An image from the Creatures of Light exhibit

Blog – Creatures of Light: Behind the Scenes

Al Saperstein

Alvin: Volunteer of the Month November 2016

September 14, 2016 Comments Off on Blog: Capturing Biofluorescence Views: 2162 Blog

Blog: Capturing Biofluorescence

We’re excited about our newest special exhibit, Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescencecreated by the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit made its debut in 2012 and the curator John Sparks, an associate curator in the museum’s Department of Ichthyology, a professor in the museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, described his work on the exhibit in a series of museum blogs. Continue reading to discover what went into the making of this incredible exhibit.

Photographing a Coral Wall’s Inhabitants
By John Sparks, from a Museum of Natural History blog

Imaging Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman.

John Sparks and David Gruber imaging Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman. Courtesy of N. van Niekerk


One of the amazing things about working on an exhibition is having the chance to incorporate our own research—sometimes, very recent research.

Within the past year, including just last December, my colleague, Museum Research Associate David Gruber (CUNY), and I have gone on multiple expeditions to the Cayman Islands and the Exumas, Bahamas, to photograph a coral wall and its inhabitants at night using special lights and filters to capture biofluorescence.

The phenomenon of biofluorescence results from the absorption of electromagnetic radiation at one wavelength by an organism, followed immediately by its re-emission at a longer, lower-energy wavelength. With special cameras, we captured brilliant red, green, and orange fluorescing corals, anemones, mollusks, marine worms, and a myriad of fishes, including sharks and rays.

Although it is unnerving to hover in complete darkness over a wall that drops thousands of feet—particularly when we get occasional glimpses of quickly moving sharks in our flashes—the results are well worth the effort.

Creatures of Light is open at the Michigan Science Center through January 15, 2017!

Past blogs in this series:

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