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.

Scenic Elements

  • 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 print
  • Large portraits (2 x 3 feet) of horror movie characters in ornate frames
  • 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 Library
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Exhibition Components

  • 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

"Powers 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 manner.

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.

Paper Cutting Interactive
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.

Brownian Motion
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.

Phantom's Multimedia Computer Station
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 include:

  • 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 atoms.
  • Matter and energy and their interaction govern all systems in the universe.