The DeepTree exhibit zooms users through evolutionary time
DeepTree is part of a larger museum exhibit called Life on Earth that was put together by Shen’s team and is currently stationed in four museums including the California Academy of Science in San Francisco and Chicago’s Field Museum.
To create DeepTree, Shen’s team merged vast public datasets of phylogenetic trees, common names and species images, as well as estimates for the times of divergence; selected a tree shape that would accurately reflect the way species diverge gradually over time; and studied how multiple museum visitors interact with the displays simultaneously to enable cooperative learning.
“Our project is very carefully constructed so people can learn,” says Shen. Indeed, a research study carried out in two museum settings showed that by using DeepTree, young people have an increased understanding of common ancestry and the relatedness of diverse species.
Shen and her colleagues are also experimenting with rendering a large tree in the cloud. “Secondary school teachers are interested,” Shen says, “And we think we can do it.”