The Field Museum’s “Nature Unleashed” opens with a tree cracked in half and stripped of bark. It is just one of many extraordinary visuals from the planet’s most destructive natural phenomenon: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornados. The exhibit juxtaposes Earth’s callous meteorological and seismic forces with the poignant human stories affected by its disasters. Visuals mimic the colossal power of nature while smaller artifacts, such as handwritten letters from Hurricane Katrina survivors, tug at heartstrings. The recorded sounds of seismic activity (alien-like pops and scrapes) lend the space an omnipresent sense of doom, as if at any moment the floor might rupture. The exhibit’s most impressive offering is the invention of stormchaser Tim Samaras, a digital recording device which allows guests to stand in a 360-degree video-viewing area that places them in an approaching tornado’s path. For several heart-stopping seconds, visitors are encircled by the eye of the storm. (Laura Hawbaker)
“Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters” shows at the Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore, (312)665-7683, through January 4, 2009.