‘Sea’ life in a new light at Michigan Science Center

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 26, 2016

 A dinoflagellate model shows one of the many unique creatures that create their own light. An interactive exhibition on this topic is now on view at the Michigan Science Center.

A dinoflagellate model shows one of the many unique creatures that create their own light. An interactive exhibition on this topic is now on view at the Michigan Science Center.

Photo provided by the Michigan Science Center

DETROIT — Parents often say their children are the lights of their lives, but humans don’t have the physical ability to glow in the dark without outside assistance.

There are, however, many kinds of living creatures that create their own light. Through Jan. 15, 2017, the Michigan Science Center is hosting “Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence.” 

Michelle Leroy, manager of visitor learning and engagement at the Michigan Science Center, said this exhibition is the only one she’s ever seen on this subject. It was organized by the American Museum of Natural History, which she said “always has amazing exhibitions.”

The exhibition features six re-created environments, from a forest with fireflies and mushrooms to deep sections of the ocean where creatures like the many-fanged anglerfish attract prey with light.

“In ‘Creatures of Light,’ we’ll meet plants and animals that have learned to harness and control light for themselves. It’s no wonder that these creatures continue to fascinate both scientists and novices alike,” said Tonya Matthews, president and CEO of the Michigan Science Center, in a prepared statement.

When it comes to living things that glow, humans are probably most familiar with fireflies, but in the depths of the ocean — where, a half-mile from the surface, it’s pitch black — the only light detectable by the human eye comes from bioluminescence. 

“It’s a really great exhibition to show off (creatures) that we don’t interact with,” Leroy said.

Visitors can learn more about the images and models of various creatures and environments through touch-screen tablets scattered throughout the exhibition, and there are other interactive components as well, including a chance for visitors to “talk” to models of fireflies by flashing light patterns at them and seeing if — and how — they respond.

“We hope the interactives will inspire (visitors) to learn something,” Leroy said. “I think just learning about the creatures is fascinating.”

Those who want to prepare for their visit can download a free app or watch a downloadable documentary on bioluminescence on the Michigan Science Center’s website. There are materials available online for teachers as well. Leroy said they have “lots of materials” for a wide range of grades.

“We like to inspire curious minds of all ages,” said Shannon Mackie, senior marketing manager with the Michigan Science Center. “Maybe we’ll inspire a child who goes to the exhibit to be that future marine biologist.”

Leroy said scientists are still discovering new species — many of them in the ocean.

She said she hopes visitors leave with “a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them.”

The Michigan Science Center is located at 5020 John R St. in Midtown. For more information, call (313) 577-8400 or visit www.Mi-Sci.org. Special events for kids and adults in connection with the exhibition are scheduled throughout its run.