Rutherford's Den: Curatorial, Interpretation and Production

Esem Projects were lead curators & designers for the redevelopment of 'Rutherford's Den' — a unique new interactive science museum in the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Project Details

Rutherford's Den is a unique space within the heart of Christchurch dedicated to the life and work of Lord Ernest Rutherford. During 2015-2016 Esem Projects led the strategy, production and design as part of a major restoration program, leading to a successful and highly engaging new visitor experience for contemporary audiences.

Dates: 2015-2016

Visit Rutherford's Den, Arts Centre of Christchurch


Dr Sarah Barns: Lead Curator, Designer and Researcher

Michael Killalea: Creative Director

Elin Matilda Anderssen: Design and Illustration

Leif Wilson: Technical Design and Installation

Gary Sinclair: Sound Design

Digital Services: Code on Canvas, Lightwell Studio

“Spare an hour to visit Rutherford's Den. It's hard to overstate what a superb science museum it is.” Steve Meacham, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 November 2017

Formerly the site of the University of Canterbury, the Arts Centre of Christchurch is home to the historic 'Den', where a young Ernest Rutherford first conducted his 'electrical researches' as a masters student in the 1890s.

Our engagement with the site began in 2015 as lead consultants for a Curatorial, Digital and Design Strategy. Our role was to guide the exhibition planning, concept creation and commissioning for a re-imagined Rutherford's Den.

Our client, the Arts Centre of Christchurch, had an ambitious vision to relaunch the space as an interactive science museum that would shine a light on Rutherford's genius for practical experimentation and hands-on learning. Our collaborators on the Design Strategy were Sago Design and exhibition designer Corinne Balaam who supported design & documentation for the interior reconfiguration of the space.

Esem Projects were subsequently contracted as Interpretation and Design Leads for the production phase. Over a twelve month period we developed and installed a series of interactive and hands-on exhibits that shed new light on historic scientific discoveries central to the 'heroic age of physics' and its legacy today.

For this stage of the project we commissioned Lightwell Studio, creative technologists Code on Canvas and Tactile Music to collaborate with us on a set of new interactive museum exhibits. We also developed new physical interactives, including a Chladni Plate and a programmable vintage radio, and produced a series of new digital artworks devoted to the history of physics.

Rutherford's Den relaunched in August 2016. We encourage you to go visit!

Read the review: Rutherford's Den, Christchurch: The storage room that Ernest Rutherford used to change the world

Client: The Arts Centre of Christchurch

Roles: Brand Design, Production Management, Curatorial Lead, Interpretation Management, Research and Digital Production.

Branding for Rutherford's Den developed by Esem Projects
Rutherford's Den includes a mix of hands-on and immersive exhibits dedicated to the heroic age of physics and its legacy today.
Rutherford Wall touch screen delivered by Esem Projects with Lightwell Studio

Radiant Matter is presented as an immersive experience based around Rutherford's infamous 'gold foil experiment'.


The Art of Numbers features inside the Lecture Theatre. Produced by Esem Projects.

The Art of Numbers video playing in the former lecture theatre of Rutherford's Den, Arts Centre of Christchurch
iPad content embedded into interpretation materials by Esem Projects
Rutherford's 'Den' includes an imagined recreation of a young Rutherford at work. Esem Projects also created a new radio exhibit featuring voices and stories on Rutherford's life and journey as a scientist.

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