You are drawn to the brightly colored image on the other side of a room and need to get closer to understand what you are seeing. Just like that, the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature has drawn you into an exhibit that feels more like an art gallery than a science education.
The exhibit, dubbed “Picture Science,” is a collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and it allows visitors to see the many ways the application of light and technology has changed what scientists know of the world.
Visitors will learn about scientific imaging technologies, such as electron microscopes and CT scans, and see how researchers are using these developments to shed light on everything from the chemical makeup of meteorites to the tooth structure of an extinct rodent. since a long time.
Hillary Spencer, CEO of The Bishop, said most of the exhibits were on loan intact from the Natural History Museum, but Bradenton curators used their own artifacts and equipment to add even more weight to the display.
“He’s a really good partner,” says Spencer, who previously worked at the Museum of Natural History. “It’s been really easy to get these resources and get feedback on what we’re doing. We also get great planetarium content from them.
“They really encourage us to expand the story so it fits our audience. We’re encouraged and allowed to add objects, add our own research, add our own collections to the research they do.”
The exhibit, which will run for the rest of the year, is the opening salvo to the Bishop’s ‘Year of Light’, a thematic series of collections designed to celebrate the institution’s 75th anniversary. .
When you enter the room, you are immediately greeted by a number of brightly colored screens. There’s one prominently showing the path of a fish’s circulatory system and another showing magnified images of scorpions. As you walk through the room, you will discover the biofluorescence of corals and the microscopic features of insect anatomy.
“You can walk in and enjoy it for the beautiful images, and you see the merging of science and art,” says curator Tiffany LaBritt. “But if you want to take it to the next level and learn something deeper and understand the science side, you can do that too.”
LaBritt shows off a knife inside a leather sheath that has shrunk over time. The knife cannot be removed, she says, without damaging the scabbard. So what did the scientists do? They took a scanner from it that allowed them to examine it without breaking it, and this technology allowed them to reveal an intricate pattern of Arabic letters on the edge of the blade.
“You are protecting the integrity of the object,” she says. “But you still find out what’s going on and see some of those extra details that might have been lost over time. Otherwise, you might have had to damage the object.”
The same goes for meteorites and fossils. Before advances in technology, you probably wouldn’t be able to analyze the layered chemical composition of a meteorite without slicing it. Now, thanks to the advent of an electron microprobe, scientists can wiggle the atoms on the surface of space rocks and know exactly what they are made of inside.
Now consider the case of the brain of an extinct primate. The exhibit includes an image of a two-inch skull of a primate that existed around 20 million years ago, and to this day is the only one of its kind ever discovered. And because the researchers didn’t want to damage the object, they used a CT scanner to look inside and learn about the anatomy of a long-extinct animal.
“You can kind of judge from the outside of a skull — especially a primate — the size of its brain,” says LaBritt. “But to really understand the size of this one, in the past you had to use destructive methods to open the skull.
“With something rare like this extinct animal, you don’t want to have to. So they were able to scan it, which allowed them to see the size of the puzzle and figure out how well they were able to walk. biped.”
Think about it a bit. Let marinate. Just by taking a scan of a 2-inch skull, scientists were able to determine how well a tiny monkey that hadn’t been around for 20 million years was able to walk on two legs.
The exhibits also show the internal skeleton of an armadillo lizard, which is known to roll into a ball as a method of protection against predators. And there’s another screen that shows the minute differences in anatomy between yellowjackets, hornets, and wasps. On yet another wall is a stark and striking image of an extinct rodent’s teeth produced by scanning electron microscopy.
You look into the mouth of a mouse that’s been gone 16 million years, but it looks more like a rocky outcrop.
“Once you get to that level of detail, you’re like ‘whoa,'” LaBritt says of the mesmerizing black-and-white images. “It’s one of those images where if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might think it was an alien landscape.”
The exhibition continues, alternating anatomy studies and spatial discoveries.
Spencer says The Bishop is working towards a pair of complementary goals; the museum wants to be a thought leader in science research and education, but it also wants to be a fun place where people can spend a great day out with their families.
The Year of Light will continue in April with a photography exhibition by local photographer Scott Odell titled “Illumination: Seeing Beyond the Shell,” and the planetarium plans to host infrared images from the James Webb Space Telescope this fall recently. launched by NASA. And thanks to the partnership with the Natural History Museum, “Picturer la science” kicks off.
“I think we all agreed that was a good starting point, and we could use the stories told in this gallery to help inform the stories we tell on our tours and field trips,” says spencer. “We will have eight different installations throughout the year using light in one way or another for joy, discovery and wonder, but also simply to get people to look at our collections in a new way.”
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