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Elise Byun

Visitors browse through centuries of science, time traveling on "Think" touchscreens.

Time travel through the brightest ideas of science at “Think” exhibit

by Elise Byun
April 16, 2014


Elise Byun

Tom Powers of Homewood reads about IBM's history in science and technology.


Elise Byun

Dave Evink of Grand Rapids, Mich., learns about the history of airplanes.


Deror Avi, Wikimedia Commons. 

Replica of an ancient Chinese "seismograph".

The “Think” exhibit created by IBM takes visitors through centuries of thinking faster and improving life through science and technology. It pushes visitors to get excited about how much more we can do in the future by looking at the progress we have already made.

Sixteen seven-foot touchscreens dominate the space and explore topics such as how maps, clocks, transportation and medical advances have changed human life over time.

One of the screens shows “Mapping,” with sections exploring how much maps can do – how they track resources and epidemics, organize time and save lives through maps for weather reporting. Stephanie Anderson, corporate citizenship manager at exhibit sponsor IBM, touched the screen and it zoomed into one of her favorite examples.

“So what we’re showing here is the cholera epidemic in 1854,” Anderson said as she pointed to a photo of an old, yellowed map. “This is an example where some person went around with a tally mark and mapped instances of cholera back in 1854.”

A new mapping from the Haiti earthquake in 2010 using social media and crowdsourcing to show stricken areas. The maps allowed viewers to compare map technologies as information technology advances. 

“Through time the exact same sort of ideas and ways to look at data occurred,” Anderson said. “But now we have ways that are more sophisticated that can help us address problems more quickly and react in a way that helps people make the world better.”

Anderson touched the screen again and a photograph of an ancient Chinese “seismograph” popped up. It looks like a large egg in an egg cup on top of a small table. Small dragons vertically line the egg, heads facing toward the table and mouths open. On the table are frogs surrounding the egg, also with their mouths wide open. It looks as if the frogs and dragons are in a shouting match.

“What they would do is put marbles in the mouths of the dragons. And when there was an earthquake, [by looking at how] the marbles fell out, they would be able to tell the size of the earthquake or the impact,” Anderson said. “Here’s technology way back in 132 AD and what we’ve been able to learn and improve on over time.”

Another touchscreen about “Seeing” takes a look at the tools that have changed our world such as clocks, telescopes and biomedical sensors.

Susan Pete, a nurse from Grand Rapids, Mich., visited the exhibit with her family. Her son wanted to browse into the 1990s and the early 2000s. They learned that the MRI was invented in 1992 and instant diagnosis technology in 2009.

“Instant diagnosis [would] help healthcare so much and save people so much money and time and anxiety and stress,” Pete said.

The “Believing” screen allows visitors to watch videos of leaders speaking about the changes they want to make in the world. Among them is Chieko Asakawa who became blind at the age of 14 and is working on technology that will help make the Internet more accessible for the visually impaired. In the past, Asakawa helped develop digital braille and a voice browser, which allows those with little to no vision navigate the Web with speech instead of a mouse.

“We just hope there’s something that each person sort of resonates with,” Anderson said. “Our big slogan is ‘Think’ and that’s what’s really, you know, it’s designed to do, is make people take a step back and think.”

And it did, at least, for Pete. “I’m continuing my education so this is all very current to me to kind of think ahead and think what we could do in the future,” she said. “It’s just very interesting and very nice to see that the world is looking for future and more efficient ways to live.”

“We put together an exhibit that we felt really showed icons of change and progress, stories of progress throughout time,” said Anderson. Anderson’s job is to look at how technology and information can be used to make a change in a community.

It took IBM about a year to put the exhibit together for IBM’s centennial celebration in 2011, Anderson said. And it shows. The exhibit space is not very large, but there is a wealth of information along the walls and inside the interactive displays.

“Think” is on view at the Museum of Science and Industry.