Bio-luminescence at the High Desert Museum

The High Desert Museum illuminates luminescence

The slowly pulsating fireflies floating across the grass, the soft glow of some fungi carpeting the forest floor and the wondrous gleam of a mid-ocean sea creature all have one thing in common: bioluminescence. Catching sight of any one of these naturally luminous organisms can be a magical experience, and is perhaps made more magical by the mystery that continues to surround these lifeforms, since bioluminescence is still one of the least understood natural phenomenon in the scientific community. To bring audiences closer to these fantastical creatures that illuminate our oceans and skies, The High Desert Museum is hosting Glow: Living Lights, the first traveling exhibit of its kind.


A large percent of bioluminescent organisms make their homes in the oceans, and their more common land counterparts, like fireflies, are usually not found west of Kansas, so it could be difficult or impossible for the Central Oregon population to experience the wonder of bioluminescence first-hand. But the High Desert Museum’s Glow will let visitors get an up-close look at live examples of such creatures, including the viperfish (some may remember it from the Disney film, Finding Nemo) and the cookiecutter shark. Each of these ocean dwellers uses light to attract prey, but other bioluminescent species have been known to use their incandescent qualities for defense, mimicry, illumination, camouflage and communication.

Bioluminescence is a chemical process within an organism that produces a “cool light,” usually a gently glowing green or blue, with less common occurrences of red and yellow. Besides the luminous fish, visitors will also see films of bioluminescent organisms in their natural habitats, rare photos of other creatures and preserved specimens. In addition, there will be demonstrations showing how scientists are harnessing this process to help highlight specific genomes in DNA strands, and how to literally light up foods contaminated with anthrax spores.


This is an incredible opportunity to interact with and learn about a phenomenon that is not otherwise easily accessible. Glow runs from June 13 through September 27.

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