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Unseen Oceans
was liberated from my disorientation. This science fiction turned visual reality proved the value of creative commu- nication, not just to the intended audience but even to me, part of the team that generated the knowledge underlying the beautiful visualization.
Experiencing the exhibit along with a bunch of giddy scien- tists playfully exploring was fun. Having the opportunity to share my work with my family was incredible. Last summer, I entered the exhibit again, this time as a ticket holder with a dozen of my family members in tow. My 7-year-old’s face lit up when he saw the replica of our robot down a corridor, and he animatedly chattered as he saw the stories I’ve told him come to life in a new way (Figure 5). One goal the designers had when conceiving the exhibit was to make the science and scientists real and approachable, allowing kids a chance to envision themselves involved in science. For my son, that isn’t a big leap. But many children never have the opportunity to meet a scientist so each of the dozen or so individual profiles explains a little about their personal path. As I explain in the video piece of the exhibit, one of the challenges of being an oceanographer is that when you are out on a ship, you only have onboard the things that you’ve brought with you. What a gift it was to watch my dad, Bernard Benoit, surrounded by extended family, hear my voice explain that one of the greatest gifts I received is being the only child of a mechanic. I was always my dad’s second set of hands and was introduced to tools and fixing things at a very early age. As the piece explains, it turns out that being a tinkerer is very useful as an oceanographer and that helped us overcome one of the biggest challenges of this project, the limits of existing technology.
The goal of the designers of the Unseen Oceans exhibit was that visitors would come in one way and leave another, using the space to tell the story, weaving together the narratives of science and scientist, organisms and environment into a dive from the surface to the deep, from what is familiar to what is extraordinary. The larger goal of Unseen Oceans is to take visitors from where they enter with a general interest in the ocean to caring about its stewardship to personal action to mitigate human impacts. The jury is still out on whether that journey was completed (evaluation of the effectiveness of the exhibit is currently underway), but so far, nearly 800,000 visitors have experienced this virtual descent into the depths of our planet. Countless classrooms have explored the com- panion materials of the exhibit, grade-level specific guides designed by educators to achieve science standards with
Figure 5. The author and her then 7-year-old son, Kaelan, start their journey to the bottom of the ocean while virtual waves lap their feet at the beginning of the Unseen Oceans exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.
content provided and vetted by experts like me. Starting in August 2019, Unseen Oceans will make its way to new places in North America and Europe, introducing the importance of the ocean to human health to millions, some of whom may never visit its shorelines; the first stop is far from the coast in
the Midwest of the United States!
I don’t have to wait for assessment metrics to know my per- sonal journey was a great success. Working in partnership with visual communicators and expert storytellers taught me a lot about my own work and about myself. It was fun to interact with the museum staff, challenging to be pushed to think about things in a new way and rewarding to share the results with others. Everyone on the team was dedicated to accuracy and respected my role in the process, making sure the outcome not only beautiful but informative. One member of the exhibit staff told me that she often wonders if she can be enough of a scientist to get things right and enough of
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