Los Alamos National LaboratoryBradbury Science Museum
Your Window into Los Alamos National Laboratory
Bradbury Science Museum

Bradbury’s squad of fabricators open a public window to the Lab

The Museum calls upon its highly skilled exhibit team to research, imagine, design and fabricate each story into a tangible, relatable, accessible installation.
August 28, 2020
BSM exhibit

This exhibit uses augmented reality and 3-D imaging to highlight the ribosome — a nanoscale "protein-printing machine” that makes all the proteins in our bodies and is essential for life.

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They build hands-on interactives that show and do what you want and are safe and will stand up to the loving use of visitors day after day. —Linda Deck

 

Creating a public window into the Laboratory is a complicated task. In many ways, the Bradbury Science Museum provides that access.

Exhibition design requires lengthy, thoughtful consideration of topics and concepts. Design elements and content go through multiple iterations. Then comes prototype fabrication and, eventually, a final version that’s fascinating, experiential and informative.

So how do we turn subjects like non-proliferation, inertial confinement fusion or nanotechnology into multi-modal exhibits understandable by visitors of all ages and backgrounds?

Highly skilled in-house team makes it happen

To do all this, the Bradbury calls upon its highly skilled exhibit team to research, imagine, design and fabricate each story into a tangible, relatable, accessible installation.

The process of designing an exhibit that speaks to everyone can be rather complicated, though, as the Museum strives to satisfy three main requests:

  • First, Lab partners ask the Museum to share their amazing research and world-class science, which is highly technical.
  • Second, our Northern New Mexico community asks the Museum to provide accessible, standards-based STEM learning opportunities for students of various grades and background knowledge.
  • Third, the Museum’s visiting public of world travelers, with their diverse perspectives and languages, ask to better understand the Lab’s atomic history as they seek reassurance and clarity of its current mission.

When approached by organizations at the Lab to create a new exhibit, the Museum uses these three requests to spark great conversations between clients and staff about how to best create an engaging and eloquent exhibit.

Once an exhibit’s content experts, designer and developer have mapped out a plan, it’s up to the fabricators to make their vision a reality.

Meet the fabricators

Mark Hartman
Electrician Mark Hartman has wired a light-on-text, heavy-on-action exhibit that everyone can enjoy when the Bradbury re-opens.

Abiding by COVID-19 precautions to don face coverings and social distance, the fabrication team is wrapping up an expansive exhibit in the Defense Gallery while juggling a growing list of ambitious projects. Called “Explosion Detectives,” the interactive, seven-panel exhibit illuminates in novel and fun ways how the Lab does nuclear explosion monitoring.

Recently, Mark Hartman, a master electrician, was assembling wires for a video component, while exhibit fabricator Mike Martinez was building a Seismic Seat that museum visitors will hop on to experience the feeling of naturally occurring and human-caused quakes. Mike cuts all the materials for the panels, while Mark and assistant Andrew Chavez are responsible for wiring and electrical safety. In the end, it’s a team effort to assemble the exhibit in the gallery.

Mark, who has been working on Bradbury exhibits since 1996, is tickled by the fresh challenges that increasingly multimedia, multisensory exhibits are presenting. “This is fast becoming my favorite exhibit. It is the most elaborate because of the number of videos and push buttons and the amount of wiring,” he says of "Explosion Detectives."

Mark heads to the Make a Quake! panel to demonstrate how a seismometer, a data recorder and a monitor create a seismograph instantly when you jump on the floor pad. “I wired and assembled this,” he says, gleefully.

Fabrication holds it all together … literally

fabricator-repair.jpg
Fabricators repair and refurbish well-loved exhibits like this one on a weekly basis.

“The fabricator is essential,” says Linda Deck, the Bradbury Science Museum’s director. “They build hands-on interactives that show and do what we want and are safe and will stand up to the loving use of visitors day after day.”

Building an exhibit is a very personal creative process for everyone involved. And as time goes by, the fabricators get to know their creations better than anyone as they constantly repair and refurbish displays — something Linda says is done on a weekly basis.

Most major exhibits at the Bradbury take about two years from first blush to ribbon cutting. During that time, fabricators — who have expertise in areas like woodworking, plastic working, lighting and metal work (just to name a few) — start from raw materials and build things up with consideration for a number of critical elements:

  • Safety and security
  • Artifact display, mounting and protection
  • Spatial restrictions and lighting
  • Hazard/risk mitigation (slips, trips and falls, especially)
Fabricators construct exhibits that help translate our complicated science to the public through interactive experiences.
Fabricators construct exhibits that help translate our complicated science to the public through interactive experiences.

“Fabricators are really experts at three-dimensional sculpture and building,” Linda says. “Sometimes, the fabricator even ends up guiding the entire building process. The designer has a good concept, but fabrication is where the rubber hits the road.”

Because the Bradbury building is landlocked and its space is limited, its designer and fabricators have had to come up with ingenious, innovative ways to make things fit and flow. As time marches on and more permanent exhibits are added, the challenge becomes greater.

“There’s a lot of problem-solving that takes place with what we do,” says Mark, who works as part of the fabrication team on interactive elements of various exhibits. “I like the challenges and the creativity.”
While many museums use outside fabrication outfits to meet such demands, Linda says having an in-house fabrication team makes the Bradbury uniquely successful.

“Everything in the Museum is bespoke,” she says. “Exhibits can’t look vastly different from the style we’ve established. Having a fabricator on staff means exhibits can be built in-house and maintained in-house. It’s rare for a museum to have the expertise on-site to make and repair what it exhibits.”