Shortcut Navigation:

A Day of Deep-Sea Cameras and Creatures in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life

Q&As

creature of light

David Gruber, a speaker at this Sunday’s Milstein Science Series, helped photograph the Bloody Ball Wall in Creatures of Light. © AMNH/D. Finnin


From fireflies to jellyfishes, an astonishing range of animals create their own light. On Sunday, April 22, kids can explore activity carts about glowing organisms while scientists David Gruber, Marc Branham, and Edith Widder share their research about these creatures and the deep-sea vehicles and cameras required to study them. David Gruber, an assistant professor at The City University of New York (CUNY) and a Museum research associate who consulted on the exhibition Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, recently answered a few questions about his deep-sea photography and the Museum.

What was it like consulting on Creatures of Light?

David Gruber: One of the best parts was meeting with the designers who made the models of organisms. We would make tiny tweaks until they got more and more realistic, and we created some of the most detailed models of several organisms. As the models were being designed, many anatomy questions came up that weren’t anywhere in the scientific literature, so we often went back to the animals themselves to answer questions the designers brought up.

Part of your work for the exhibition involved photographing a coral wall. Were some of these animals harder to photograph than others?

Gruber: Unlike corals that sit in place, the fish are harder because they move around. One of the animals people will see is a glowing eel that jumped into one of our photographs. We didn’t even know it was there until we got back to lab and reviewed the film.

Can you tell us about the deep-sea camera you’re building?

Gruber: When you’re photographing bioluminescence, you can’t shine strobes or lights as you would on a movie set. You must rely on the light coming off of the animals. When you’ve been in the dark a long time, your eyes adjust pretty well, and you forget just how sensitive they are, to the point where you take a photo with a camera and nothing shows up. So you have to move to more and more sensitive cameras, which are really meant for scientists rather than filmmakers and so many are in black and white, mainly set on top of microscopes. We are taking this new technology off the microscope and into the water.

You’ve also written a book called Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence. What inspired you to write it?

Gruber: What we know about these creatures comes back to what science has discovered. There are still so many bioluminescent and biofluorescent organisms waiting to be found and filmed. The people who get really obsessed with bioluminescence interest me because there aren’t that many of them; it involves a certain breed of scientist that likes traveling, going into water at night, or diving down deep in submersibles and designing equipment. I got interested in the history of all the people that had studied these things before me.

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Phone: 212-769-5100

Open daily from 10 am - 5:45 pm
except on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Maps and Directions

Enlighten Your Inbox

Stay informed about Museum news and research, events, and more!