exhibitions

Our Senses: Creating Your Reality

Your senses are one of those things you don’t think much about, yet they are constantly at work shaping your perception of the world. Now they get the scientific spotlight in Our Senses: Creating Your Reality, an exhibition for the whole family that playfully reveals how and why what we perceive is not all, or exactly, what’s actually going on around us. In a series of interactive galleries, you will enjoy some "sensory overload" as you play with color, patterns, sound, scents, and touch and discover how there's so much more to our senses than just the usual five. 

  • Watch walls lit with alternating colored lights that reveal just how much a world bathed in white light can differ from one illuminated in blue, green, or red.
  • Explore a garden through the eyes of a bee or a butterfly, encountering larger-than-life models.
  • Hunt like a snake and find prey using an infrared viewer.
  • Dial into a variety of animal sounds normally outside the range of our hearing.
  • Test your skill using an audio collage to track individual sounds, such as a certain creature in a natural setting or an individual instrument in an orchestra.
  • Find out what happens when your senses disagree, as your feet feel a flat floor beneath you but your eyes see walls and a floor that appear to curve and ripple.
  • Look through a pair of goggles that upends the information your brain receives from your eyes.
  • Explore 3D models of specialized touch receptors that demonstrate our complicated touch system.
  • Take a smell test to single out the fragrance notes in a complex scent, since what we perceive as a particular odor is actually a symphony of smells.

 

Our Senses is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (amnh.org).

At-a-Glance Information

What: When it comes to our senses, hasn’t the number five had enough time in the spotlight? Now other sensory heroes get some overdue attention in Our Senses: Creating Your Reality, an exhibition for the whole family where you play with color, patterns, sounds, scents, and textures to discover there’s so much more to human senses than just the famous five.

When: Friday, April 12–Sunday, August 4, 2019

Where: Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, 80205

Tickets: Our Senses: Creating Your Reality is free with general admission

Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, visit dmns.org/senses.

Organizer: Our Senses is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, (amnh.org).

The Experience

Play with color, patterns, sounds, scents, and textures in a series of galleries to discover there’s so much more to human senses than just the famous five.

SEE
What you see depends on light, and specialized cone cells in your eyes detect light intensity and color. While humans typically have three kinds of cone cells, most other mammals have only two, so they see a much smaller range of colors than we do. Marine mammals, such as seals and whales, have only one kind of cone cell, meaning they see no color at all. In this gallery, watch patterned walls illuminated with an alternating series of lights reveal how a world bathed in white differs from one in blue, green, or red.

DETECT
As it turns out, there are entire categories of color—such as infrared and ultraviolet—invisible to human eyes but vital to the survival of other species. In this gallery, explore a garden through the eyes of a bee or a butterfly, featuring larger-than-life models. For insects looking to feed on nectar and pollen in the center of blossoms, flowers look like enormous targets, with ultraviolet marks that help insects find a place to land and enjoy a meal. Peer into an infrared viewer to hunt like a snake, and find prey by the heat they generate.

Just as there are colors you cannot see, there are sounds you cannot hear. Humans evolved to detect certain frequencies, while some animals, including mice and rats, communicate at ranges we can’t perceive without the aid of technology. Dial into animal sounds normally outside the range of your hearing, including the calls of a fin whale, forest elephant, house mouse, and an Indiana bat. You will also discover that a male peacock, when creating its dazzling mating display, produces secret, low-frequency sounds by rattling its tail feathers.

HEAR
You hear with the help of some 15,000 cells arranged in rows deep inside your ears and with your brain’s selective filter. High-pitched sounds trigger cells near the outer part of the cochlea, the spiral cavity of the inner ear, while deeper sounds activate cells farther in. With age, hair cells near the front of the cochlea often die, one reason older people have trouble hearing high-pitched sounds. In some animals—including birds and reptiles—hair cells naturally regenerate, so researchers are hoping to find ways to help human hair cells do the same. An audio collage in this gallery challenges you to test your skill at tracking individual sounds, such as a certain creature in a natural setting or an individual instrument within an orchestra.

FOCUS
Senses flood our brain with information—how can you pay attention to it all? This gallery discusses what helps us focus—and why your eyes jump to certain features, with your brain filling in the rest. Try a variety of experiences that reveal how brains are wired to prioritize certain signals and focus on particular cues and details, such as movement or human faces. Your perceptions are also shaped by whatever is happening around you. Senses influence each other, which is why the loud, crunching sound of potato chips can make them seem tastier.

TOUCH
Your sense of touch isn’t just one sense—it’s many, with nerve endings to detect warm, cool, extreme temperatures, pressure, texture, pain, and more. Our brain knits together information from these sensations to create a unified perception. Three-dimensional models of specialized touch receptors show the complexity of the touch system, with different types of touch signals traveling from your skin to your brain along different pathways. Test your sense of touch at a texture wall.

SMELL
All day, your nose decodes mixes of molecules—and your brain links aromas to memories so you recognize familiar scents. With around 400 types of odor-sensing cells, and a virtually endless variety of odors triggering combinations of these cells, people likely perceive millions of odors. Most scents come as a bundle; for example, the aroma of roasted cacao beans, the main ingredient in chocolate, is made up of around 600 chemicals. Take a smell test to unpack the fragrance notes in a complex scent, since what you perceive as a particular odor is actually a symphony of smells.

BALANCE
At every moment, your brain performs a balancing act between the information you see, feel, and sense with the organs in your inner ears. What happens when those streams of information clash? In this gallery, discover what happens when your senses disagree; though your feet will feel a flat floor beneath you, your eyes will see walls and a floor that appear to curve and ripple. (Visitors may bypass this gallery if they prefer.)

INTEGRATE LIVE SHOW
Hosted live by a Museum educator, this participatory presentation explores how your senses work to create your reality.

BEYOND
People have an advantage because we can use technology to illustrate a world human senses can’t perceive and make the invisible visible. The final gallery shows how technologies enhance our capacity to detect and perceive the world around us. As you leave the exhibition, experience an Internet sensation and discover you truly are one of a kind!

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Museum Experts

These are the spokespersons from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for the exhibition Our Senses: Creating Your Reality. The curators and educators provide professional expertise from their respective

fields of study to enhance the content and experience in the temporary exhibitions hosted by the Museum.

Taliah Farnsworth loves three things: people, science, and connecting people with science. Farnsworth volunteered at the Museum throughout high school, joined the Museum Programs staff in 2011, and took on a new role as a virtual experiences specialist in 2017. She now coordinates the Virtual Science Academy and Scientists in Action programs, which reached more than 40,000 students across North America during the 2017–18 school year. Farnsworth earned her bachelor’s degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Denver and her MA in teaching biology from Miami University.

Dr. Nicole Garneau has been curator of human health at the Museum since 2009. Garneau’s research is dedicated to bringing the science of flavor to the table, creating fun opportunities for the public to be engaged in science. She is a geneticist and taste scientist who directs the Museum’s Genetics of Taste Lab, where real research is conducted to examine how a person’s DNA affects their ability to taste and their food choices and diet. The taste studies use public participants who consent to be tested and community scientists who are trained to help conduct the research. The 2018–19 study is Genes and Grains; find out more at www.dmns.org/genetics. Garneau earned her PhD in microbiology from Colorado State University.

Samantha Sands is an educator and program specialist who joined the Museum in 2010. She is the staff educator for the permanent exhibitions Prehistoric Journey and Space Odyssey and was the lead educator for the Snowmastodon Project. Sands earned her bachelor’s in environmental geology from the University of Michigan and master’s in museum studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has served as educator for 11 temporary exhibitions, including both current exhibitions, Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius and Our Senses.

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The Science Lounge: Reality Bites
What is reality? We’ll play tricks on your eyes and mind as you experience a night of sensory overload. Experiment with virtual and augmented reality, then find out what happens when your senses disagree in the temporary exhibition Our Senses: Creating Your Reality.

Thursday, May 16  • 6:30–9:30 p.m. • $13 member, $15 nonmember • Ages 21+

Escher’s Universe
Step into Escher’s Universe, a full-dome film based on the life and work of the multifaceted Maurits Cornelis Escher. Escher had a unique ability to join mathematics, astronomy, optics, and geometry together in art. Shapes, three-dimensional reconstructions, dual worlds, unreal buildings, or impossible continuities in this show reveal his continuous search for knowledge. After the film, psychologist Dr. Timothy Sweeny, from the University of Denver, will discuss how the brain impacts the way people see the world around them.

Thursday, May 30 • 7 p.m. • Gates Planetarium • $12 member, $15 nonmember

Get Inside Your Mind: Tour the Human Brain
Is it literally a spark that ignites human curiosity? The answer and more lie somewhere in the brain’s complex architecture. Get a look inside your head during a tour of the brain, projected on our immersive planetarium dome, with Dr. Jonathan Fisher, assistant professor of physiology, New York Medical College. Fisher founded the Neurodome Project, which combines planetarium technology with high-resolution brain imaging techniques. From witnessing sparks of electrical activity in individual neurons to sailing down neural pathways that support consciousness, emotions, and complex thought, you will explore the fundamental mechanisms of brain function—and what it means to be human.

Wednesday, June 5 • 6 or 8 p.m. • Gates Planetarium • $12 member, $15 nonmember

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