The anatomy of a nuclear weapons exhibit

A behind-the-scenes, almost-real-time look at how a team is revamping the museum’s exhibit

December 7, 2022

12 Bsm Nuclear Weapons Exhibit Ed007 Opt
This model shows the proposed exhibit design, complete with a mockup of the Mk 12A reentry vehicle (the black cone) and a pair of mock glove boxes.

By Octavio Ramos Jr.

Relaunching an exhibit — particularly one as complex and significant as the Bradbury’s nuclear weapons exhibit — is no small feat. Led by Museum Director Linda Deck, our enthusiastic team has begun coming up with preliminary concepts, crafting new design ideas and assessing visitor interests. Here’s what’s happening!

Sourcing expert information

Part of my role as the exhibit’s lead writer is to work on the exhibit’s components — known as panels or stations — by talking to key subject-matter experts. Kirk Otterson of the Office of National Security and International Studies has provided insight as to how best to explain the concepts of deterrence; Mark Chadwick of the Associated Laboratory Directorate for Weapons Physics has helped explain concepts like fission and fusion. Valuable feedback like this is vital. It will enable me to write takeaways that will resonate with museum visitors.

Getting a visitor’s point of view

To better understand what today’s museum visitor wants to see, I’m working with Hugh McDonald, an expert in exhibit and user-interface development. Hugh and I have set up a table next to the current exhibit. There, we interact with the public, using a “cart method.” This method uses artifacts and images to prompt people to come up to our table and tell us what’s on their minds rather than Hugh and I asking them questions.

Design is key

Museum exhibit designer Omar Juveland and graphics designer Allen Hopkins are creating an innovative approach to exhibit design, minimizing traditional printed panels and instead using video monitors to create dynamic, moving presentations. Graphics will drive this exhibit, so the two designers will be busy finding and refining photographs, working with videographers to develop new videos or modify existing ones, illustrating concepts and iconography and assisting with animation videos.

Video adds dimension

Another key player on the team is Mel Strong, museum educator. His role is to develop videos that will explain complicated processes (how do you put on personal protection equipment before entering an area where others are working with plutonium?) or scientific concepts (what is a hydrotest?).

Hands-on opportunities make it real

Artifacts will easily answer some of the public’s questions. For example, want to know what an Mk 12A reentry vehicle looks like? We’ll have one on display that you can touch!

Interactive experiences are fun ways to engage visitors. We may have what amounts to a “mini war game” for the deterrence station. The game will present a scenario (from history) that show how integrated deterrence helped avert escalation between the Soviet Union and the United States. Another interactive experience will consist of a couple of mockup glove boxes (one for adults and another for kids), complete with things visitors can do to simulate work in this environment.

Although still in its infancy, the exhibit is taking shape. I can’t wait to see it up in the museum space for the public to experience.