Monday 19 April 2021
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First Look review: The Adler Planetarium’s Community Design Lab caters to curious minds


By Emily Clement

Photos by Alder Planetarium and

Located at: Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive.

Background: The Adler Planetarium celebrated its 85th anniversary this May, and to celebrate, an exhibit was created to let its patrons collaborate and create. While it is meant to honor the past 85 years of scientific advances, the exhibit also looks forward to the coming years and what young scientists will achieve. The exhibit runs through Labor Day.

What to expect: A wall of photos leading into the exhibit celebrates the Adler’s past projects and exhibits that patrons have been a part of.

“We’ve been doing science with our guests for 85 years,” says Kyle Sater, the manager of special projects at Adler.

The Community Design Lab is a way for the planetarium to continue that tradition in a very intentional way — by putting their guests at the center of the exhibit.

The lab itself is a small, temporary exhibit that looks kind of like a kindergarten craft room, save for the concrete mixer in one corner and the vacuum box in the other. There is a wall of supplies like toilet paper tubes and cardboard for building and experimenting with. Tables with more supplies stacked on them, too, and questions like: “How is looking through a telescope like time travel?”

There are currently three different challenges for groups to collaborate on that will be emphasized during the summer. The first challenge is to build a piece of equipment that will fasten your smartphone to a telescope lens so you can take photos through the telescope. The other projects are building your own payload (a box that goes up to “near space”) and creating your own mini sky show. adler_cdl_1-1024x680Though Adler employees will be available to help, the exhibit is meant to make guests think creatively and problem solve together.

“It’s designed for anyone with a curious mind,” Sater says.

What stood out: The vacuum box, meant to test the payload for stability in low-atmospheric pressure, is way too much fun. Employees place air-filled substances like marshmallows or shaving cream in the box. As the air is sucked out of the box, the substance swells to improbable proportions. The fun part, though, is when they let the air back in.

Final thoughts: The Community Design Lab is a great reminder that real science can be real fun. Though it is designed with 20-somethings in mind, kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy the challenges.