WASHINGTON (June 17, 2005)–From glowing worms to mutant fireflies to a glimpse inside a termite’s digestive tract, a new interactive exhibit opening at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall this month invites visitors to explore different aspects of life and discover fundamental features common to all living things.
On display from June 28 to Aug. 21, “Traits of Life” features 24 hands-on exhibits divided into three sections: Cells, Genes, and Living Together.
The Cells section exhibits illustrate the basic role played by cells in all kinds of organisms. The exhibits include live chick embryos at different stages, showing how organisms grow from single cells and highlighting structural changes during the first five days of growth; models of plant and animal cells, showing that all cells share the same basic parts and functions; and a touch-screen video allowing visitors to track a newly fertilized zebra fish egg as its cells multiply, migrate and differentiate to create tissues, organs and, ultimately, a complete organism.
Exhibits in the Genes section explore what genes are, how they control the inheritance of physical characteristics, and the high degree of similarity between the genes of very different life forms. The exhibits include a display of several live variants of fruit flies, some with white eyes or no wings, showing the dramatic effects of single genetic mutations on an organism’s structure; common roundworms that glow because they have inherited a gene transplanted from a bioluminescent jellyfish; and flip-up graphics of embryos of various creatures in early development, highlighting their remarkable similarity.
The Living Together section shows that all organisms are part of a complex, interdependent ecosystem, exploiting resources and providing food for other forms of life. The eight exhibits here explore the range of ways in which the life cycles of organisms are interrelated. Visitors can watch termites devouring a sheet of wood and can use a Wentzscope microscope to see bacteria inside the termites’ digestive systems that help the termites digest the wood. Visitors also can exhale into a gas analyzer to measure the carbon dioxide generated by their cells as they turn sugar into energy. They can track carbon dioxide levels in a plant chamber as they control the plants’ photosynthetic process by turning a light on or off.
Other exhibits in the Living Together section include beetles eating a rotting carcass, showing that dead organisms are a source of food and energy for other living things; colorful bacteria using different pigments to harness solar energy; and an interactive computer program that simulates the interdependence among eagles, mice and grain.
National Geographic Museum Director Susan Norton said “Traits of Life” will encourage visitors to think about the essential elements of life and to discover that, however diverse life forms are, they show remarkable similarities and follow the same biological laws.
“Traits of Life,” a traveling exhibition from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, is funded by a major grant from the National Science Foundation, with additional funding from the Genentech Foundation for Biomedical Science and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Inc.
The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Dec. 25. Admission is free. For information on the “Traits of Life” exhibit, the public should call (202) 857-7588.