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Immersive exhibit highlights the importance of pollinators for all ages

Visitors at the Amazing Pollinators exhibit walk around a green interactive maze at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.
Lily Burton
Visitors at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh explore an interactive maze as part of the "Amazing Pollinators" exhibit that opened Saturday, June 15, 2024.

The"Amazing Pollinators" exhibit is now open at The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The exhibit, which kicked off in time for National Pollinator Week, teaches visitors about pollinators and the threats they face in today’s world.

Without pollinators, most flowering plants would not be able to reproduce. Threats to pollinators are really threats to all of us and the world as we know it. If plants are not pollinated, food supplies and ecosystems would collapse.

Javan Sutton, the museum’s Director of Exhibits and Digital Media, hopes the exhibit will help visitors better understand the importance of pollinators.

"I'm hoping that visitors will learn … how hard it is to be a pollinator," Sutton said. "The things that we do and what we plant in our gardens and in our homes affect all of the wildlife around us."

Any animal that drinks the sweet, calorie-rich nectar that flowering plants provide is a pollinator. In exchange, these animals end up spreading pollen between plants and facilitating reproduction. Many pollinators are insects like bees, wasps, beetles and butterflies, but bats and many species of birds can be pollinators, too.

As part of the exhibit, visitors also get to pick their favorite pollinator as an avatar for an immersive maze game, Sutton explained.

"You get a game board and you have a mission that you were trying to accomplish," he said. "You have to go through the maze, accomplish different tasks, and you gain points or lose points, depending on how you perform in the activity. And in the end, you can see, you know, 'Were able to survive as a pollinator?'"

Other interactive elements of the exhibit include small rooms with different sensory experiences based on how pollinators experience the world. A "gaze up" room lets visitors sit back and see a sky that a pollinator might see. A "night room" uses a blacklight to show how nocturnal pollinators might see the world.

The exhibit, designed for both adults and children, runs through Sept. 29.

Lily Burton reports on science as the 2024 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at WUNC. She is a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Chicago and has written for Microbites, Science Unsealed and The Forefront, covering everything from machine learning to stories of patients surviving cancer. She also works with organizations like ComSciCon to host events for grad students in STEM fields to develop their science communication skills.
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