Crowds, these little-known scientific objects

Do crowds worry you? The disaster of the celebration of Halloween in Seoul, on October 30, causing the death of more than 150 people trampled or suffocated following a stampede, will not deny these fears. The word crowd comes from the Latin fullarewhich means to tread, crush, press.

And yet. The exhibition, which opened in mid-October at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, in Paris, aims to break down prejudices about these strange creatures who live in metros or stadiums, crowded streets or social networks, schools of fish or flocks of sheep, sand dunes or waterways… “We hope to make the public aware of the good sides of crowds”, explains Dorothée Vatinel, co-curator of the exhibition. These human multitudes, in fact, are ambivalent: they are as capable of violence, explosive anger and uncontrolled flows as they are of collective intelligence, shared jubilation and solidarity.

You will discover, with supporting experiments, how crowds have become objects of scientific study. The fouloscopie” thus summons in turn mathematics and the physical sciences, the history of science and sociology, the cognitive and behavioral sciences. “ The unit of measurement of the crowd is the density of individuals per square meter. recalls Dorothée Vatinel. From the beginning of the course, you will understand this concept thanks to five crowd cores: five cabins of one square meter, respectively housing one, three, five, seven or nine human characters printed in 3D. “ Three is a busy street; five, a crowded bus; nine, a deadly crowd”summarizes Dorothée Vatinel.

Fluid mechanics and proxemics

The first part is devoted to dense crowds. From these unstable systems can emerge waves of compression “without a conductor”, waves of individuals that fluid mechanics helps to model. Thanks to which, an architect, a town planner or a festive event organizer will be able to define the best configuration to evacuate a place in an emergency. A game will allow you to test your skills. You will be able to add doors, exits and obstacles on a horizontal plane representing a building filled with visitors (represented by circles) with modeled movements. Then an emergency signal will sound: the crowd will have to evacuate the premises in one and a half minutes. And you will see the impact of your restructuring. Another example: in an hourglass where polystyrene balls are flowing, a well-placed obstacle can prove miraculous, avoiding fatal bottlenecks.

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