University of Calgary

Science on display

UToday HomeMay 1, 2012

Biometrics researcher, Mariana Gavrilova, is one of six scientists featured on screens at the Museum of Civilization’s Live Science exhibit. Photo courtesy Mariana GavrilovaBiometrics researcher, Mariana Gavrilova, is one of six scientists featured on screens at the Museum of Civilization’s Live Science exhibit. Photo courtesy Mariana GavrilovaIt’s one thing to see an exhibit in a museum, quite another to be an exhibit in a museum. Mariana Gavrilova’s image is the centrepiece of a Museum of Civilization’s Live Science exhibit that explores her work studying biometrics—the identification of humans by their characteristics or traits.

Gavrilova, who heads the Biometrics Technology lab in the computer science department—the first biometrics lab in the country and one of the best known in the world, is part of the Live Science exhibit that aims to put a human face on the scientific endeavours that help us understand our world.

Visitors to the exhibition can interact with her through a video interface, learn about her work and her inspirations. The exhibit is designed like a carnival, exploring science in a playful manner. The centre of the exhibit is called The Big Top where six scientists, including Gavrilova, appear on screen inviting people to explore their work.

“I wanted to explain biometrics to a broader audience,” says Gavrilova. “From the beginning, when we identified ourselves with our signature the technology has advanced so much and it’s such a big part of our lives.” Her exhibit explains biometrics, in part, through geometry and Voronoi diagrams—for example showing the similarities between the skin patterns of giraffes, the inside a beehive and of a crowd of people.

Gavrilova’s road to the Museum of Civilization was a long one. About six years ago, the museum put a call out to scientists asking them to describe how they would tell the story of their work. Gavrilova’s proposal was called “Power of Biometrics: From Science Fiction to Reality. Her proposal was one of eight chosen from across the country, the only one from the prairie provinces.

The exhibit is very personal and includes objects and work that have inspired Gavrilova through her life including a Matryoshka, a Russian nesting doll, which not only reminds Gavrilova of her home, but of why she is a scientist. “Every time you open a doll you go deeper and learn something new. Science is like that, every time you learn a new fact, you go deeper into the problem, you’re always learning.”

The exhibit runs at the Musee de la civilisation de Quebec until April 29. It then will begin to travel to other Canadian museums.