Our new Earth Gallery opens tomorrow, and I think you’re going to love it.

Even with everything I’ve already heard about the gallery, the variety of experiences that it will offer continues to amaze me. Case in point: there must be almost 50 interactives and multimedia exhibits, including computer games, animations, videos, dioramas and hands-on activities.

This animation, for example, is from the gallery. It’s a smart inclusion, not only because it explains a basic concept of the gallery (plate tectonics), but also because it does so using visuals. Animations can give life to abstract concepts—here, it’s the tectonic processes of subduction, spreading and mountain building.

Many of the two dozen animations in the gallery are interactive, so you’re going to have to make a point of visiting in order to play them. You will be able to make different kinds of volcanoes and different kinds of earthquakes, depending on how you adjust the “ingredients”. Drag and drop ancient land masses into place to explore the supercontinental puzzle that is Pangaea.

Most dramatic of all is our trio of rock machines, the magmanator, metamorphicator and sedimentator, whose steel works hold the secrets behind the three kinds of rock.

Collage: Details from the magmanator, metamorphicator and sedimentator housings.
Operate one of these machines and wield the power to build Earth. No? Ok, then learn about the ways in which rocks are created: melting and crystallizing (magmatic rock), transformation (metamorphic rock), or weathering and erosion (sedimentary rock). Image: Marc Beck © Canadian Museum of Nature
The Magic Planet in the gallery.
The Magic Planet was retained from the pre-reno gallery. In its new central location, its selection of global-scale animations will have room to really shine: The Blue Marble, Undressing the Earth, Rocky Plates, Earthquakes, and The Earth: Past and Future. You’ll be able to choose among them and control the speed. Image: Kathleen Quinn © Canadian Museum of Nature

A large new diorama combines old- and new-school media to tell the story of the rock cycle (how the three types of rock transform into one another within the Earth). The model gives simple physical form to concepts that nobody has actually seen in action. Animated videos supplement the basics with further details about where the rocks form in the Earth. The finishing touch: real rock specimens as examples.

The diorama in the elevator.
Practical details, such as the size of our elevator, are not forgotten in design specifications. Once the diorama is installed in the gallery, animations and specimens will complete the story it tells about the rock cycle. Image: Marc Beck © Canadian Museum of Nature

Almost a dozen live-action videos bring us back into the human world of geologic study. Some examples:

  • Follow some of the museum’s experts into the field and the lab for a glimpse into how geologists observe and collect data about Earth’s history and processes.
  • “Join” a mineral collection manager in the field on the hunt for specimens, and see inside the mineral collection.
  • See state-of-the-art lab equipment in action: a scanning electron microscope, a microprobe, an X-ray powder diffractometer and a single-crystal X-ray diffractometer.
  • Watch a mineral grow in a time-lapse video that you can control: faster or slower, forwards or backwards.
  • And of course we’re including footage of geological processes in action: volcanic eruptions, flowing lava, weathering, erosion and striking landscapes.
An image from the video showing the single-crystal X-ray diffractometer at work.
How would you find the crystal structure of a mineral? Pinpointing the location of each atom is a good step. A single-crystal X-ray diffractometer helps with this by throwing X-rays at a single mineral crystal (marked by the arrow above), which then interact with the mineral’s atoms. The X-rays’ deflection patterns are then analyzed to determine the crystal structure of the mineral. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

And finally, put yourself in a researcher’s shoes by getting hands-on in the Mineral Lab. Observe for yourself what density means by hefting rock samples. Enjoy the surprise of minerals fluorescing when you shine a UV light. Get clear on the concepts of transparency, translucency, opacity and double refraction. Play with magnets and metals to explore magnetic and non-magnetic properties of certain minerals.

Even if you’re not a person who learns best by doing, experiences like these can’t help but engage you.

In fact, we hope the entire Earth Gallery will engage you. The gallery team has made an effort to offer information and experiences in many forms. Even within this “category”, interactives and animations, there is much variety of form and content. Whether we’re talking about these, or the gallery overall, there’s plenty to do, plenty to enjoy, plenty to learn.

The brand-new Earth Gallery opens to the public tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

An example of Morph Your Face morphing an image of someone's face.
Morph Your Face: This computer interactive deserves special mention because of its high amusement factor. Visitors can play with an image of their own face, distorting it in real time. Hidden in all that fun are lessons about how metamorphic rocks are transformed. Image: Kathleen Quinn © Canadian Museum of Nature