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Review: The Atmosphere Gallery at the Science Museum

Published 9 December 2010

‘Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Science’ is a new gallery at the Science Museum, which enjoyed a royal opening by Prince Charles last week. It is rumoured to be one of the first permanent displays dedicated to climate science in the world – surprising surely, after the subject has been met with much debate and controversy over the last few years.

A breakaway from dull and uninspiring museum displays, the Atmosphere Gallery has a beautiful aesthetic and an innovative mix of technology, exhibits and content. From the moment one walks in, it’s hard not to get excited. Bathed in a calming blue hue, visitors’ eyes are normally first drawn to the delicate representation of the atmosphere perched in the air. But eyes soon begin to wander, because this is far from a static gallery. Rather than viewing the gallery, you become part of the gallery, with projections and information constantly changing all around you – on the floor, in the air and on the walls – and in response to the activity of the gallery’s guests.

There are a handful of games – very engaging and definitely designed with the kids in mind. Expect lots of touch-screen technology and group effort – particularly great for families and school parties to whittle away at. Game outcomes, good or bad, result in these changes in the atmosphere above and the floor below. In fact, it’s fair to say that one might feel like Jeremy Vine on election night at the BBC, with game visualisations and graphics blooming here and there unexpectedly!

Within all the futuristic hustle and bustle, there lies an important historic core in the form of key artefacts that chart the progress of climate science. These include a tree slab with growth rings, Charles Keeling’s inventive air sampling flask (which marked the start of continuous atmospheric carbon dioxide recording) and, most enthralling of all – an Antarctic ice core. (For those of you hoping… it’s stored in a transparent freezer, so no, you can’t lick it!)

The highlight, though, for many, is the huge, commissioned artwork by David Shrigley – a mural of a house of cards – that serves as a poignant metaphor for the complex and fragile intertwined factors that affect our global climates. The Science Museum hope to commission new artworks yearly, providing a fresh platform for interesting art/science collaborations.

The beauty outside the Gallery’s gorgeous visuals lies in its accessibility and impartiality. This is implicated in the name of the gallery, which doesn’t contain the phrase ‘climate change’ – and for good reason. We are constantly besieged with opinions about climate change; not only those of experts and friends, but even our own internal beliefs. Here lies a great place to allow visitors to take a carbon footprint or two back and observe unbiased commentary. The gallery is a place for hard fact and evidence to dwell in – textbook science if you will – offering respite from raging academics, environmental groups, and sceptics.

However, if you absolutely must get an opinion off your chest, there are information stations available for contributions and discussion, alongside an option to dig deeper into the science content.

After experiencing first hand, the dreariness that is climate lessons at school, you would be forgiven for wanting to forgo a trip to a gallery of this kind. But the Atmosphere Gallery is as far as one can get from the biased and boring climate change drivel we have been bombarded with by sceptics, educators and the media. It successfully makes the sometimes invisible and chaotic world of climate science that bit more tangible and elegant, and a heck of a lot more fun.

The Atmosphere Gallery at the Science Museum is free to enter and open every day from 10am to 6pm, except over Christmas (24th to 26th December). Last entry is at 5:15pm.

The Atmosphere Gallery
Address: Atmosphere Gallery, Wellcome Wing, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington SW7 2DD
Enquiry Tel: 020 7942 4000
Official Website: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/ClimateChanging/AtmosphereGallery.aspx

  • http://www.slbarnard.co.uk SLBarnard

    Brilliant article. Both enticing and captivating. I hope it will encourage minds of all ages to explore the beauty of art, science and the world around us.

    Exhibitions are being under valued with the wealth of information on the web these days. Especially since young people are becoming more and more technology dependent. You have highlighted the importance of the tactile experience. There is so much to be gained from visiting an exhibition first hand and with the Science Museum being so accessible to all I think it makes a wonderful break from the norm of Saturdays down the pub.

    Its FREE educational and its open every day. What more could you ask for. There is such a wonderful wealth of education and knowledge that can be gained from London’s Museums.