GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Vomiting shrimp, vampire squid and cookie cutter sharks don’t sound too friendly, but they are glowing to help us. The study of these natural light-producing creatures can help discover cancer cures, detect toxic bacteria and expose deadly anthrax spores.
The Florida Museum of Natural History will explore the chemical process behind the phenomenon of natural light and its value for humans when it hosts the traveling exhibition “Glow: Living Lights” Jan. 28 – May 29, 2006. “Glow” is the first museum exhibition to explore the scientific marvel of bioluminescence — the ability of an organism to produce its own light.
“‘Glow’ is a sleek, innovative exhibit that takes museum visitors on an interactive journey into the lives of creatures that glow in the dark,” said Susan Duvenhage, Florida Museum associate director for exhibits and public programs. “On land and in the sea, there are some fascinating animals that not only put on an incredible light show, but have also proven to be key elements of scientific research in a variety of areas.”
Inside the 5,000-square-foot exhibit, visitors will discover how bioluminescence works, the varied reasons some organisms have natural light-producing abilities and why bioluminescence is important to humans. Displays include rare photographs and film footage, research-related artifacts, live and preserved specimens and hands-on activities to engage visitors in the lifestyles of the bioluminescent.
Visitors to “Glow” will begin their illuminating exploration, investigating the chemical process that produces cool light, in a darkened gallery filled with glowing surfaces and interactive demonstrations. They then travel to the world of light-producing terrestrial organisms such as fireflies, glowworms and phosphorescent fungi before navigating to the ocean where an estimated 90 percent of the inhabitants produce light. Deep in the ocean, viperfish dangle a luminescent lure to entice their next meal, and agitated plankton light up as an alarm to warn other plankton of nearby predators.
Museum visitors conclude their journey by discovering the techniques and equipment used to research bioluminescence and its applications for humans, which include genetic research, environmental monitoring and food technology.
“Most of us have witnessed fireflies on a summer night, but until now, few people have had the opportunity to discover the science behind this magical phenomenon,” Duvenhage said. “This exhibit captures the allure of bioluminescence and conveys its importance to us as humans.”
“Glow: Living Lights,” which is free to the public, is produced by ExhibitQ and sponsored in part by the Office of Naval Research and the Xenogen Corporation. Both sponsors are leaders in bioluminescence research and the practical applications associated with this natural phenomenon.
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Writer: Emily Banks