The Phantom's Portrait Parlor
Central Concept: Basic Principles of Matter
Central Character: The Phantom of the Opera
Visitors enter The
Atoms Family through mansion-like front doors reminiscent of
the Gothic scenery of 1930s black-and-white classic horror films.
The Phantom of the Opera's Portrait Parlor introduces the principles
of atoms and matter as the building blocks of the universe. Large
framed portraits present the characters who assist visitors in
their journey to gain a greater understanding of the role of
atoms in matter and energy.
A famous energy film entitled Powers of 10 is showcased in
the Portrait Parlor which transports visitors to the edge of
the universe and then, magically, into the proton of a carbon
atom. The properties of matter are illustrated using balls to
demonstrate the three basic types of matter: gas, liquids and
solids. Interactive exhibits illustrate the minute size of an
atom, atomic structure and characteristics. The centerpiece of
this room - a diffusion cloud chamber - renders the invisible
visible and enables visitors to "see" natural background
radiation from particle tracks visible in the chamber. A multimedia
interactive computer station enables visitors to test their understanding.
- Standing Figure of Phantom of the Opera (Lon Chaney)
- Entrance through Gothic house front, faux wood with heavy
open wood doors
- "Wallpapered" panels with oversized fleur-de-lis
- Large portraits (2 x 3 feet) of horror movie characters in
- Large "curtained" (wood panels) around tall, backlit
"window" panels with thunder and lightning effects
- Oversized faux fireplace
- Antlers and boar's head mounted on walls
- Seating for "The Powers of Ten" video on oversized
faux living room set (plywood settee and chair)
- "Curtained" wooden panels for the entrance to Dracula's
- Introductory Video and Equipment: "The Powers of Ten"
- Cloud Chamber
- Strobe Scope: Atoms & Space
- Paper Cutting Interactive
- Brownian Motion Microscope
- Three States of Matter
- Multimedia Computer Station
of Ten" Introductory Video
This nine-minute video production provides visitors with a sense
of the relative size of an atom and shows how matter is mostly
empty space. It begins in a park in Chicago, magnifying a part
of a man's hand by a factor of 10, every 10 seconds, continuing
to the edge of the resolution of an atom. The video then takes
visitors on a journey to the edge of the universe in the same
The Cloud Chamber
The cloud chamber works under a simple physical principle. Pure
isopropyl alcohol drips in a tray while a heating grid above
the tray helps evaporate the alcohol. This forms a supersaturated
layer of air/alcohol on top of the black plate, which is cooled
to a temperature of about -10 degrees Fahrenheit. When the ionized
particles travel through this layer, the alcohol condenses and
leaves the trails, highly visible and dynamic to the viewer.
The visible particles are part of the background radiation that
is continually present on earth, often from very common items
(reinforced by the Geiger Counter exhibit). Concrete, for example
has a higher than normal background radiation count.
Strobe Scope: Atoms & Space
Using colorful, animated imagery, this exhibit reinforces the
concept that most of the room inside an atom is empty space.
Visitors look through a spectroscope at a simulated magnified
atom. Pushing the button causes the electrons (red lights) to
spin around the nucleus (orange ball). Visitors see how much
space is between the nucleus and the surrounding electron cloud.
Even in a simple atom with only one electron, the electron moves
in a random orbit, creating a cloud-like effect.
Visitors try to cut a 11-inch long strip of paper in half 31
times to end up with a final piece of paper the size of an atom.
After about the eighth cut, the paper becomes quite small and
impossible to continue to cut in half, representing the minute
size of an atom.
Visitors look through microscope to observe vibrating particles
jumping around in liquid. These molecules are vibrating from
heat - when suspended in liquid this is visible, indicating the
presence of the invisible atoms.
Three States of Matter
In this exhibit visitors see how different states of matter -
gas, liquid and solid - have different intermolecular relationships.
In each example the number of molecules is the same, only the
space between them varies. Visitors notice how the "molecules"
in the solid jar are packed tightly together with little space
between them and how the molecules can "flow" and move
around. In the gas matter demonstration, there is a lot of air
between the molecules so that the molecules take up 300 times
the space of the size of the original jar.
This interactive computer station reinforces the concepts explored
in the Portrait Parlor interactive exhibits using animated graphics,
text and sound. Visitors can test their comprehension with a
true-false quiz, getting immediate feedback on their responses
as they proceed through the program. The basic concepts reinforced
- Matter is made up of small particles, called atoms, that
are in constant motion. Atoms are made up of subatomic particles
including electrons, protons and neutrons.
- Some atoms have heavier unstable nuclei that decay spontaneously
producing wavelike radiation, short-lived particles and/or simpler
- Matter and energy and their interaction govern all systems
in the universe.