Rivers form in the shape of networks because of some very simple rules: one scale at a low level (the direction that a stream of water decides to follow at any given moment) yields complex patterns at a higher scale. As water flows, it moves grains of dirt and sand, giving a riverbed its characteristic shape of straight, meandering, or braided. In this work by Ned Kahn, users can create a riverbed by directing a stream of air over a field of glass beads, simulating water moving over land.
Networks come in all shapes and sizes. At this station, we invite visitors to manipulate a set of building blocks to create their own network. Circular shapes let users experiment with creating hubs (the links in a network), while straight and T-shaped blocks let users build their networks into complex 3D models. Just like in life, the networks can create very surprising outcomes.
From electrical grids to fiber-optic cables, and from roads to train lines, many complex networks are constantly in use to keep our towns and cities running each day. Some we can see, and some we cannot. At this exhibit, we invite visitors to explore some of the most important networks that service Queens and NYSCI itself. See what the telephone network looks like when overlayed on top of the subway system or major roads. Move around Queens and zoom into different locations to see networks intersecting.
In this kinetic sculpture, artist Tim Prentice has created a floating network of 900 separate squares, where movement of one element depends on the movement of its neighbors, much like a flock of birds shifting direction in flight. The entire piece is suspended at two points and the weight at each point is distributed by the simple arithmetic progression 1:2:4:8:16:32:64:etc. The resulting geometric diagram of the structure is a large 'H' with the support at the center, and more H patterns branching from it. This progression continues at an ever decreasing scale until all four corners of each of the 900 squares are connected to support the entire surface. When the air moves any of the individual squares the energy moves throughout the entire system, with the complex structure making the smooth movement possible.
The Game of Life has no players and it has no winners. You start the "game" by placing "living" cells on a grid. In this case, a computer lets you change disks on a large mechanical grid. Once you start the chain, two simple rules guide which cells prosper, and which cells expire: 1) A dead cell comes to life if exactly three of its neighbors are alive. 2) A living cell dies unless it has two or three living neighbors. Since its creation in 1970 by mathematician John Conway, this simulation has fascinated scientists. A game like this allows researchers to see the impact of very simple rules on a complex system. Give it a try. All it takes is one new cell to change everything.
Studies into the movement of air, the flow of the oceans, the shifting of land, and the migration of living things have shown that all of the Earth's major systems are connected to one another. Scientists use vast collections of global data from a network of satellites to reveal and study the natural networks of the Earth every day. At this exhibit, visitors can scroll through constantly updating oceanic, atmospheric, and vegetation data to see how events in one part of our natural networks can impact the rest on a global level. NYSCI receives new data to be explored every month.
Telehaptics, the growing field of research and engineering of devices that allow us to "feel" things that are far away, has led to incredible breakthroughs in many fields. Surgeons, for example, perform delicate, intricate procedures by controlling robotic hands that let them work with greater precision than a human hand may have. At this exhibit, the interaction is a little lighter than that. Visitors can arm-wrestle one another—over the Internet. Users control large metal arms, and the force of their movement is recorded by sensors and sent out over the internet, coming back as resistance for the other users. Visitors can even arm wrestle users at other museums in Iowa, California, and Mexico.
When musicians sit down together to play music, they create a network. It might not be easy to see, but each musician relies on hearing the way others play around them, and will change or respond accordingly to make the music sound "right." At this station, visitors select options from different parts of a composition- the melody, the counterpoint, and more. Each part plays on its own until users "patch" them together with physical cables. The connection changes the individual components into a composition.
Visitors can observe a living colony of leaf-cutting ants (Atta Cephalotes). Their colony demonstrates careful organization with compartments for the nursery, cemetery, leaf farms, and leaf gathering. Ants behave according to very simple rules, yet the life of an ant colony is complex and fascinating, an analogy to the game of life. A controllable video camera mounted inside the colony provide close up views of ant activity, and a metal cast of the underground portion of an ant colony shows the complex network of tunnels that ants construct.
Sea shells offer us a glimpse into the incredible variety of natural networks. From a distance, sea shells look very similar. Up close, however, there is an incredible variety in size, shape, texture, and color. Visitors can see and touch a large collection of different shells, each with a unique shape and size, and learn about the models scientists and mathematicians have developed to understand the variations.
Long before Darpanet, Tim Berners-Lee, or the Internet, we had spiders spinning elaborate webs that model for us the Internet. Visitors get to see live spiders living in an enclosure that produce intricate webs, each with a hub, or node, and long pathways building from it. Visitors may even catch feeding time for the spiders- a chance to see the webs in action.
Networks are part of every aspect of human life, especially social life. We may not think about this often, but in human relationships there are frequently people who act as organizers, or hubs, linking many other people together in specific relationships. Just like many natural networks, the nature of these links can change as people change, with hubs breaking down and being rebuilt in new ways. Artist Scott Snibbe offers NYSCI visitors an interesting take on this relationship. When two people are present, arrows point from each person to the other. They are connected. What happens when a third person enters? Or a fourth, fifth, or sixth? The arrows update in size to reflect shifting hubs and changing relationships based on distance and how much time members of the network have spent near one another. In mathematical ecology, this relationship is used in geography, public housing and to manage forests.
If you have lived through a blackout, you have witnessed the failure of a massive network that carries power. Usually, when one part of the power grid goes down, other plants pick up the load. So what would cause a widespread failure? This exhibit features a small network of conducting wires that deliver power from the Generation Plants to the Loads. Indicator lights show the magnitude and direction of current flow in the wires. Visitors can see current flow by observing a row of LEDs whose pulse rate increases with increasing current, and they can test the system for overload by closing different breakers and simulating failure in the network.
In this kinetic sculpture by artist Kyle Dries, users turn one of four wheels to move ropes threaded through a large network of pulleys. As the ropes move, sections of the pulley network move and adjust to a changing set of forces. The result is an ever changing pattern of hubs and links that pull tight and release under the changing user input. With the work rising over 20' above the ground, users get a powerful view of the role that "small" forces can play in a big network.
Scientists have spent a lot of time studying "flocking" behavior in different groups of living creatures and have discovered that groups often organize without a known leader. Visitors can compare the flocking movements of different species at this station by selecting videos of animals—from wildebeest, to fish, to humans—for side by side comparison. Speed up or slow down the videos with a Spin-Browser for careful analysis of flocking. A smaller station allows for analysis of ants, bees, and more.
Visitors to NYSCI should know this: You Are Being Watched. No, this is not an Orwell novel, but rather a digital art work from Scott Snibbe that calls a users' attention to the array of six overhead cameras that are constantly tracking visitor movements through the Connection Exhibition. A screen based interface lets users see the pathways people have made along the floor as they move around. Users can even scroll back in time to see the pathways develop.