Our bodies are teaming with teeny little microorganisms called microbes. Visible only with high-powered microscopes, these microbes play big roles in just about everything our bodies do.
And these tiny things are the focus of a new exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Secret World Inside You tells the story of microbes - from the battles they wage in our bodies to the new research that's helping us understand how critical they are to our lives.
"Your entire body is covered in microbes and every aspect of your bodily function involves microbes," said Chris Smith, the museum's science correspondent. Understanding the complex nature of it all will, Smith said, helps people make decisions about how they treat their body, guides doctors in treating our bodies and informs us as we make decisions about the kinds of products we use.
Secret World blows up the subject with larger-than-life displays and interactive exhibits.
At the entrance, visitors are immediately immersed as they are covered in thousands of multicolored lights, representing the microbes that are on and in their bodies.
From there, you'll find lots of information, including blown up versions of those microbes. One display, representing what might be happening on somebody's skin cells, shows a battle between Athlete's foot (a fungi) and the bacteria trying to kill it. In another, a giant version of the immune system shows a blood cell grabbing hold of its victim - a bacteria that causes a staph infection.
Throughout the exhibit, short videos provide visual explanations of the subject. And there are about a dozen interactive pieces that allow visitors to learn more and investigate.
Two favorites for kids:
The 10-foot "microbe person." Projected onto a table, the women encourages you to select parts of her body to learn more about microbes in, for instance, our kidneys or on our heads.
Three games, also projected on two separate tables, offer opportunities to learn more about how the food we eat impacts the microbes in our bodies and our health.
The exhibit also explores some of the research on microbes, which is just getting started. Scientists are looking at how babies acquire microbes once they're born, how microbes could affect obesity and how neurons in our guts impact moods.
"Everything in it is very new research," Smith said. "Scientists only in the recent decade have begun to explore microbe communities in and around us."
The exhibit, which comes from the American Museum of Natural History, ends with a special (and pretty amazing) addition from the natural sciences museum: The Super Human Theater.
This 12-minute show is screened with project mapping. The movie is projected onto a stage, which includes a mannequin named Genny, who appears to come alive thanks to all of this movie magic. The story line for this movie is a little dark (Genny gets quite sick), but it ends on a happy note.
The exhibit is open through March 12. Tickets are $10 and $7 for kids ages 3 to 12. This exhibition is sponsored by UNC REX Healthcare and presented in partnership with the NC State College of Sciences, with additional support from RTI International.
I'd recommend the exhibit for grade schoolers and up.