Exhibit planning

Resources for Mobile Museum exhibit development

About physical exhibits

The 2014-2017 versions of the Mobile Museum each included three physical exhibits, with a mix of objects (specimens and artifacts) and text panels, and we expect to use a similar layout in 2018--although this could depend on the exhibits selected.

A physical exhibit might include mounted objects inside or outside cases, text and graphic panels, small dioramas, interactive elements, video, audio, etc.  The objects and interactives are key.  Good physical exhibits include more than text, digital photos and videos; if you think your story can best be told only with text and photos, consider a digital exhibit instead.  

We encourage anyone developing a proposal to think creatively about what kinds of elements can best help tell your story.  We will help figure out the details--you do not need to already have all the objects on hand, nor do you need to know exactly how to create replicas, mount artifacts in cases, or determine the details of case and panel sizes. 

You should think very carefully about whether to include any objects that are physically delicate, especially if individual objects are critical to the story you want to tell. In particular, if vibrations or shaking, or changes in temperature or humidity, are problematic for your objects, you may want to talk to us about the specifics of the Mobile Museum environment before submitting your proposal. However, we have successfully traveled with a wide range of objects and artifacts, and can probably find a secure way to mount and protect what you want to display.

The combination of panels, cases, and other elements in your exhibit does not have to be the same as last year's--we include the photos below to show what some of the possibilities are.

About digital exhibits

We currently use a software package called Intuiface for our digital exhibits. Intuiface makes the development of touchscreen-based content easy, and it can support powerful and creative interactions.  If you're thinking of developing a digital exhibit or vignette proposal, we encourage you to look at some of Intuiface's demos and samples to see what kinds of things the software is capable of.  

About audio and video

These can be great storytelling tools, and several groups have included them in physical and digital exhibits, either on our big touchscreens or on smaller screens within the main exhibit areas.  We've even had audio built into mechanical interactives, like a historic telephone in the "German Iowa" exhibit.  However, the Mobile Museum can be noisy at times. You should not depend on audio alone, or on the sound in your video, to tell your story on its own--please be prepared to include captions or subtitles where necessary.

Exhibit layout

The Mobile Museum typically has three physical exhibits, although the layout changes slightly from year to year.  These are the exhibits we've had so far:


  • Iowa's Ice Age Giants--ice-age paleontology, featuring many real or reproduced fossils from UI collections.
  • Iowa's Ancient Agriculturalists--the archaeology of the Glenwood culture in Iowa, featuring many artifacts from the Office of the State Archaeologist, a small diorama of an earth lodge, and short videos.
  • Cornerstones--the history and importance of the Old Capitol building in Iowa City, University of Iowa milestones, and Iowa territorial history, featuring artifacts from the Old Capitol Museum collections and a scale model of the building

See how these three exhibits filled the space on our sample layout page.


  • Hawkeyes in Space--highlighted the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy's contributions to space exploration since the 1950s, focusing on three major events in that history: Explorer 1 in 1958, Voyager 1 in 1977, and the launch of the Van Allen probes in 2013. It featured objects from the department's collection and three hands-on stations demonstrating basic physics principles.
  • Water Underground: The Science of Iowa’s Most Essential Resource introduced the chemistry of water, Iowa’s bedrock aquifer systems, and arsenic pollution in drinking water. It highlighted contributions and research from the Department of Chemistry/Water Sustainability Initiative, Iowa Geological Survey, and the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination.  It included a mechanical interactive about how drainage works in different substrates, samples of kinds of rock included in a bedrock map of Iowa, magnetic ferrofluid, digital video, and magnetic molecular models of water.
  • Over Here From Over There: Iowans in World War II shared the lives and contributions of Iowans during the war years overseas and at home through letters, diaries, photographs, and artifacts.

See how these three exhibits filled the space on our sample layout page.


  • Hawkeye Power: Clean Energy for Iowans explored research by a variety of UI departments to improve energy efficiency in our homes and workplaces and examined the UI’s efforts to make Iowa a leader in alternative energy sources.  It included a user-controlled mini wind turbine, a sample of giant Miscanthus grass and other biofuels, and a demonstration of the thermal properties of various home insulation materials.
  • A Wealth of Health: From Iowa to the World highlighted the work of health care professionals educated and working at the University of Iowa in developing new health technologies, innovative teaching tools for training future doctors and nurses, and creative STEM educational materials to serve people across Iowa and around the world.  It included historical artifacts and an interactive training station.
  • German Iowa used research by UI faculty and students to explore Iowa’s largest ethnic group and the influence they had on our state’s culture from 1850–1950, with a special focus on how the perception of German culture in Iowa shifted during the First and Second World Wars.  It included historical documents, photos, and audio.

2017: Read more about this year's exhibits on the main Mobile Museum page.  We strongly recommend visiting the museum before you submit your proposal, to see how the exhibits use the available space and resources.



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