And it doesn’t bother the curators or scientists at all.
The exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History celebrates the 60th anniversary of James D. Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s double helix and the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s first complete record of a human genome. The understanding of genomes is still fairly new,and discoveries are being made almost weekly.
“What that means is the exhibition had to be flexible enough and had to incorporate elements that allow us to take advantage of the latest exciting advancements that will happen in genomics,” Green said.
The exhibit,“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” will be on view until September 2014. Afterward it will travel around North America. It explains through interactive displays exactly what a genome is and how it can affect our health and the world.
The exhibit is a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health National Genome Research Institute and the Natural History Museum.
The exhibit aims to educate visitors about genomes and the “social and ethical issues which are interwoven in the field of genomics” when considering how they can be used in health care and medicine,Green said.
It will also be used as a method of research. Signs reading “What Do You Think?” allow visitors to voluntarily answer survey questions about genomes by texting numbers on their phones.
Barbara Biesecker,associate investigator of the Social and Behavioral Research Branch for the National Human Genome Research Institute,said the survey is intended to help researchers understand how people think about genomics,which in turn can influence how those researchers write and communicate about the subject.
The exhibit,which covers 4,400 square feet,is divided into four sections,all featuring interactive screens and displays that touch on a different aspect of the human genome. A genome is the complete set of genetic material of an organism,which is stored inside the organism as DNA sequences.
At the entrance,visitors are introduced to the genome and how it works. From there,guests move to a section that explains the benefits of understanding genomes for health care and medicine. A little more than halfway through,visitors learn about what scientists are doing to preserve genomes of different organisms before they are extinct. Finally there’s the “genome zone,” which features hands-on learning experiences and programs that teach visitors more about the human genome and the science behind it.
“We’ve tackled a very challenging problem in taking a very complicated topic and making it accessible to our vast and interested audience,” Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History Kirk Johnson said. “What we’ve done here is produced an exhibit that is compelling and it’s detailing but it’s compelling in its accessibility as well.”
The exhibit is meant to be understood by a middle school student.
“Science is moving so fast,” Johnson said. “The people that come to this museum that come to learn about science are by enlarge families or eighth graders on their great spring experience in D.C. And you think,‘Well,genome,eighth graders,what’s the deal?’ I’ll look at you and say those eighth graders,they’re going to be your doctor in 20 years,so you want them to be paying attention to the great advances of science.”
For Green,the most difficult aspect of the exhibit was making it visually interesting.
“We had to make this exhibit very visual because genomics and DNA and double helixes are inherently to the general public not partly as cool as a dinosaur,which is very visual,” he said. “We had to bring this to life.”
Reach reporter Deanna Del Ciello at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.