-square-foot space packs in activities from simple puzzles to an elaborate and realistic "ride" in a hot air balloon. “This exhibit is really for people four to 84,” said Anne Rashford, director of temporary exhibitions.
In the Polar Region, visitors can stand inside a cabin filled with books, canned food, a stove-top and speakers blasting sounds of the fierce, arctic winds. Next to the stovetop, a puzzle challenges visitors to figure out which food combinations add up to 5,000 calories - the minimum daily intake necessary because of the extra effort to keep warm, sled and pursue other activities in the snow and fierce cold.
“With temperatures of 40 below and colder, you’ll need plenty of fuel to burn (food) and the right clothing and gear to thrive in these harsh conditions,” it says in one of the journals on exhibit.
On the other side of the cabin visitors can test the warmth of three different gloves on an ice block and learn how to layer clothing to effectively trap in heat.
Katie German, 10, from Ann Arbor, Mich. enjoyed learning how to survive in arctic weather at the exhibit and would like to visit Antarctica. “I am a hockey player and I play in rinks and they’re pretty cold. So I would like to see what it would be like in even colder weather,” she said.
In a cave environment, Mexican Tetras, or Blind Cave Fish, swim in an aquarium. These fish, found in pitch-dark Central American caves, have no eyes. Instead, they use sensory organs called lateral lines to detect movement in water. The Mexican Tetras are the only live animal display and was added to the exhibit when it came to Chicago.
The hot air balloon faces a giant screen displaying an aerial view of animals running in the African savanna. Visitors can stand in the balloon’s basket, pull the red handle and go for a soar.
Each eco-zone features a National Geographic explorer and their personal explorer’s journal filled with photos and notes about what they experienced and learned on their adventures.
Visitors receive an explorer’s guidebook of their own as they enter the exhibit. This guidebook includes clues and questions to answer about each of the eco-zones on one side. On the other side is a section titled, “Explore Your Neighborhood” which includes activities for visitors to do at home. This scavenger element is unique to Chicago’s exhibition.
Katie’s mom, Carol German said she also enjoyed the exhibit. Is she ready to explore? “Not to this level,” she said.
“It’s wonderful to learn about these explorers that are exploring all these remote areas of the world,” Rashford said. “But you can also be an explorer in your own neighborhood, in your own house, in your community or when you go on a vacation.”
The explorer’s guidebook encourages visitors to leave the museum with increased curiosity even outside the museum. “There’s a couple questions in here that tell you what would happen if it was in your back yard and I think I can totally relate that into my life,” Katie said.
Rashford emphasizes the goal of the exhibit is to remind visitors “It’s never too late to learn or to be curious.”
“National Geographic Presents: Earth Explorers” is on view at the Museum of Science and Industry through Sept. 1, 2014.