Last night I was lucky to see a preview of the American Museum of Natural History’s new exhibit, “Brain: The Inside Story,” which did not disappoint. Upon entering the exhibit, I was greeted by a mesmerizing artistic installation of brain networks, made of moving lights over bundles of recycled wires. My reaction was that of two competing impulses: to sit on the floor and stare at the installation for several minutes or to rush off and find the nearest disco.
With my interest piqued, I moved on to the rest of the exhibit, which is divided into topics such as the senses, emotions, and language. Each offers a combination of visuals and bite-sized explanations.
For those with kids or with limited attention spans, there are several interactive features to keep people engaged, especially in the latter half of the exhibit. My favorite is in the language section, which measures how we listen to and mimic a foreign language. Participants select a language and then repeat a word into a microphone, following instructions. While my braver colleague selected the less common Urdu language, I confidently opted for Spanish. Sadly, despite eight years of instruction and a semester in Madrid, my pronunciation of “muchacha” measured mediocre at best. (I like to think that background noise may have played a factor in that result.)
After I made a mental note to enroll in a Spanish class next semester, I delved back into the exhibit to find many more captivating features, such as the Stroop Test and a mirror-tracing activity that teaches a new motor skill.
“Brain: The Inside Story” is open from November 20, 2010 through August 15, 2011.
–Ann L. Whitman