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NCSA helps create interactive tornado experience for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) contributed new versions of its famous data-driven visualizations of how tornadoes form—already seen by millions in PBS NOVA’s Hunt for the Supertwister—to the new permanent exhibit, Science Storms at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). The exhibit reveals the extraordinary science behind some of nature’s most powerful and compelling phenomena—tornadoes, lightning, fire, tsunamis, sunlight, avalanches, and atoms in motion.

NCSA’s visualizations are part of an interactive kiosk, created by Cortina Productions, that allows museum guests to manipulate the key factors of wind speed, air temperature, and moisture within a Midwestern farm landscape to create the conditions that are right for the formation of a tornado, unleashing their own digital storms.

Donna Cox, leader of NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL) and director of the Illinois eDream Institute, hosts the interactive touch-screen experience, guiding guests as they set their conditions and explaining the basics of how a tornado forms. Museum-goers can watch a short visualization of a tornado, based on data from a computational simulation; Cox describes how her team’s visualization represents the scientific data (green and yellow pyramid glyphs represent wind speed and direction, for example) and how the simulation compares to the real storm that struck in Manchester, South Dakota.

Science Storms is included in general admission. Science Storms is brought to you through the generosity of Allstate, The Allstate Foundation, and The Grainger Foundation. Additional major funding has been provided by the United States Department of Energy. For more information about MSI or Science Storms, visit

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