AMS Group Contributes to Museum of Science and Industry Exhibit

View of the Atoms display in the Science Storms exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The self-healing polymer piece contributed by Beckman’s Autonomous Materials Systems group is in the middle right portion of the display case.
View of the Atoms display in the Science Storms exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The self-healing polymer piece contributed by Beckman’s Autonomous Materials Systems group is in the middle right portion of the display case.

Susan Odom is a postdoctoral researcher with the Beckman Institute’s Autonomous Materials System (AMS) group who enjoys communicating science to the general public. So when Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry called wanting materials for its new exhibit Science Storms, the AMS group naturally turned to Odom.

Susan Odom is a postdoctoral researcher with the Beckman Institute’s Autonomous Materials System (AMS) group who enjoys communicating science to the general public. So when Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry called wanting materials for its new exhibit Science Storms, the AMS group naturally turned to Odom.

“I’m involved a lot in outreach,” Odom said. “I’ve been working with the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in Champaign, the Science Olympiad, and Educating Tomorrow’s Chemists in their outreach activities. I was excited to take on this opportunity.”

The museum was interested in current research for a Science Storms exhibit called Atoms, and discovered the work of the AMS group on self-healing materials. Charles McGhee Hassrick, a Senior Exhibit Developer at the museum, said he was doing research for an artifact case they call the Material Zoo that focuses on radical and innovative materials, and discovered the world of self-healing polymers. That led him to the AMS group and a phone call with Odom regarding the new exhibit.

Odom said other sources the museum contacted wanted compensation for a contribution, but the AMS group was happy to cooperate – for free.

“I think it’s important that society understands how their tax money is helping science advance,” Odom said. “And I like teaching, especially in informal settings where you can see it make a difference.”

In the group’s past experience with outreach efforts, AMS members had done presentations using self-healing materials. The AMS group’s exhibit is also one of the more popular stops for visitors to Beckman’s biennial Open House.

So Odom organized the AMS installation with help from AMS students Doug Davis, Corissa Lee and Willie Wu, under the direction of Beckman faculty members Jeff Moore, Scott White, Nancy Sottos, Paul Braun, and Jennifer Lewis.

Odom and Davis traveled to Chicago to meet with Hassrick about the AMS group’s contribution to the exhibit, and showed the museum’s education staff their demonstration. Odom and Davis saw the exhibit and an educational collaboration was born. 

“I showed them the Science Storms gallery, and we agreed that the artifact case could use some of (their) self-healing polymers,” Hassrick said. “We now have two pieces of the polymer in the case, and our education staff has been trained in demonstrations using this amazing material.”

The Science Storms exhibit opened March 18 with self-healing materials a key part of the  Atoms component of the exhibit. The museum chose to use microcapsule samples for display in the exhibit, which is expected to run 20 to 30 years.

The museum’s Web site says that Science Storms “reveals the science behind seven natural phenomena—lightning, fire, tornados, avalanches, tsunamis, sunlight and atoms in motion” and tells visitors to the Atoms exhibit to enjoy the dynamic display: “From cutting-edge foams to self-healing polymers, watch these atoms in action.”

Nearby the permanent exhibit is a laboratory for a hands-on experience with the self-healing polymers. The hands-on exhibit features microcapsules containing what the AMS group calls “Pac-man” samples that were developed by former group member Magnus Andersson for use at the Beckman Institute Open House. Mary Caruso of the AMS group recommended using the samples for the exhibit and assisted in sample fabrication.

Visitors can break open the capsules and a red dye is released; within minutes self-healing takes place, giving them an appreciation for the technology. Odom said they have also sent color changing samples, comprised of mechanophores in polymers and prepared by Davis and Lee, to the exhibit for hands-on demonstrations.

“When you pull on them, they react and change color from colorless to purple,” she said. “Now that they’ve been successful, we’re preparing more samples for them.”

Odom said the contribution is ongoing, as the AMS group regularly sends samples for the hands-on exhibit.

The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 57th and Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. For more information on the museum, click here.