An avalanche at the museum

A post by Chris RowanThis weekend saw my first visit to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (which is within walking distance of my apartment), and I have to say I’m pretty impressed with what I saw – not least by the fact that it was clear that I didn’t even manage to see a fraction of what it has to offer in the few hours I was there. Of what I did see, I was especially impressed by the ‘Science Storms’ exhibit, a highly interactive exploration of the science behind natural phenomena such as lightning, tornados and tsunamis. One highlight was the ‘Avalanche Disk’. This is a massive, slanted, rotating disk with granular material – a mixture of white glass beads and red garnet sand – piled on top. As the disk spins, the grains are lifted to the top and avalanche down its face. Visitors can vary the speed of rotation, which changes how the system behaves. It’s quite hypnotic to watch.

An avalanche in progress down the face of the disk. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2011

Perhaps some of the more landslide/debris flow oriented amongst my readers will be able to provide a more detailed interpretation of what’s happening in my video.

Categories: geohazards, geology, geophysics, public science, science education
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Comments (3)

  1. alice says:

    Ooo, they had one of those at the London Natural History Museum a few years back as part of a sort of geology-inspired art exhibition. Hypnoic indeed.

  2. Hilary Olson says:

    I was recently in Chicago for the holidays and visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry on December 27, 2010. I agree that the avalanche disk was quite mesmerizing. I would also recommend people spend some time at the Smart Home or exhibit at the museum. The Smart Home tour provides examples and ideas for sustainable living in harmony with the environment, as well as reducing your carbon footprint. In addition, I really enjoyed the ‘experience’ of the film Hubble, showing in the Omnimax Theatre. The film places viewers in the middle of the May 2009 servicing assignment to complete final repairs and upgrades to the Hubble Space Telescope. One of the aspects I liked most about the film was the challenge to think in different scales of time and distance than I normally do (and that is saying alot for someone who is trained as a stratigrapher). This gave me some empathy for when I am teaching introductory earth sciences to university students and K-12 teachers.

  3. Chris Rowan says:

    One of the aspects I liked most about the film was the challenge to think in different scales of time and distance than I normally do

    I also saw the Hubble film, and that’s exactly the reaction I had – despite my comfort with millions and billions of years of Deep Time, my mind struggled to gain any purchase on the tens of billions of light years of Deep Space.