National Geographic's photographers have been journeying to the world's most remote regions for more than a century to bring back incredible and inspiring images. Now you can learn about what goes into taking those photos at the traveling exhibit "National Geographic Presents: Earth Explorers," which runs at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry through Sept. 1.
Divided into five sections, each representing a different type of ecology, the exhibit focuses on how explorers work in some of the planet's most hostile conditions. A "dangers in the rain forest" touch screen shows the deadly animals that live there, including poisonous spiders and massive anacondas. A model arctic explorer cabin shows how explorers fight boredom with board games and books and just how much food they need to eat to keep their bodies functioning in extreme cold.
"National Geographic Presents: Earth Explorers"Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, (773) 684-1414, msichicago.org
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily; through Sept. 1
Admission: $27; $18 for kids
"There's so much to do in that exhibit, lots of hands-on activity, but the great thing about it is there's all different levels of activity," said Anne Rashford, director of temporary exhibits. "There's something for everyone to learn. The content is so interesting, and to be able to get a taste of each one of those eco-zones I just thought was a really great way to introduce topics of exploration to children and families."
Having the right equipment is key to survival. A set of Styrofoam molds of human heads shows how the pressure found deep beneath the ocean would crush an explorer who wasn't in a proper submersible. A video shows how explorers must don respirators and suits filled with ice packs to spend just 20 minutes exploring Mexico's Cave of Crystals, which is 112 degrees with 100 percent humidity. Visitors can try on three different layers of gloves and place their hands on an icy plate to show how much arctic explorers must bundle up.
Sections are filled with bios of different explorers and what got them interested in natural photography. Video shows them in action boating, climbing trees, diving and affixing cameras to wild animals in the hopes of getting incredible shots, learning more about creatures ranging from penguins to great white sharks, and even discovering new species.
"National Geographic was such a great partner to work with on this exhibit, talking to their explorers and profiling the explorers," Rashford said. "When people understand that there are really people living today doing this work, it just hits home. The media that was provided and the photo images are so strong and powerful that that brings it home as well."
The exhibit premiered in October at the Science Center of Iowa, and the Museum of Science and Industry added plenty of additional content to engage visitors. A wall shows images of Illinois fish while a tank displays live blind cave fish, complementing National Geographic's spectacular photos and video of underwater life. In the section on African savannas, the museum provides information on Illinois' own grasslands. The museum also hands out scavenger hunt books, which are filled with questions visitors can answer by carefully studying the exhibits.
"It's really important to us, whenever we have an opportunity, to add a local component and have something that really engages our audience," Rashford said. "We thought adding the scavenger hunt would help our visitors take a more active role in the exploration of the exhibit. It's been very popular, and I think when school groups come in they'll be able to prepare students in advance for that exhibit too."
Since the exhibit runs through Labor Day, Rashford said she hopes learning about exploring nature will help visitors look at their own vacations with new eyes, whether they're traveling or not.
"It just gives you a taste of what exploration in those areas might be like, and what exploration in Chicago is like, too," Rashford said. "I think that it doesn't matter who you are or where you live, you can be an explorer. I think that the most important thing is curiosity and being open-minded to explore new worlds."