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Illuminating an unknown realm at the Perot in Dallas

Illuminating an unknown realm at the Perot in Dallas

January 21
02:33 2016

Erica Wieting | Features Editor

@ericawieting

One step through a set of sliding double doors brings a complete sensory change.

The room is dark, but lighted exhibits guide one’s path through displays of diverse, glowing organisms. Ethereal music, softly playing overhead, offers respite from the hubbub of conversation and crowds of people filling the halls in the surrounding museum.

“Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence” is the current traveling exhibit at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Until Sunday, Feb. 21, displays of luminous fireflies, glowworms and marine life will inhabit a space in the eco-friendly building.

A portion of the bioluminescence exhibit explored fireflies and their use of their flashes to find mates and communicate with each other. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

A portion of the bioluminescence exhibit explored fireflies and their use of their flashes to find mates and communicate with each other. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

“It’s been an interesting way for people to not only learn about bioluminescence as a whole, but how it’s different from more glow-y things, like glow-in-the-dark stickers, that they might be more familiar with,” Eveline Kuchmak, manager of temporary exhibits at the Perot, said. “And how we can see bioluminescence in the world around us.”

Kuchmak said bioluminescent organisms use chemicals to emit light and are able to do so in complete darkness. Other light-creating organisms are fluorescent and create light through energy, so they need a source of light to draw from.

There are various reasons each organism might want to glow, including mating rituals, communication and camouflage. In addition to displaying the organisms’ environments and how they produce light, the installation aims to educate viewers about these motives.

A firefly underneath a magnifying glass at the Creatures of Light exhibit. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

Fireflies underneath a magnifying glass at the Creatures of Light exhibit. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

Divided into six sections, the program is curated by the American Museum of Natural History. It has visual as well as interactive elements, including touch screens, microscopes and an immersive cave environment simulation.

“We need people to be excited to learn about science and nature,” said Krista Villarreal Moore, senior public relations and communications manager at the Perot. “And the way that they do that best is if it’s something fun, if it’s something they can touch and see and apply to their real lives.”

Because the majority of bioluminescent organisms cannot be captured, Kuchmak said large, detailed models make up much of the displays, rather than living things.

Beginning with a giant manmade mushroom and a larger-than-life overhead firefly model, the subjects of the exhibit’s first displays could be found in an American backyard. A stroll through the glowworm caves of New Zealand and the lagoons of Puerto Rico brings one to a section featuring the Cayman Islands, home to a variety of translucent sea dwellers.

An oversized model of a Jack-o’-lantern mushroom that has natural bioluminescent effect and grows on decaying wood in eastern North America. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

An oversized model of a Jack-o’-lantern mushroom that has natural bioluminescent effect and grows on decaying wood in eastern North America. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

“The crystal jellyfish are really neat,” Kuchmak said. “The cool thing about the crystal jellies is that they bioluminesce and they fluoresce because of a special protein that doctors actually use to track toxins in the body.”

Located near the end of the journey is the darkest section of all. Residing here is one of the few live instillations of the exhibit: a school of small, underwater creatures called flashlight fish.

Twenty of the blinking animals reside within the watery depths of an aquarium. Under each eye, the fish have pockets of glowing bioluminescent bacteria. They communicate using what Kuchmak called a “shutter mechanism,” which turns the pockets around and hides the light, causing a flashing effect.

The fish are viewed through two windows to reduce their exposure to light and sound, which Kuchmak said the creatures are extremely sensitive to.

Each of the museum’s approximately 300 employees contributed to the exhibits in his or her own way, Moore said. This particular instillation was achieved with help from the AMNH.

“It’s got this look that’s all-encompassing,” Moore said. “It’s just amazing how completely they transform things.”

Nearly a year and a half of planning went into bringing the instillation to the Perot Museum, but the resulting four months of education and enjoyment have been well worth it to those who labored to make it happen.

A display that shows various objects that are naturally fluorecscent in the Creatures of Light exhibit at the Perot Musuem of Nature and Science. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

A display that shows various objects that are naturally fluorecscent. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

“The reason we have these traveling exhibitions is we like to bring fresh things that people can learn,” Moore said. “Our mission is to inspire minds through nature and science.”

The next temporary exhibit at the Perot Museum, entitled “Eye of the Collector,” will begin Saturday, April 16. It will be the museum’s first self-curated temporary exhibit.

Featured Image: The Creatures of Light temporary exhibit will be on display at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science until Feb. 21, 2016. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

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