Smithsonian Project Discovery

Chapter Three: Smithsonian Project Discovery

When Tom returned from Africa, he was hired by the Smithsonian Institution as a writer of dramas and documentaries on great lives of the 20th century. He was also a co-designer of a revolutionary interactive videodisc and computer database, Life Story, on genetics and the history of the discovery of the structure of DNA, which was collaboration between the Smithsonian, Apple Multimedia Lab, Discovery Channel, and Lucas Film.

Francis Crick Makes a Unique Discovery

Francis Crick Makes a Unique Discovery

“In 1988, a small group of designers set out to create a new form of “interactive drama” using Apple Computer’s new multimedia technology. One of the designers was Tom De Boor, a talented young researcher with an incredible passion for science and education. Together, we spent weeks exploring new ways to inform and entertain with interactive media, and it was a true pleasure to witness Tom’s many breakthroughs during our investigation.

The award-winning software we created was called “Life Story” — it retraced the discovery of DNA’s double helix through movie clips, documentaries, interviews, scientific animations and articles, all linked together in our multimedia learning environment. Tom and his colleague Gretchen Hermes produced much of the scientific, historical and educational content for this product, working tirelessly under the direction of acclaimed TV producer Adrian Malone and the Smithsonian Institution. I have really fond memories of our many creative brainstorms in filmmaker George Lucas’s secluded Marin County ranch. It was an unforgettable adventure, and Tom kept pushing the envelope through it all. As a team, we pioneered a whole new way to teach science, literature and other disciplines, all at once: as an interactive CD-ROM title, Life Story engaged many young minds in the process of discovery, with riveting stories, games and activities on how people and ideas can change the world. As one of the students who used our tools put it “it felt like you actually discovered DNA.” Thank you, Tom, for making this possible.

— Fabrice Florin, former producer/designer at Apple’s Multimedia Lab, now executive director at NewsTrust

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