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Samsung, Weta and Te Papa launch interactive high-tech Bug Lab exhibition

09 Dec 2016

Bugs have a bad rep. Those creepy crawlies scare the bejesus out of many. Some like mosquitoes are just plain annoying. The thing is, they’re fascinating too. This must’ve struck the folks at Te Papa who are opening the high-tech blockbuster summer exhibition “Bug Lab” tomorrow.

Having got a sneak preview, I can say that the exhibition is a visual treat. Entering the exhibit takes you past a giant wall of interactive Samsung screens and a firefly light display.

The exhibition is chokka-block filled with hands-on experiments. My favourite was the working wind tunnel to test origami folded paper bug wings. These all keep the whole space stimulating.

Weta Workshop (yeah I know, how ironic is that??) have worked their movie magic into the exhibits. Some of which feature giant ultra-realistic insects. Everything has an organic feel and most have an interactive component for kids and kidults to learn via edutainment.

Clever lighting and ambient sounds also transport you away from the daily grind and immerse you in the bugs' world. Wasps, beetles and even our humble Weta all get airtime at the exhibition.

As you’d expect with an exhibition about bugs, there’s also video clips from Ruud Kleinpaste, New Zealand’s bets known bug person, who in one exhibit explains that while the humble mozzies may be annoying little bastards, they play a key role in ecosystems (their larvae clean water and some male mosquitoes can even pollinate plants – who’d have thunk it?)

Where the exhibition succeeds is that it takes the science of insects and makes it both accessible and interesting. This is particularly noticeable with kids. Keeping wee ones engaged is no small task, especially when they're seduced by video games, VR and smartphones. Yet Te Papa, Weta Workshop and technology partner Samsung seem to manage to do just that. They've made the science of bugs both hands-on and fun for kids - of all ages.

This is no accident according to Te Papa CEO, Rick Ellis:

 “We know how important science and technology education is for New Zealand’s future, and by creating an interactive experience with Samsung’s panels, Bug Lab will help get young Kiwis excited about those subjects."

Most exhibits feature Samsung’s Smart Signage panels and interactive touch screens. Kids can tap on a screen and use a small phone handset to watch and hear about what makes bugs so special.  Having touchscreens built into every exhibit helps to bring the exhibition to life. The exhibition uses over 60 Samsung large format video and touchscreen panels.

Larger than life bugs aside, my favourite exhibit consisted of a working zoetrope animation that has to be seen to be believed. It works by spinning a large number scale models, each showing just one movement. These are rotated and a strobe illuminates them one at a time to create a convincing illusion of 3D animation – the effect is impressive.

Hopes are high for Bug Lab. Te Papa’s last major science led exhibit, Whales has been a sell-out international hit and is still touring the world for over 8 years. Indications are that there is already strong interest in Bug Lab from Australia and China – even though it has yet to open.

Bug Lab officially opens on 10 December 2016 and runs through to Easter.

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