Future Energy Chicago is an interactive exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry designed to make visitors contemplate ways to make American society more energy-efficient. Visitors began to preview the exhibit Future Energy Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) on Wednesday, September 18, 2013. In a press release, the M.S.I. stated, “Using a state-of-the-art, multi-player visual simulation based on real-world data, Future Energy Chicago engages guests to explore creative solutions to our most critical energy challenges. Teams compete in five exciting and unique simulation activities to design a future car, future house, future neighborhood, future transportation network and future power grid for Chicago.”
“Our primary goal with Future Energy Chicago is to encourage and empower young people to envision their own role in our energy future,” stated David Mosena, President & Chief Executive Officer of the M.S.I. “We’ve developed this experience over three years with a host of independent, research-centered energy experts, and it has the depth to motivate both kids and adults to engage in an issue that affects all of us.”
Upon entry to the exhibit, visitors view a short film about energy in nature. When the screening concludes, viewers enter the main feature of Future Energy Chicago is the Simulation Lab. Here, Museum of Science and Industry facilitators welcome students on field trips and other guests and divide them into teams. These teams play five games, “Future House,” “Future Neighborhood,” “Future Car,” “Future Power,” and “Future Transportation.” Sieben Energy Associates helped the Museum of Science and Industry gather and interpret real-world data to create the scoring system for the larger Simulation Game comprised of the five smaller mini-games.
In “Future House,” the visitor fills the role of energy consultant. The teams explores a virtual house to find ways to use technologies to make a Chicago house more energy-efficient without sacrificing comfort.
In “Future Neighborhood,” one has a chance to play urban planner. The goal is to design a walkable neighborhood with homes, businesses, schools, stores, and entertainment venues to reduce how much time residents would need to spend in their cars to reach work, take their children to school, go shopping, and reach recreation points.
In “Future Car,” one plays the role of automotive engineer. Experiment different engine types and automotive body materials to make a car more energy-efficient. Then compare the theoretical car of tomorrow the team has designed to a real car one might find on the road today in the Energy Road Rally.
In “Future Power,” one gets to play energy engineer. The goal for the team is to identify energy sources that can meet energy demand, while also reducing pollution and staying on budget. Here, learn about the American energy grid. What kind of power plant should one build, a coal-burning plant? A nuclear power plant? Natural gas? Biomass? Solar power? Wind power? Learn about emerging energy storage and carbon capture technologies.
In “Future Transportation,” the team’s goal is to design a public transportation grid that includes trains and buses, and bicycle paths. Try to reduce inefficient, stress-inducing traffic jams.
The Museum of Science and Industry stated, in a press release, “Throughout the simulation, guests will compete in teams of up to six players, and rotate through five fast-paced games to design an energy-efficient future car and house, improve tomorrow’s neighborhood, and reinvent Chicago’s transportation and power generation systems. Along the way, their progress—measured by their ability to conserve energy—is tracked in ‘energy tanks’ on a 24-foot, visually rich scoreboard.”
In each game, guests are challenged to maximize energy efficiency while considering the various pros and cons of each choice they make—including cost, comfort and environmental factors. Along the way, new constraints and opportunities appear, compelling guests to consider various trade-offs and earn special badges that enhance their game scores.
For example, in Future Power, guests will begin the game by selecting energy sources to power the city of Chicago, but without any constraints for pollution. As the game progresses, new power sources appear, but pollution limits are also introduced and become progressively stricter.
Each of the games combines digital media with three-dimensional displays that enhance the realism of the simulation. In Future House, guests interact directly with a dimensional house that contains touch screen technology.
Touching various areas of the home, they determine the most energy-efficient changes to make: Which parts of the house use a lot of energy? Will different windows help? In Future Car, guests are automotive designers and engineers as they make selections—engine, paint color, stereo systems— that are projected onto a white model of a car so that their design takes shape before their eyes.
In the Energy Garden, visitors can ride a stationary bike, producing kinetic energy that transforms into electrical energy. According to the Museum of Science and Industry, this powers “a dazzling array of visual effects, such as fire and water.” Visitors can crank “a hand generator and activate an array of ‘plasma trees’ that energize the entire exhibit space.” As visitors power with their own physical efforts a range of light bulbs, they can feel the difference in energy demand from an inefficient incandescent light bulb to an efficient LED light bulb.
The excitement and visual effects in the Energy Garden build, eventually triggering a transformation of the exhibit space that initiates the next experience: a six-minute, immersive film that celebrates the wonder of energy in our natural world, introduces guests to the global energy challenges we face and calls them to action, setting the stage for the heart of the Future Energy Chicago experience—the simulation game.
“This exhibit experience is incredibly unique,” stated Dr. Patricia Ward, who was then the Museum of Science and Industry’s Director of Science and Technology and is now Director of Science Exhibitions and Partnerships. “We don’t know of another Museum that has created this kind of state-of-the-art simulation, and we are so excited to begin previewing it for guests and students.”
Figure 1 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Students choose different power sources to fuel Chicago as they take on the role of power engineers in the “Future Power” game, part of the Future Energy Chicago exhibit at the M.S.I. The preview period for this exhibit began on Wednesday, September 18, 2013.
Figure 2 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Visitors think like automotive engineers by designing energy-efficient vehicles in the “Future Car” simulation game in the exhibit Future Energy Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.
Figure 3 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector Caption: Students play the “Future Car” simulation game.
Figure 4 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: In the “Future Neighborhood” simulation game, one of five games in the Future Energy Chicago exhibit’s Game Simulation, guests design a walkable, energy-efficient neighborhood.
Figure 5 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: A school group plays the “Future Neighborhood” game in the exhibit Future Energy Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Figure 6 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: M.S.I. Facilitators break visitors into teams and teams rotate throughout five games in which players design an energy-efficient future car and house, improve tomorrow’s neighborhood, and reinvent Chicago’s transportation and power generation systems.
Figure 7 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: In the “Future House” simulation game of the exhibit Future Energy Chicago, visitors experiment with ways to make houses more energy-efficient.
The Future Energy experience lasts approximately one hour and is not included in general admission. It requires an additional timed-entry ticket, which is available as part of a Museum’s Explorer ticket package. Tickets are available online at www.msichicago.org/visit/tickets. Show times begin at 10:15 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.
Future Energy Chicago is the latest in a long line of energy exhibits and exhibitions at the M.S.I., including a working model of the tipple and other surface facilities of the Peabody Coal Company’s Mine Number 9 in Kincaid, Illinois; the Old Ben #17 Coal Mine; Petroleum; The Story of Flame Gas; Electricity & Our Future; Natural Gas Energy; and Energy Lab. Further, in 1977, Doubleday & Company also published Where Are You Going with that Energy? by Roy Doty (1922-2015) and Leonard (“Len”) Maar, Jr. (1927-2016) under the auspices of the Museum of Science and Industry. [This was part of a series of children’s books on science and technology Doty wrote for Doubleday and the M.S.I., all of which had titles that began with the question “Where Are You Going with…”] That same year, Doubleday also published, under the auspices of the Museum of Science and Industry, Electric Cars by E. John Waard and Aaron E. Klien. This was a book for adults and teenagers on the history of electric cars, the state of electric cars in what was then the present time of the late 1970s, and speculations about the future of electric cars. Future Energy Chicago is made possible by the support of BP and the Exelon Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Public Museum Capital Grants Program from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (I.D.N.R.) and the Illinois State Museum; Anonymous; Elizabeth Ruth Bakwin; The Aunt Marlene Foundation; and Edward M. Bakwin.
Starting on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, the Museum of Science and Industry will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Until Labor Day (Monday, September 4, 2017), the M.S.I. will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. [During peak periods, the M.S.I. is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On Sunday, September 24, 2017, the M.S.I. will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.] The Museum of Science and Industry is located in the northeast corner of Jackson Park in the neighborhood of Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago. It stands on 57th Street at the intersection with Lake Shore Drive. The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637. The phone number is (773) 684-1414.
 This is a revised and expanded version of an article I posted on Examiner.com Chicago in 2013.