UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Submitted by Transformit

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Client: University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

Location: Ann Arbor, MI, United States

Completion date: 2019

Project Team

Exhibit Designer

Lord Cultural Resources

Exhibit Fabricator

Xibitz and Taylor Studios

Cells Design Engineering, Fabrication, and Installation

Transformit

Additional Metal Fabrication

Lake Region Design and Fabrication

Overview

A closer look at life’s smallest building blocks, Under the Microscope allows visitors to experience life at cell-scale.
Imagine that you are the same size as a single cell- the cells are millions of times larger, or you are millions of time smaller- to see what is going on.
Under the Microscope’s cells were fabricated and installed by Transformit—a giant walk-in cell and seven human-scale cells. LEDs within each cell, changing colors in sync, create a sense of life pulsing through the gallery. Amplifying the effect, mirrored walls of the exhibit hall multiply the visual experience into an infinite environment.
Standing five to nine feet tall, two cells are suspended from the ceiling, and the others, featuring educational graphic panels, are perched on multi-legged bases that recede from view beneath the colorful form of the cells. The exception is an 11’ tall by 13’ wide walk-through cell that stands dome-like in the center of the hall. This giant cell features a custom printed graphic outer membrane, and its own exhibit content:  educational panels, and a video screen mounted to the cell’s skeletal structure.

Goals

The exhibit’s cells are mockups of actual cells, the central attraction of the exhibit. So while they are intended to represent real cells, they must support the graphic educational content of the exhibit, and fit the practical constraints of the museum- cost-effectiveness, durability (this means kid-proof!), and ease of use.

Process

In the prototype phase we learned that the complex design of the cells required a new way to make the supporting structure, as our normal method would have been too laborious (expensive!) So we reached out to a local fab shop for help. Together we devised a welded skeleton made from bent steel rods.

This construction method has one small disadvantage: the pieces can’t be disassembled! So we devised a truck-packing scheme that allows all of the cells to arrive unharmed.

Additional Information

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is embedded among the labs at U-M's innovative new Biological Sciences Building. Designed by American architectural firms SmithGroup and ENNEAD, this building re-unites the departments of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, as well as ecology and evolutionary biology within one building, while also housing the institution’s widely popular Museum of Natural History, increasing the public’s exposure to the biological sciences and the important work occurring at the University of Michigan. The museum and its exhibits, including Under the Microscope, are open to the public and admission is free.