By JENNIFER K. BAUER
While its name comes from the black webbed skin covering its body like a cape and big eyes that appear red in certain light, vampire squid also have a seemingly supernatural ability. When threatened, it can shoot blue light from its arm tips, dazing predators for up to 10 minutes while it slips away into the inky blackness.
Bioluminescence is a living organism’s ability to produce its own light. It is one of the least understood phenomena in nature. The traveling exhibit, “Glow: Living Lights,” on display through June 15 at the Palouse Discovery Science Center in Pullman, explores the science behind the mystery.
An estimated 90 percent of sea organisms are capable of emitting their own light, according to the interactive exhibit that is designed for all ages. One can see photos, videos and preserved specimens of creatures like the angler fish, a toothy deep-sea dweller with what looks a light bulb attached to a pole on its head.
Bioluminescence is present on land in creatures like glowworms and fireflies, but also in 40 species of fungi. Glowing mushrooms, which can be seen in one display, are the source of the legend of fairy fire, also called fox fire. Sometimes the light is bright enough to read by. Scientists hypothesize that the glow helps lure insects to spread spores. The exhibit explains how scientists are studying bioluminescence for use in cancer cures and detecting pathogens like anthrax.
“Glow: Living Lights” has been shown in Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco and is the largest traveling exhibit that the Palouse Discovery Science Center has received in its 16 years, says Victoria Scalise, the center’s executive director. Admission includes access to the center’s regular activities and exhibits, which include live animals and reptiles and diverse hands-on activities that get kids thinking about the human body, nanotechnology, space, sustainability and more.
“Living in a rural setting, we’re not inundated with this kind of stuff,” Scalise says about the opportunities to explore science at the center, which attracts about 22,000 visitors a year.
If you go
What: “Glow: Living Lights”
When: Now through June 15
Where: Palouse Discovery Science Center, 950 N.E. Nelson Court, Pullman
Cost: $7.50 adults, $5 children ages 2 to 15, $6 seniors ages 55 and older
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday