Redesigned Gallery Considers the Interplay of Cells, Genetics, and the Environment
SAN FRANCISCO (September 4, 2019)—This October, the Exploratorium will open a new permanent exhibit collection entitled Cells to Self: Exploring the Life Inside You. Through new interactive exhibit experiences, demonstrations, and works of art, the collection will invite visitors to consider the nature and function of cells, as well as how genetics and the environment intermingle in the formation of a complete self. Cells to Self will officially open on October 3, 2019.
Cells to Self is the culmination of a multi-year initiative focused on developing new experiences for museum visitors that reveal how cells move and respond to their surroundings, through engagement with living tissues, microscopes, and digital models. Research into the effectiveness of prototype exhibits to understand how visitors engage with and learn at these exhibits was also a focus of the initiative. The team of exhibit developers at the Exploratorium worked closely with academic collaborators, advisors, and partners at Bay Area universities and research institutes on the scientific concepts and research findings expressed in the exhibition.
“Cells to Self invites us to consider complex and important questions about our biological foundations,” said Chris Flink, the Exploratorium’s Sakurako and William Fisher Executive Director. “In the Exploratorium’s 50th anniversary year, and throughout our five decades, we have been creating experiences that allow our visitors to ask questions and better understand the world around us, and in this case, inside us. Cells to Self is a remarkable opportunity for learning and reflection on the marvels of our cells and our genetics, and we are thrilled to share it with our visitors.”
Interactive exhibit experiences in Cells to Self were developed especially for the exhibition at the Exploratorium, and help visitors experience the wonders of biology in the human body, from seeing their own blood cells move across their field of vision, to learning about the multitudes of bacteria living on their skin, to contemplating how their genes and environment may have shaped who they are. In one experience, Give Heart Cells a Beat, visitors can use their own pulse to control live, beating heart cells by grasping heart rate sensors that transmit the electric signal from their pulse to drive the rhythmic contraction of the cells. Displayed on a large screen in real time, the heart cells begin to beat in time with visitor’s pulse. In another experience, visitors can swipe a few cells from inside their cheek and get a color image of their own “cell-fie” to take home.
Sample experiences in Cells to Self
The living cell types that will be featured in Cells to Self are supported by the Exploratorium’s Living Systems Laboratory, which cares for dozens of different organisms to support exhibits in the museum’s Living Systems Gallery, and includes a tissue culture lab for growing human heart cells and the HeLa cells featured in the exhibit, Are Your Cells You? Another unique aspect of the Exploratorium that will support Cells to Self is its Microscope Imaging Station, which enables visitors to operate state-of-the-art microscopes and make their own discoveries about life at the cellular level.
“With Cells to Self we’re really trying to illustrate the biological complexity of organisms, including us,” said Kristina Yu, Director of the Living Systems Department and exhibition curator. “We are excited to invite our visitors to take this journey with us, and we hope people walk away feeling how complicated and amazing each of us are.”
The exhibition also features a selection of artworks expressing different facets of genetics. A highlight of Cells to Self will be a permanent installation of Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s sculptural genetic portraits of Chelsea Manning, Probably Chelsea. The work was made in collaboration with Manning, and has traveled around the world since it premiered in New York City in 2017. Dewey-Hagborg, now an artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium, works with biotechnology as a medium for critical reflection. She produced the set of portraits by extracting and interpreting Manning’s DNA data. The 3D-printed portraits reflect multiple possible manifestations of the same genetic information, and will be suspended from the ceiling at eye level to greet visitors to the exhibition space.
Probably Chelsea, image courtesy of Fridman Gallery
“I hope this work will invite visitors into thinking deeply about genetics and their own identity,” said Heather Dewey-Hagborg. “Genomics is a predictive field. It is an attempt to make guesses about what kind of phenotype someone might have based on DNA, but it’s almost never a certainty. In Probably Chelsea we can see the probability space of prediction from DNA made physical across many different traits.”
The opening of the permanent exhibit collection on October 3 represents the culmination of a phased approach to Cells to Self that began in 2015. The first phase included extensive prototyping and research into visitors’ experiences with the interactive pieces. The permanent collection will include more than 20 new interactive exhibits, as well as renovations of some of the exhibits from the first iteration that focus on cells, genetics, and embryonic development. Many of the new experiences explore how cells move, divide, interact, and respond to their surroundings, and are based on active areas of scientific research. The permanent collection will also allow visitors to see themselves as a central figure in the story of how cells, DNA, the environment, and the individual’s lived experience work together to create a whole being—the self.
A press preview and tour with the curator will be held on Thursday, October 3, from 3:00-5:00 pm. Please RSVP to email@example.com.
Cells to Self is made possible through the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and The Troy and Leslie Daniels Fund for Life Sciences. Components of the collection are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) and Biological Sciences Directorate programs, a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Calendar Editors Please Note:
Cells To Self: Exploring the Life Inside You
Opening October 3, 2019
How do the trillions of cells in your body work together to create a human self? How are you shaped by the genes you’re born with, and by your environment?
Through more than 20 new experiences, this collection reveals the wondrous variety of human cells, and the amazing things they’re doing in your body. See live heart cells beating in time with your own pulse, or find out which bacteria are living on your skin. Through living tissues, microscopes, and digital models, you’ll discover how cells move and communicate. And contemplate how genetic and environmental forces create your uniquely human self.
After Dark: Cells to Self
October 3, 2019 • 6:00–10:00 p.m.
Whether an independent organism (like an amoeba) or a tiny part of a complex life form (like a badger or a human), all life begins as a single cell. At our brand-new exhibit collection, Cells to Self, you can use microscopes, digital models, and firsthand interactions with cells to explore how cells move, divide, communicate, and respond to their surroundings—from the environmental awareness of bacteria to human heart cells beating in response to electricity. Come get a closer look and see what you’re made of.