Glow: Living Lights

Exhibit explores bioluminescence
Glow Living Lights
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Fireflies, foxfire fungus, viper fish and deep-sea starfish may not appear to have much in common, yet they share a unique ability to produce their own light, a process known as luminescence. These and other light-generating creatures are the focus of a special exhibit, “Glow: Living Lights,” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh that explores this intriguing phenomenon.

Investigate the chemical process that produces “cool” light and discover through models, photographs and film footage how terrestrial and sea creatures – including railroad worms, snails, jellyfish, krill, cookie cutter sharks and vampire squid – use their glow to catch prey, ward off predators and even find a mate. Learn about fireflies, nature’s famous luminescent beetles, and how they light up in the night sky. As one of summer’s most played-out courtship rituals, a male firefly flashes every six seconds to attract a female, her flash following two seconds later.

Discover the techniques and equipment used by scientists to study bioluminescence and explore the many benefits of this research, from detecting environmental pollutants and harmful pathogens to helping advance the study of cancer-fighting drugs.

An inaugural BugFest Illustration Contest celebrates this unique exhibit as well as BugFest, the museum’s annual event planned for Sept. 11. Entrants are invited to illustrate their best and most realistic version of a bioluminescent or aquatic bug in its surroundings. Judging will be based on artistic merit and scientific accuracy. Entry deadline is Aug. 11; submission forms are available on the museum’s website. Three winners from each of the five age groups will receive a prize. All participants receive free admission to the “Glow: Living Lights” exhibit.

Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, with the last entry at 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and $4 for children ages 5-11. Museum members and children ages 4 and younger are admitted free. Purchase tickets online at, at the museum box office or by calling 919-733-7450. The exhibit runs through Sept. 12, 2010.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is at 11 W. Jones St., Raleigh. General museum admission is free. 

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