Kinetic City’s “Nowhere To Hide” Plays Role in Major
New Darwin Exhibition
A playful exercise from AAAS’s Kinetic City science program is
featured in an ambitious new exhibit on the life and work of biologist
Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
is being billed as the biggest ever on the explorer and researcher regarded
as the father of evolution science, and will include some of Darwin’s
tools, fossil specimens he collected and a reconstruction of his study
in England. It will also include “Nowhere to Hide,” part of
the Kinetic City online lesson on natural selection and evolution.
to Hide” explores how insects evolve as a means of adapting
to and thriving in their environment.
Bob Hirshon, director of the award-winning Kinetic
City after-school program, calls it a “nice, elegant example
of how a population can change because of predators.”
An animated black bird predator picks the easiest-to-spot
bugs for its prey.
At his office in Washington, D.C., Hirshon recently guided a visitor
through the exercise: It opens with a view into an animated cluster of
green leaves. Two bugs appear — one green and one orange —
and begin to crawl among the leaves. Within a few seconds, they begin
to reproduce. Then some hungry black birds come into the scene. Because
the orange bugs are more visible among the green leaves, a greater proportion
of them is eaten. Soon, almost all the bugs are green, as are most of
Hirshon clicked an on-screen lever and slowly shifted the color of the
leaves to orange. “Now it’s going to change — you never
know, but it should change to mostly orange bugs,” he explained.
When his prediction was quickly born out, he added: “It’s
just like real life. And as more bugs come, more birds come to eat them,
and that’s just like real life, too.”
Developed with major funding from the National Science Foundation's Informal
Science Education Program, Kinetic City debuted in 1994 as a children's
radio drama. Two years later it won a Peabody Award. Today, Kinetic City
is geared more to informal after-school classroom settings and to the
Internet. The guiding principle is that science, when taught through hands-on
exercises, online games, creative writing, art and physical education,
is fun. The materials are based on the AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks for
In the Museum of Natural History’s exhibit, “Nowhere to Hide”
will be shown on two video monitors, with explanatory placards alongside.
Biologist Charles Darwin
The Darwin exhibition is the latest in a series the museum has done on
great thinkers, explorers and scientists. It comes at time when evolution
is at the center of an American controversy with a host of religious,
cultural, educational and political implications.
While most mainstream religious leaders and science groups say there
is no inherent conflict between religion and evolution, proponents
of a faith-based doctrine called “intelligent design” say
that the extraordinary complexity of life is possible only with the guiding
hand of a creator. Most scientists say that evolution is the best way
to explain the origin of humanity, and they see it as the cornerstone
of modern biology, but polls show that roughly half of Americans don’t
believe in it.
Christopher Raxworthy, the museum’s associate dean of science for
education and exhibitions, said work on the exhibit began three years
ago. He said it has two principal goals: To portray Darwin’s life
as an “incredibly productive influence” on biologists, and
to demonstrate how his work caused “a major paradigm shift”
in our understanding of life.
“We really want this exhibit to portray the importance of evolution
to modern biology,” Raxworthy said. “And we want the public
to understand what evolution is.”
Michael Cosaboom, manager of interactive exhibits in the museum’s
Department of Exhibition, said the organizers found “Nowhere to
Hide” when they were using Google to search the Internet for existing
media related to Darwin and evolution.
“The simplicity of the presentation, child-friendly graphics and
ease of use were what made us want to use the piece,” Cosaboom said.
“It appeals to us that it's not a game, but has game-like visuals….
It’s a piece that will appeal to young kids, and that hopefully
the adults who bring them to the museum will use as a conversation starter.”
The Darwin exhibit will run at the American Museum of Natural History
from 19 November through 29 May 2006. After Darwin closes in New York,
the exhibit will travel to four other museums that collaborated in organizing
it: the Museum of Science in Boston; The Field Museum in Chicago; the
Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada; and the Natural History Museum
For tickets and other information, see the museum’s Web
Edward W. Lempinen
21 November 2005