By JAKE CIGAINEROMARCH 12, 2018 PARIS — At the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, visitors can take a trip to an ice blue celestial plane surrounded by an aurora borealis. There, a branching orb traces 460 species, including humans, back to the last universal common ancestor, or LUCA, a small single-celled organism thought to be the common origin of all current life on earth.

It’s a new permanent virtual reality installation at the museum, where visitors can don a headset to explore connections between species and zoom in on creatures, simulating the experience, for example, of standing right in front of an elephant to understand its magnitude. Bruno David, president of the museum, said it was impossible to illustrate the same concept if restrained to the traditional means of physical objects and text, so the museum turned to technology.

The museum renovated a room to permanently house five VR stations and plans to offer a VR sea diving experience to coincide with a 2019 exhibition. Virtual reality, he said, could help make the taxidermy gallery — home to Louis XV’s pet rhinoceros — a little less stuffy.

“My aim was to introduce technology of the 21st century into the world of a museum which is generally not regarded as such,” Mr. David said. France’s National Museum of Natural History is just one of many cultural and art institutions using the technology as a new way to engage visitors.

While this museum has gone all in, others have been experimenting with VR before committing portions of their budgets. In 2015, the British Museum was one of the first institutions to offer a virtual reality experience through a weekend event dedicated to Bronze Age objects and showing them in their original context. Read more from…

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