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Illuminating the Origins of the Universe: Adler Planetarium Brings the Big Bang to Life

Chicago’s beloved Adler Planetarium sought to create a new exhibit to give visitors a front-row seat to the Big Bang and demonstrate how the universe was formed in a split second. The fully immersive concept was intended to use light, sound, and even movement to explain the powerful event that resulted in the galaxy as we know it today.


The Challenge

Building a brand new exhibit from scratch for a major museum is always a tremendous volume of work – from creating all content to building all the multimedia components, but it also involves performing installation while the rest of the museum is open for business! Additionally, every component would need to be durable enough to withstand use by the public, specifically by children, who are a significant percentage of the planetarium's visitors.


Our objective was to explain the origin of the universe in a way that would appeal to all age groups while standing up to long-term, heavy use. We consulted with a former NASA scientist at Adler to determine what metaphor would best communicate the Big Bang theory and provide an immersive, unforgettable experience for guests. Our concept was to create a 360-degree environment that was responsive to guest movement, engaged multiple senses, and created a sense of awe for guests.

Early concept image


To deliver the feeling of being surrounded by outer space, we designed a rounded screen that would surround the field of vision and employed bass shakers to make the floors tremble. A fabric-wrapped aluminum frame was backlit to support different images of deep space. The room was carpeted to provide additional noise absorption and keep the audience's attention on the multi-faceted exhibit. A combination of projection mapping, multiple connect depth sensors, interactive lights, and coordinated sound effects provided a fully immersive, interactive experience and gave visitors a tangible sense of the vastness of the universe.

Rendering image


We built all video, sound, and lighting effects from scratch and developed custom software to make the various tools work together so the experience would be responsive and seamless. The installation had to be coordinated with the physical construction of the space as well as the guest experience, as the rest of the museum was open to the public. Since access to the space was limited, everything was built and tested in the studio prior to transport and installation. And, to be mindful of noise during open hours, much of the installation occurred overnight.

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