“What is the Museum of Science & Industry’s MedLab Program?” by S.M. O’Connor

      MedLab is an Apple iPad-based interactive program. On Friday, November 8, 2019, the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science Industry, which I will continue to abbreviate as M.S.I., announced the introduction of an off-site MedLab program that teachers can customize in the classroom billed as the “world’s first multi-user simulated medical science lab.”  [Friday was National S.T.E.M. Day.  S.T.E.M. stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.]  In a press release, the M.S.I. noted, “launch[ed]… MedLab…to celebrate the ‘M’ in STEM as the institution defines it – science, technology, engineering, and medicine.”

      In a classroom, students play the role of medical interns. [A medical intern is a physician or surgeon who has graduated from medical school and has a medical degree, but does not yet have a full medical license and cannot yet legally practice medicine except within the program and under supervision.[1]]  Under the guidance of a virtual doctor, classes and individual students or teams meet a patient, diagnose the ailment, and prescribe a treatment.  According to the press release, the “students participate in dynamic hands-on programming.”

      Using iPads, they use touchscreen activities, one of which is a simulation of scanning a patient with an M.R.I. (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner.  Students review symptoms and family history of patients.  They conduct virtual tests, such as taking the patient’s pulse, testing spinal fluid, and examining blood cells.  A student diagnoses a case of lead poisoning, viral meningitis, or tuberculosis, and select a course of treatment.  Part of the aim of MedLab is for students to discover careers in the medical “field that directly correlate with each component of the program.”

Credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Caption: This video, posted to YouTube on November 5, 2019, depicts a MedLab class in action.

      “Since its foundation, MSI has always been a world leader in science education, continuing to be ahead of the curve in introducing complex ideas into the minds of young students,” stated M.S.I. President and C.E.O. David Mosena. “The Museum is proud to debut MedLab to introduce the next generation of digital learners to the future of hands-on, interactive learning.”

      To create MedLab, the M.S.I. collaborated with an advisory committee of medical professionals from The University of Chicago, Robert Crown Center for Health Education, Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  MedLab went through trials at more than a dozen schools in the Chicagoland area.

      “We hope that exposing teachers to virtual tools like MedLab can empower to cultivate a lifelong curiosity in their students towards medical and scientific careers in improving health,” stated MedLab Advisory Committee member Dr. Vineet Arora, Assistant Dean for Scholarship and Discovery at The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Med Lab @ Williams Prep High School

Figure 1 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Two students from Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School of Medicine use cutting-edge technology and programming inside MedLab, taking on the role of medical interns working alongside a virtual doctor to meet their patient, make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

Med Lab @ Williams Prep High School

Figure 2 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Students participate in hands-on program including using innovative touchscreen activities, such as simulating an M.R.I. scan with a virtual patient, and conducting virtual tests like taking a pulse, testing spinal fluid, and examining blood cells.

Med Lab @ Williams Prep High School

Figure 3 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Throughout the program, each test links to careers in the healthcare field that directly correlate to the tasks at hand including a physician assistant, radiologist and clinical microbiologist. Teachers have the ability to pause the program for enriching discussion and reflection.

      To run MedLab is a classroom, a teacher will need (1) a computer (either a Mac or PC) with a recent version of Google Chrome that is connected to (2) speakers and (3) a large monitor or projector or interactive whiteboard at the front of the classroom; (4) an iPad running a recent version of IOS for teacher control of the experience; (5) an iPad running a recent version of iOS for each student or team of students; and (6) an Internet connection fast enough to stream video on all of the iPads in the classroom. 

      A teacher (or principal or headmaster) who is not sure how fast his or her school’s Internet connection is can head over to speedtest.net to run a test.  The M.S.I. recommends a steady Internet connection of at least 10Mbs (10 Megabits) download speed.  “Due to the use of specific sensors in the device, Apple iPads are required for teacher control and student use.  Chromebooks and Android tablets are presently not supported,” the M.S.I. explicated.

      Through the M.S.I.’s Welcome to Science Initiative, approximately 700,000 students and teachers participate in on-and off-site science education programming every year.  Designed to push that number further by offering free educational resources available anywhere in the world, MedLab joins a suite of technology-based educational materials designed by the M.S.I.

      Funding for this program comes from a SIMLAB grant awarded to the M.S.I. through a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.), the agency of the U.S. Government with primary responsibility for biomedical and public health research.  The grant funded the creation of three on-site medical labs and one virtual lab.

      “The grant also funded programming for iStan, a state-of-the-art Human Patient Simulator,” the M.S.I. explained. “iStan, for ‘Standard Man,’ is part of the Museum’s medical innovations area of the YOU! The Experience exhibit. This computer-controlled, full-sized mannequin is normally used to train medical and nursing students in a hospital setting.”  iStan may look familiar to museum visitors from appearances in episodes of the medical drama ER and the primetime soap opera Grey’s Anatomy.

      Since their debut in 2014, the on-site MedLab programs have accommodated more than 12,000 students in programming consisting of: MedLab: Asthma, MedLab: Diabetes, MedLab: Heart Disease.  Firstly, in MedLab: Asthma, students diagnose asthma as they work with a human patient simulation robot and analyze cells with a microscope.  Secondly, in MedLab: Diabetes, students use authentic hospital laboratory equipment and work with a human patient simulation robot to diagnose diabetes.  Thirdly, in MedLab: Heart Disease, students use an ultrasound simulator and complete real medical tests to diagnose heart disease in a human patient simulation robot.  All three classes are for middle school or high school students (7th through 12th grades), takes sixty minutes, can accommodate up to thirty students, and costs $120.

      The M.S.I. stated, “The Welcome to Science Initiative helps children achieve their full potential in science by creating learning experiences inside and outside the classroom, and removing barriers that exclude them from participating. Our unique youth-centered approach supports students and everyone involved in their success—families, educators, schools and communities. Program strategies focus on improving the quality of science teaching in schools; connecting science to children wherever they are; and showcasing diversity in STEM fields. We place a priority on serving schools and neighborhoods with predominantly low-income student populations.”

      Often formerly stylized as the “Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago” or the “Museum of Science + Industry” the institution is located at the northern end of the Chicago Park District’s Jackson Park, on the south side of 57th Street, between Lake Shore Drive to the east and Cornell Drive to the west, in the East Hyde Park neighborhood of the Hyde Park Community Area (Community Area #41) on the South Side of Chicago.   

      The Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the Palace of Fine Arts,[2] also known as the Fine Arts Building, which is the last palace from the White City fairgrounds of Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), still standing in Jackson Park.[3] On October 30, 1890, the exposition board named Daniel Hudson Burnham, Sr. (1846-1912) Director of Public Works for the World’s Columbian Exposition.  He appointed Charles B. Atwood (1849-1895) Chief Architect of the World’s Columbian Exposition and Atwood personally designed the Illinois Central Railroad Station, the Peristyle of the Court of Honor, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

      The façade is modeled on temples standing on the Acropolis of Athens. The neoclassical design Atwood developed for the Palace of Fine Arts combined Roman domes with Ionic Greek columns, statues, and frieze panels.  He borrowed the Central Pavilion’s north portico from a painting of a fanciful art museum by Paul-Albert Besnard (1849-1934) that had won the Prix de Rome. Atwood had two assistants: Alexandre Sandier and Ernest R. Graham (1868-1936).  Sandier had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under Besnard.  Graham coordinated much of Atwood’s work on-site, including aspects of the Palace of Fine Arts. 

      The other palaces were made of wood or steel framing clad in a kind of plaster known as “staff.”[4]  Initially, the South Park Commission[5] wanted to tear down the Palace of Fine Arts after The Field Museum of Natural History vacated it in 1920, but sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936) rallied groups in support of restoring the building. Mrs. Albion Headburg organized 6,000 women to donate funds to restore a small part of the Palace of Fine Arts to show what it could look like. They changed the mind of South Park Commissioners, whereupon the South Park Commission asked voters to approve the sale of $5,000,000 in bonds to finance restoration of the building to serve as a science museum, trade school, sculptural art museum, and convention center.

      Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), President of Sears, Roebuck & Company, founded the Museum of Science and Industry in 1926 through The Commercial Club of Chicago, of which he was a member.[6]  Rosenwald expressed a desire to establish an interactive science museum like Oskar von Miller’s Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik (German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.     

      Designing the restoration and reconstruction of Atwood’s staff superstructure and brick substructure fell to the architectural firm employed by the South Park Commission: Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White – principally to Alfred Shaw (1895-1970).  He also designed the Art Moderne interior. Upon the death of Messrs. Probst and White, another firm, Shaw, Naess, and Murphy, undertook completion of the new interior’s design, beginning in January of 1937. The façade and substructure underwent restoration and reconstruction between 1929 and 1931.  When it became apparent $5,000,000 would be insufficient to restore the building, Julius Rosenwald pledged to pay for completion of the project, in addition to his endowment pledge of $3,000,000.

      The M.S.I. opened in three stages between 1933 and 1940, with the first opening ceremony on July 1, 1933.  These events coincided with Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34), which opened on June 1, 1933.

      On Thursday, October 3, 2019, the Museum of Science and Industry announced that the Board of Trustees had voted to accept a $125,000,000 gift from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund.  M.S.I. executives and board members felt it would consequently be appropriate to change the Museum of Science and Industry’s name to the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.  A multi-billionaire, Mr. Griffin is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of Citadel, Inc., a Chicago-based hedge fund.  His gift is the largest in the history of the science and technology museum, and one of the largest gifts to any cultural institution in Chicago. 

      The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.  The Website is https://www.msichicago.org/ and the phone number is (773) 684-1414.


[1] After a one-year-long internship and passing a third-level examination, a doctor may practice medicine as a general practitioner (G.P.), but the typical American doctor goes on to spend another two-to-seven years in a medical residency (postgraduate training) developing a specialty.  A medical doctor who wishes to practice family medicine will spend two years in a medical residency, while a medical doctor who wishes to become a surgeon will spent five-to-seven years in a medical residency. 

[2] The Palace of Fine Arts held art treasures from around the world.  To protect the world’s art treasures, unlike the other palaces of the White City, the Palace of Fine Arts had a “fireproof” brick substructure under its staff superstructure.  This precaution was undertaken because world leaders were nervous about placing precious objects on display in a city that had been rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

[3] Some of the palaces were disassembled in Chicago and reassembled in state capitals.  The Peristyle and some other structures burnt down on January 8, 1894.  Seven more palaces burnt down on July 5, 1894.  The German building was turned into a bathhouse, was renamed the Liberty Building during the First Great World War, and burned down.  The Japanese Tea House burned down during the Second Great World War.  The Iowa Building became an eyesore and was demolished at the Museum of Science and Industry’s expense.

[4] Staff is a combination of plaster-of-paris, hemp fibers, and Portland cement.

[5] The South Park District was one of twenty-two park districts in Chicago that merged in 1934 to form the Chicago Park District.

[6] The Commercial Club had earlier sponsored Burnham’s Plan of Chicago (1909). [In 1906-09, Burnham and assistant Edward H. Bennett drafted The Plan of Chicago with the financial support of Chicago’s Merchants Club, which merged with The Commercial Club of Chicago in 1907.  The report, published in 1909, circulated amongst Commercial Club members and public institutions, was adopted by the Chicago Common Council at the urging of Mayor Fred Busse (1866-1914).]  The Comemrcial Club of Chicago had also sponsored the Chicago Zoological Society, which founded the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois.

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