Neural Climber

Submitted by Available Light

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Client: The Franklin Institute

Location: Philadelphia, PA, United States

Completion date: 2014

Project Team

Artist

Steven Rosen

Available Light

Client

Jeanne Maier

The Franklin Institute

Overview

A young visitor steps on glowing glass discs tripping a series of weight sensors embedded in the foundation. Instantaneously the disc flashes; so begins a sequence of sound effects and dynamic lights reflecting off the steel, netting and glass structure. Children climb enthusiastically as they trace the path mimicking neural pathways in their own brains. As children climb through a fabricated brain, their own brains are responding to the changing stimuli. The Neural Climber at The Franklin Institute is reviewed as one of the highlights of the new Your Brain exhibit and a winner of an IES Award of Merit.

Goals

The Your Brain exhibit at The Franklin Institute required a fully immersive higher level of physical interactive than expected for a typical interactive exhibit. The Neural Climber structure physically engages young-at-heart visitors with an abstract “neural pathways” network comprised of glass-disc climbing structure, enclosed netting, and a responsive sound-and-light show.

The structure was placed in black box environment, eliminating boundaries & creating a delightful son et luminaire show. Glass discs are embedded in the floor. Upon stepping on any of the discs, the visitor activates a series of illuminations of delightful percolations. LED source luminaires envelope the climbing structure. A powerful DMX-controlled lighting system sends commands to color-changing wash lights, automated motion luminaires, spotlights, LED node strands, and, of course, the audio system. The soundtrack is built of several elements including the recorded sounds of actual electrical neuron circuits firing, and human emotions rendered aural, such as laughing. All of these stimuli together trigger the very neural responses in the brains of the climbers that they are learning about while gleefully exploring. The design brief required longevity and minimal required maintenance, ensuring the full experience of the Neural Climber would last through many years of hands- and feet-on learning.

Process

Developing the immersive experience that is the Neural Climber exhibit required intense and thoughtful collaboration between exhibit designer, content specialists, climbing structure designer, and of course, lighting/audio designer. Having successfully completed a previous multi-media installation at The Franklin Institute, we were approached to enhance the owner’s concept: Transform the climbing structure from a simple physical activity to immersive neurological interactive event. To achieve this, we surrounded the climbing sculpture in both a computer-automated lighting system and a multi-channel custom soundtrack inspired by the recorded sounds of neural activity. The successful integration of this responsive light and sound environment would not have been possible without the team coming together to build this tightly orchestrated exhibit.