How CNM Students Are Changing the Way You Experience Museums
B-29 Superfortress

How CNM Students Are Changing the Way You Experience Museums

Through a partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, the students are writing apps that augment standard displays and make the museum experience more dynamic
August 21, 2018

History doesn’t usually change, which is why museums create displays and then leave them alone. That said, the way information is provided about history does change thanks to new technologies, so museums constantly have to adapt.

Here in Albuquerque, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is working to stay out front by creating QR codes that visitors can scan with their smartphone to access rich vaults of information that go beyond the standard placard. To implement the technology and create the information centers, they’ve partnered with volunteers from Sandia National Labs as well as CNM instructor Paul Clark and his Web Programming students.

“We realized there was a better way to do things here at the museum and CNM is helping us move forward,” says Jim Walther, the museum director.

By the end of the Fall term, Clark says his students and the Sandia volunteers hope to have a group of QR codes posted in Heritage Park, or the outside section of the museum that houses old planes and missiles. More specifically, the codes will be next to four planes: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-29 Superfortress, the B-47 Stratojet, and the F-16.

B-47 Stratojet

By simply pointing an iPhone’s camera at one of the QR codes (or by using a specific app on Android phones) viewers will immediately be directed to a web page with a background video about the plane they’re standing next to, plus other slides that provide the most important statistics about the plane’s engineering and history.

For example, by scanning the code next to the B-52 on display, viewers will learn that it was the first and last aircraft to drop a hydrogen bomb and the only B-52 left in existence that has dropped a nuclear weapon. By scanning the QR code next to the B-47, they would learn the airplane only needed defensive armaments mounted in the rear because it was so fast no other plane could get ahead.

For the CNM students involved, the QR project is a good history lesson, but more importantly it’s given them real-world development experience. They’re using cutting edge web methodologies and tools such as Docker, DevOps, and Agile, all of which will prepare them for engaging and high-paying jobs.

“This project has been great because it ensures I’ll be properly trained when I’m done with school,” says James Lopez, 23. “That and it’s just fun.”

B-52 Stratofortress

In some ways, the QR project is also helping the museum look two steps farther down the road. It will allow current museum-goers to have a more robust experience, but it takes into consideration that younger generations are so used to digital delivery that they will demand info on their smartphones instead of the typical placards.

“Really what we’re doing is inviting the next generation to engage,” says Wesley Robbins, one of the Sandia volunteers.

After the first four QR codes are in place, Clark says that his students can hand maintenance over to the staff and then take on another project.

“The tech you can use in a place like this is really unlimited if you think about it,” he says.