Exploratorium Field Trip Pathways

Traits of Life: What Does It Mean to Be Alive?

Before Your Visit

How do you know that you are alive?

List some examples of things that you can observe about yourself or others.


Can't find an exhibit or have a question? Ask an Explainer.


Sometimes it's easy to tell that something is alive but hard to explain why. Sometimes it's not easy to decide whether or not something is alive. We can start by making observations. If you come up with any questions, write them down.

At some point, go to the Cheek Cell Demonstration.

Draw and/or describe what you see.






In your own words, explain: What is a cell? From what you know, who/what has cells?






Look at the goldfish.

Are They Alive? What Are Your Clues?






Look at the Chick Embryos Exhibit.

Draw and/or describe what you see in one of the dishes.
What Is It Made Of?
(Read the exhibit label for a hint.)

Things You Find Is It Alive? What Are Your Clues?

Now go look at the Living Color exhibit.

Billions of years ago, bacteria emerged as one of the very first living things on earth.

Can you see anything about the bacteria that is similar to other living things that you know about (such as the goldfish, plants, etc.)?




Look at the Energy From Death exhibit.

Take a close look at what is going on inside the box. Make a list of 5 things you find.

Things You Find Is It Alive? What Are Your Clues?


1. Choose something interesting in the box and draw it.

Write down what you think it is and why you chose to draw it so that you’ll remember it later.




2. What do you think is happening to the things in this box?




Energy itself is difficult to see, but we can observe signs of organisms using energy.

Look at the Oxygen Bubbles exhibit.

Draw what you see.   Plants use energy from light to make their food in a process called photosynthesis.

In the equation below, circle the parts of photosynthesis that you can see in the exhibit.
(Hint: Circle 3 things.)

Living plants use:

To make:

Put on a glove at the Hot Pile exhibit and reach into the pile.

1. Does it feel warmer or cooler than the air in the room? __________

2. Look at the thermometer—how hot is it in there? __________

Heat is a sign of energy use. Bacteria in the pile are breaking down the organic material in the pile for food, giving off heat as they use energy.

3. When you exercise (run around, jump up and down, etc.) do you usually feel warmer or cooler? __________

Choose one exhibit that shows organisms using energy.

Exhibit Name Describe the Exhibit Clues of Energy Use