Virtual reality takes hold at the National Museum of Natural History

Virtual reality takes hold at the National Museum of Natural History

VIDEO – This is a first for a French museum. The Parisian institution inaugurates on Saturday a permanent space within its large gallery to dive, 3D glasses on the nose, within evolution. A unique immersive, educational and fun experience on biodiversity and the evolution of species.

Do you know that there are more in common between a man and a salmon than between a salmon and a hammerhead shark? Here is one of the lessons you could learn from your time in the virtual reality cabinet, located on the third floor of the majestic Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History. The cabinet contains five stations created in an ecological approach both in the choice of materials and in that of lighting.

This immersive, fun and educational experience opens this Saturday, December 23rd. This is not a temporary coquetry, but a permanent room, which will evolve according to the exhibitions. “This is not a repeat of what already exists at the museum,” explains Cyril Roguet, the galleries’ director. It is a question of using this technology at the service of the pre-existing museum system and to spread knowledge about biodiversity”.

Technology is here at the service of pedagogy and teaching. It is not strictly speaking a game or an attraction: the experience is striking but sober. Equipped with an HTC Vive headset and two controllers, the user has fifteen minutes to explore. The starting point is a sphere containing several hundred specimens connected to each other, from the fungus to the tyrannosaurus, passing through homo sapiens.

The discovery of LUCA, the ancestor of all living beings

The controllers are used to play with this sphere to make it rotate, enlarge or shrink, penetrate inside to the origin of life: LUCA, the common ancestor of all living beings. It is also possible to choose a few of these species to learn more about them and contemplate them up close. The “kinship game” makes it possible to find out which species are close to each other.

This sphere was designed for a very specific purpose: it is a privileged representation of the relations between man and his environment, the sphere does not contain a top, neither top nor bottom. A way to remind that there is no hierarchy between species and that their classification is not static, but is an area of scientific research. “For a long time, evolution was represented as a ladder of stacked beings where man was at the top… it is necessary to get out of this discourse, explains Guillaume Lecointre, professor at the museum and researcher in the science of classifications. The sphere does not say anything about the value of each species in relation to another, but just studies the relationships between species, relatives. All species are as evolved as each other.»

The Museum’s teams worked on this sphere and conceived the idea of this tree structure that connects species together, on an equal footing. They then worked with Orange researchers and engineers to develop this complex technology. The aim is to work on data visualization, a major challenge of virtual reality and to democratize knowledge through digital technology.

This journey to the heart of evolution in virtual reality opens on Saturday, December 23 in the Grand Gallery of Evolution. The experience is free during the Christmas holidays, then at the single rate of € 5 in addition to the entrance ticket to the permanent exhibition. Online booking is mandatory.

Note HTC VIVE VR headset holders can download the experience for free on VivePort (then on Steam from 2018) and thus be able to travel in the sphere of evolution from home.

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