On Exhibit posts
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Curator John Sparks is blogging weekly about the upcoming exhibition, Creatures of Light, which opens on Saturday, March 31. This week, he invited Zach Baldwin, a Ph.D. student at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School who works in the Department of Ichthyology and who consulted on the exhibition, to contribute the guest post below.
A common misconception about bioluminescent fishes is that they all live in the perpetual darkness of the deep sea. In truth, one of the most fascinating aspects of bioluminescence is the diversity of organisms and environments in which the phenomenon is known to occur. There are bioluminescent fishes occurring on coral reefs, in estuaries, and even in the rocky intertidal zone along coastlines. Approximately 100 species in nine families of fishes that live in shallow marine waters are known to luminesce.
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The scent of evergreens, stones covered in moss, and the hum of rushing water are familiar features in many forests on Earth. But could these also describe a future landscape on Mars?
Once a staple of science fiction, terraforming—or making a planet more like Earth—is now being studied as a real possibility, as scientists research how to apply knowledge of evolution, climate, and technology to re-create the blue planet’s environment on the red planet. Visitors can learn firsthand how humans might make Mars habitable with a custom, multi-user touch table featured in the Museum’s exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.
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Curator John Sparks is blogging weekly about the upcoming exhibition, Creatures of Light, which opens on Saturday, March 31. This week, he invited marine biologist David Gruber, an assistant professor at The City University of New York (CUNY) and a Museum research associate who consulted on the exhibition, to contribute the guest post below.
Imagine a group of single-celled animals smaller than the width of a human hair that possess 25 times the amount of DNA as humans. These organisms both bask in the sun to obtain energy, like plants, and actively hunt, like animals, even slurping out the insides of other cells. They include some of the fastest speed demons of the microscopic domain, propelling themselves up to 200-500 μm/second—the equivalent to a 6-foot Olympian athlete swimming at 40 mph. On top of these feats, a few members are responsible for creating the nighttime sparkle on breaking surf.
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Curator John Sparks will be blogging weekly about the upcoming exhibition, Creatures of Light, which opens on Saturday, March 31.
In just a little over a month, on March 31, the American Museum of Natural History will open our latest exhibition, Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence,which focuses on the amazing diversity of organisms that produce light across every conceivable habitat. Every exhibition we produce is a collaboration between the Museum’s research scientists and the exhibition team, which includes writers, designers, artists, and media specialists. I’m the curator for this exhibition, which means that I oversee the scientific content and bring expertise from my research—in this case, on the evolution of bioluminescent signaling systems in marine fishes.We’re hard at work on the show this month, and I’ll be writing weekly posts from behind the scenes to offer some glimpses of what goes into producing a major exhibition. Here’s my first dispatch:
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Stony corals are living animals that are only two cell layers thick, but over time, their calcium carbonate skeletons can form massive limestone islands. Some contain fluorescent molecules, proteins in their tissue that absorb light from an external source and emit light back at different wavelengths. Marine biologist David Gruber uses a painstaking method of underwater photography to get striking images of fluorescent corals, including images of moon coral and staghorn coral currently on display in the exhibition Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies.
“You shine a specific wavelength of light to stimulate the protein—usually blue or green—and the corals emit back in otherworldly greens and reds,” explains Gruber, a research associate in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, “You have to photograph underwater in the dark at night with specially-filtered strobes because you’re only interested in the light emitted by the corals and other reef-dwelling organisms.”
Gruber photographed these corals in the northern Red Sea in Eilat, Israel, in May 2010, as part of his research into the patterns and functions of fluorescent proteins. Fluorescent proteins have been found to be useful tools in studying AIDS, Altzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases, as well as in basic biological research.