The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI), lets guests understand the amazing science behind some of nature's most compelling phenomena in the new 26,000-square-foot Science Storms exhibit, which opened in March 2010. For two of the massive interactive elements in the exhibit—a 40-foot tornado and 20-foot avalanche disk—Production Resource Group (PRG), working closely with Christopher Wilson, Senior Project Manager at MSI and the exhibit's general contractor, Norcon, Inc. of Chicago, engineered, fabricated and installed the designs of environmental artist Ned Kahn; and Architect Jack Pascarosa, AIA, of New York-based firm Evidence Design.At 60 ft tall, 27 ft in diameter and 75,000 lbs, the tornado display is the largest effect in the hall. The 40 ft vortex of swirling air and vapor rises continuously from the floor and is able to be controlled by guests through a series of dampers that shape the air column. From the balcony level, guests can activate lasers to cut through and reveal the airflow patterns of the illuminated vortex.
PRG constructed the fully interactive tornado to meet stringent building codes and artistic qualifications. One of the biggest challenges for PRG was the sheer size of the structure. “One of the major challenges with the tornado exhibit was that we couldn't fully test it anywhere except at MSI because it was so big and so complicated,” noted Wilson. “PRG had to get it fabricated and installed as early as possible so if there were any problems we would have time to correct them. They had to think carefully about how they were going to get the pieces into the building.”
PRG also engineered and fabricated the avalanche disk, in which guests trigger a 20 ft avalanche to reveal how granular materials behave and better understand how avalanches form. The avalanche takes place in a 20 ft diameter disk set at a 23° angle to horizontal. When rotated by guests, they see how granular materials can act like a liquid as well as a solid, which is a key concept to understanding an avalanche. “PRG's approach to the avalanche was a game changer for us. We were considering building the avalanche disk as a single piece. The concept of building it in small pieces, bringing it into the hall and assembling it, and then pouring a special urethane compound to make the final disk surface was all PRG's idea, and it was brilliant. It saved us a lot of time, a lot of money and it also allowed us to do a full test in their shop,” said Wilson.
While the avalanche disk may not be as imposing as the tornado, it is no lightweight at 16,500 lbs. Building loads are an important consideration when working at MSI. Wilson explained, “It is an old building and PRG had to—and did—take very seriously how they were imposing physical loads on the building.” PRG could not exceed a maximum load of 250 Pounds per Square Foot (PSF) for floor loading. Since the avalanche has dynamic motion, they needed to subtract for the live load, meaning PRG really only had 150 PSF. Both the tornado and the avalanche displays were fabricated at PRG's New Windsor, NY facility.
For more information on PRG, please visit www.prg.com.
For more information about MSI or Science Storms, visit www.msichicago.org. Science Storms is brought to guests through the generosity of The Allstate Corporation, The Allstate Foundation, and The Grainger Foundation. Additional major funding has been provided by the United States Department of Energy.
The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) offers thousands of fun and interactive exhibits and one-of-a-kind, world-class experiences to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. Through its Center for the Advancement of Science Education, MSI also aspires to a larger vision: to inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering. Come visit and find your inspiration! MSI is open every day except December 25. The Museum is supported in part through the generosity of the people of Chicago through the Chicago Park District. For more information, find MSI online at msichicago.org or call (773) 684-1414 or (800) GO-TO-MSI outside of the Chicago area.
About Production Resource Group — Production Resource Group, L.L.C., (PRG) is the world's leading supplier of entertainment and event technology to a wide range of markets, including corporate and automotive events, concerts, special events, theatre, television and film, trade shows, and installations, such as theme parks, museums, retail stores and performing arts centers. PRG provides integrated services and equipment, including audio, video, lighting, rigging, staging, and scenery and automation systems, for these markets from more than 31 offices in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.