Zoom Into the Human Bloodstream poster

This illustration shows the circulatory system across 10 orders of magnitude. Using the conventions of visual perspective the image travels in one continuous “landscape” from the human scale at the top to the atomic scale in the foreground. Placing objects from the circulatory system in one frame clarifies the connections between components, highlighting the system’s reliance on structures at very different scales. This illustration won the 2008 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge from NSF and Science magazine!

Scale Ladder

Scale ladders are diagrams that can quickly convey the size of the nanoscale by showing how objects are related by size. Using existing research on understanding size and scale, the Visualization Laboratory carried out a series of experiments to develop effective scale ladders as well as guidelines for their design and use. This diagram can be dropped as is into an exhibition graphic or used as a template and adapted for different content or graphical contexts.

Guidelines for the Design and Use of Scale Ladders

To understand why the nanoscale is different, we need to appreciate just how small it is. One common way to represent the nanoscale visually relies on scale ladders, diagrams that show how objects are related by size. Using existing research on understanding size and scale, the Visualization Laboratory carried out a series of experiments to develop a scale ladder and guidelines for their design and use.

Sizing Things Down

This is a card game which can be played with museum visitors. Visitors will learn the relative sizes of various objects. They compete against each other (or you) to organize their hand of cards into lists of objects from largest to smallest.

At the Nanoscale

At the Nanoscale is a static component that aims to show just how super small one billionth of a meter, or one nanometer, really is. A Billion Beads is an activity where visitors inspect tubes that hold quantities of one thousand tiny beads, one million beads, and one billion beads. To the naked eye, the tube containing one thousand beads appears nearly empty. Visitors see that the next tube, partially filled, contains one million beads. Finally, to compare, a four-foot tall container nearly full contains approximately one billion beads.

Three Drops

Three Drops is a full body immersive simulation that allows visitors to interact with water at three size scales using their shadows. At each scale, different physical forces can be observed. At the macro (human) scale, where gravity is the noticeable force, visitors are showered with water drops from a simulated shower. At the microscale--one thousand times smaller--where surface tension becomes more apparent, visitors play with a beach-ball sized water drop.

Cutting It Down to Nano

“Cutting it Down” is a cart demo that communicates scale through a hands-on activity. Visitors learn that the nanometer size scale is very, very small—and that we can’t use macroscale tools to manipulate nanoscale materials. During the program, visitors are challenged to cut a small strip of paper in half as many times as they can—or until they reach the nanoscale, which ever comes first.

Surface Area - Cart demo

This is a cart demo about how nanoparticles behave differently, in part because they have a high surface area:volume ratio. Visitors learn that smaller particles have a much higher proportion of their atoms on the surface. Visitors unfold paper cubes, drop alka-seltzer in water, turn potatoes black with iodine, and see fireballs to understand how surface area changes as you get small.


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