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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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close up image of the inside of MIL03346 Nahklite meteorite.

July 23, 2011 - November 4, 2012
First Floor, Special Exhibits Gallery


You can learn quite a bit about the world by simply observing your surroundings carefully. But scientists at the National Museum of Natural History rely on special tools and skills to examine the world's diversity of life and culture up close and in much greater detail.

Biologists, geologists and anthropologists look for patterns and specific details with the tools they use. They use scanning electron microscopes and 3D lasers to magnify the very tiny. X-rays and CT scanners reveal what lies inside. Video and stop-action photography track movement and change over time. Even cornstarch and colorful dye have become scientific must-haves.

Explore the world alongside our scientists as they use their super-powered vision to observe, document, and analyze the natural world and global cultures. Here's are some examples to explore in the exhibition:

how can we photograph hard-to-see things
An intricate photo of a spider web, white threads visible against a black background.

An invisible spider web is great for catching a meal but a challenge for a Smithsonian scientist trying to photograph it. How do we photograph an invisible spiderweb to learn more about spider behavior?



A brilliantly colored Carribean fish species below and a fade preserve specimen above for comparison

A few spots of color are sometimes the only way to distinguish some species of fish apart but colors fade away in preserve specimens. Can we document the brilliant colors of fish using digital photography along with DNA analysis to distinguish between closely related fish species?




how do we see things move and change?
Scientist using early film camera and an early diagram of a field recording solution.

Scientists have used photography and film to study cultures for quite some time. Advances in technology allow researchers to get closer and repond faster to the action as it happens. Learn how advances have allowed scientists to gain new insights into the cultures they study and record.



how do we know where to look?
Watch the video 'Knowing Where to Look: Finding New Species in the Digital Age'

Botanists label each specimen they gather with its location and date of collection. See how Smithsonian researchers are using Google Earth to create 3D maps that help plan future research and conservation efforts.

Watch how digital technology has changed the way we discover and study plants and animals.



how do we see things so tiny?
Scientist with microscope. Traditional scientific illustration along latest imagery of microscopic specimens

In the old days, scientists peered through miscrosopes and skillfully illustrated organisms to study and share information. Discover how Smithsonian marine scientists study tiny marine creatures today using the latest microscopic imaging technology.



A color enhanced laser 3D image of a three-day-old larval of Nephasoma pellicidum.

Technological advances allow us to see in new ways. How did scientists produce this beautiful and clearly focused 3D image of a specimen using laser technology?







how do we see inside things?
mummy and 3D CT scan of head.

A mysterious 900 year-old mummified male body is found in a remote cave in Mongolia. How do we know how the man lived and died — all without damaging the remains?


Rocks, and their minerals, contain evidence of the formation and evolution of our planet. The composition of meteorites provides insight into the early history of our solar system. Delve into the beatiful and secret lives of rocks, minerals, and meteorites.

cathodolumnescent images of different minerals.













100 years of studying the triceratops
Skeleton image of a triceratops dinosaur.

The Triceratops display has stood at the museum for a century. What have scientists and conservators learned about Triceratops over the course of 100 years?



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