U design students create an exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah

The University of Utah multidisciplinary design students teamed up with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies to create an exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah that showcases Utah’s unique exposure to the night sky. The exhibit illustrates issues such as light pollution and how artificial light has impacted the natural beauty and habitats of Utah. The exhibit opened on Thursday, April 19, in the Sky Gallery of the Natural History Museum, fifth floor.

“This project was such a rewarding experience to not only learn more about the exhibit design process, but to have the opportunity to develop something that will impact perspectives and promote change in our community,” said Erica Fasoli, U design student.

The design students began the experience with their annual camping trip to Escalante, Utah, which provides one of the closest and most vibrant experiences with a natural dark sky. This observation was many of the students’ first understanding and experience of a dark sky.

Students worked directly with Tim Lee, senior exhibit designer at the Natural History Museum, to learn about exhibit design and the intensive process that goes into creating a unique and educational exhibit.

“Our cohort split into teams based on our individual interests such as design research, experience design and fabrication” said Andrew Morgan, U design student. “Focusing on what we wanted to get out of the project allowed us to stay motivated in the exhibit development.”

Through a collaborative effort, the entire junior design studio prototyped various design solutions to highlight the impact of artificial light. The student team worked directly with the museum staff to refine and solidify practical implementations for the installation space.

Design faculty, Elpitha Tsoutsounakis and Bogart McAvoy, guided the fabrication and implementation stages of the process. After finalizing the design, students worked to create an experience that was cohesive with the layout and style of the rest of the exhibits in the museum.

“We are very fortunate to have an ongoing collaboration with an institution like the Natural History Museum of Utah,” said Tsoutsounakis. “The students are able to learn from an amazing team of talented professionals outside of the classroom and well before graduation. It also gives our students the opportunity to engage with exciting community partners like the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies.”

The exhibit highlights artificial light pollution and the impact that it has on the human connection with the night sky. Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with the exhibit and learn more about the way artificial light drowns out natural light from the stars.

“Visitors will leave the exhibit feeling inspired by the beauty of the night sky and they will feel prompted to make real life changes to help protect it,” said Kirtly Maxfield, U design student.

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