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‘Skin: Living Armor, Evolving Identity’ Exhibit Arrives at the Science Museum of Virginia | Things to do


The folks at the Science Museum of Virginia celebrate something that’s all around us that’s often taken for granted — but without which we’d literally be in pieces — in “Skin: Living Armor, Evolving Identity.” The new traveling exhibit explores the science of human and animal skin, as well as the societal constructs associated with skin color.

“The skin’s ability to sense, adapt and regrow is phenomenal, but this exhibit covers so much more than biology,” said Virginia C. Ellett, Director of Education, Timshel Purdum. “He weaves culture, evolution, economics, genetics and power into the narrative that highlights the diversity of such an important and distinct organ for each species.”

Many people have never thought of the skin as an “organ”, but clients will learn that it is actually the largest organ in our body and serves to protect us from germs and the elements, helping to regulate body temperature and allows the sensations of touch, hot and cold. Additionally, cells in its outer layer, the epidermis, make things like our nails and hair which are made from the same protein.

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Customers who wonder how much skin it takes to cover our bodies will find their answer in a memorable display that shows the amount of skin on an average person is equal to the coverage of a double mattress, or 22 square feet. In contrast, the skin covering an elephant would be equal to the covering of four and a half king-size mattresses.

“There is so much that most people don’t know about skin explained in this exhibit. Every corner has a ‘wow’ factor!” Purdum says.

An unforgettable element is the discussion and depiction of facial mites.

“This exhibition shows that we are never alone! Almost everyone has these microscopic mites that settle on your face, eyebrows and eyelids. Guests can see microscopic slides of mites, which are arachnids — related to ticks and, further, spiders — and they can watch an amazing video of a live crawling mite,” Purdum said. “The most common comment you hear when customers see this display is that it makes them want to go wash their face!”

The start of “Skin” features tactile circles of replicated scales, quills and feathers. Later in the exhibit, guests have the opportunity to test their skills in identifying different animal skins by flipping large circles – one side has the animal and the other a close-up view of the animal’s skin. The circles can be reversed to identify the different animals shown.

A fascinating exhibit features examples of how certain animals, including octopuses, squids and other cephalopods, can change color and shape as a survival technique. Additionally, guests will see the difference in size of a porcupine when its quills are up, as well as the size of a puffer fish when it inhales a large amount of water and its tips are erect.

“This phenomenon of birds and mammals erecting their feathers or fur is intended to help them stay warm and make them appear larger to predators,” Purdum said. “A lot of times when you see your cat or dog puffing up, it’s because they’re trying to look bigger!”

The exhibit delves into the color changes that different creatures can initiate. When guests pass a sign with an image of an animal in one direction, it is recognizable, but when they turn to pass in the opposite direction, it seems to disappear. Another display shows that color can be used to deter potential predators.

“In an exhibit called Sepia Rainbow, the exhibit does a wonderful job of exploring why there is such a spectrum of skin color in humans,” Purdum said. “Panels and an interactive infographic feature a map of the world showing the regions where the sun’s ultraviolet rays are strongest. In these regions, our early ancestors would have more melanin for protection. As our ancestors moved around the world, populations that moved to areas with weaker UV rays would have adapted to have less melanin, allowing people to make more vitamin D.

Additionally, a section talks about how differences in color and race have been viewed culturally and historically. The exhibition culminates with a wall of faces of different hues and shades that continually transform. A bench in front of this exhibit invites guests to sit down for a moment and reflect on the impact of this exhibit on the spectrum of members of our human family.

“Our goal is to ensure that the conversations that take place at the Science Museum continue when families return home,” said Jennifer Guild, Communications and Curiosity Manager. “In everything we do, we hope to spark curiosity and continued exploration of the world around us.”

Throughout the exhibit’s run at the Science Museum of Virginia, a variety of programs and activities will complement its exploration of its subject matter. The upcoming “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” will include exhibits of their fascinating skin, and The Dome Theater’s film on spirit bears provides insight into rare black bears that are, in fact, white and inhabit a specific region of Canada. .Additionally, a drop-in challenge in the Science Museum‘s crafting space, “The Forge,” offers guests the chance to use cardboard and their design skills to create an ‘armor’ inspired by the amazing range of animal armor, from armadillos to porcupines. “We hope families will take the opportunity to experience this exhibit and get a sample of the amazing things about the creatures that inhabit our world, which they can continue to explore at their own pace.