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The Futurist

Natural History Museum sets the bar high

Natural history museum

At this point, I feel it is safe to say that the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London is the benchmark for museums aiming to engage and educate. Whether in the building via touch screen displays or at home playing on mobile devices or watching TV specials, they are hitting all of the targets.

At this point, I feel it is safe to say that the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London is the benchmark for museums aiming to engage and educate. Whether in the building via touch screen displays or at home playing on mobile devices or watching TV specials, they are hitting all of the targets.

Decoding DNA

When I visited the NHM last year I got to experience the wide range of touch screen displays available within the museum. The video below shows one great example – an interactive experience that takes the user through the process of decoding DNA and developing a process to control Malaria in mosquitoes.

Take-home content with NaturePlus

An asset unique to the NHM is the NaturePlus card that enables users to save content to take home with them. Visitors pick up a NaturePlus card when they enter the Cocoon, the state of the art area that focuses on insects, arachnids and plants.

Many of the exhibits within the Cocoon have a barcode reader. Visitors scan their NaturePlus card whenever they find content they want to save, and can access that content from home by entering the code on their card at the NHM website.

Museums can sometimes be overwhelming places, with interesting facts and information fighting for your attention around every corner. NaturePlus helps you to stagger the information by saving it for later reading.

David Attenborough’s Alive and “second screen” technology

That’s all well and good for folks in London, but what about everyone else? Well, recently the museum released NHM Alive, the iPad companion app to the eponymous David Attenborough special.

In the TV special, David Attenborough, irrepressible scamp that he is, hides from security and spends the night exploring the Natural History Museum in London. In an experience reminiscent of “Night at the Museum”, Attenborough visits exhibits throughout the building and witnesses them coming to life before his eyes. As they do, Attenborough explains how these animals moved and interacted with each other and other animals.

The iPad app is designed as both a documentary itself, and a “second screen” through which you can follow Attenborough around the museum. Each stop on Attenborough’s route is replicated in the app, with the user being able to switch to “night mode” and use their flashlight to discover the animals coming to life.

Natural history museum sets the bar high

A study through BBC World News last year found that among more than 3,600 digital device owners, most say they use tablets alongside their TV – and I am definitely one of those people. For me the benefit of such an interactive and engaging app came in being able to follow along on my iPad while watching the documentary. As Attenborough explored the museum in the documentary, I explored it on my iPad.

Many have suggested that museums focusing too much on digital will reduce attendance, as there is no reason to make the trip if you can sit at home and see it all while lounging on the couch. Part of the beauty of the Alive app is that it isn't just designed for sitting at home. The app also features extra behind-the-scenes content that can only be unlocked by visiting the museum. Find the exhibit in the museum and enter the combination to unlock bonus content that the folks at home don't get. Take that, couch potatoes!

I need to sign off this love letter to the Natural History Museum, but if you go to London it is a sight not to be missed. Even if you're not then hey, there's still no excuse – fire up your iPad and spend a night with the NHM.

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