“When you look from really close, a new world is revealed to you. More beautiful and spectacular than you could ever have imagined.”
Welcome to Micropia.
I wasn’t worried about my mascara at first.
Micropia is a museum that shows the invisible world of microbial life. It is the best museum ever and no wonder. Micropia was awarded the most innovative museum by the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) and it also earned the highest recognition, the Kenneth Hudson Award.
When we entered, the docent explained that Micropia is a bridge between the scientific community and the public. It was established because the knowledge about microbes was held by scientists and not well understood by the public. We were instructed to get a stamp of the microbe at each station and promised that at the end we’d be able to do something with it.
Every single part of the experience was intentional.
The docent waved a key card in front of the elevator which had no buttons. It opened and we entered a deep black freight-sized elevator also with no buttons. The door closed. The ceiling of the elevator had been removed and 2 stories above a video played of eyelash mites and the microbes that live on the mites. As we rose inexorably closer, the mites got bigger and bigger. Then I worried about my mascara. But I still wasn’t worried about my toothbrush or floss picks or fixing dinner.
When the elevator opened, it was dark. Each exhibit was lit internally. After examining a DNA family tree showing how we all share some DNA, we moved onto the first of many Zeiss microscopes.
Each microscope had live microbes under it. To the right of the microscope there was an interactive panel with tabs: more details on the microbe – almost a product description, a claymation or flash video showing the impact of the virus were two of the tabs. One video explained thrips and nematodes. Thrips are an insect that strips leaves and flowers of their top layer causing leaf drop. If you put nematodes (a microbe) in the water, they enter the thrip, secrete a bacteria which dissolves the thrip’s insides. Then the nematode eats the thrip from the inside out. The plant can regenerate over time.
Microphotographs of each bacteria and virus appeared enlarged to gigantic proportions so we could see it. (The following photographs are iPhone photos that I took through the microscope lens of someone else’s micro photographs so I have not added my copyright. There was no credit at the museum so I don’t know who the unsung hero(es) are.)
At each station, I collected a stamp. Eventually I was able to put my passport under a light and see a 2 story version of each beast displayed across maybe 20 screens mounted on a wall. They were simultaneously hideous and beautiful. I was fascinated and horrified. Imagine each of these images at least 1 story tall.
I didn’t think about my toothbrush until I saw this…the bacteria that grow on a floss pick:
Yew! I wasn’t thinking about cooking either until I saw a video of a couple with a baby furiously cooking, passing their baby back and forth. In the display case, everything they touched from olive oil to salt shaker was on exhibit as having been contaminated. Ewww!
At the end, my passport was full of stamps representing various microbes.
I went out and bought a new toothbrush immediately, new mascara soon after, sterilized my makeup brushes and began scrubbing down the countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms daily whether used or not. If the Micropia organizers had wanted to make a bridge between the scientists’ understanding of the microbes and my Jane Q Public’s understanding of them, they did an outstanding job.