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The Secret World Inside You explores the developing science of the human microbiome – the trillions of bacteria that live in and on each one of us. This traveling exhibition helps reveal the complexities of the microbiome and reshapes traditional ideas about human health, offering new perspectives on common health problems including allergies, asthma, and obesity. The show aims to de-mystify microbes, to help the public understand them as often friendly collaborators in many essential human processes – like digestion.
The subject matter posed a significant design challenges: how to make an immediate, immersive experience out of things that are invisible to the naked eye. The exhibit also had to transcend the “yuck” factor inherent in many of the processes involving bacteria — on the skin, in the mouth or the digestive system. The exhibit design abstracted the fleshy human home of bacteria with an open-weave organic wall system painted in warm tones. This environment is populated with abstracted orbs and circles rendered at different scales. Hands-on participation is encouraged with both high- and low-tech interactives; the exhibit centers around a 20-foot animated table inviting visitors to explore microbes in a human body. A wide range of simple hands-on interactives allow visitors to discover different levels of content using reveals, large three-dimensional puzzles, and even smell.
The graphics respond to the exuberant environment with a more restrained approach. The language of spheres is reinforced by 8-foot backlit circles which anchor clusters of content. Cool colors and abstract electron microscope images provide contrast against the warm walls. Life-size international figures rendered in shiny white tell the stories of each section; cutouts within them reveal content in the graphics behind. The abstraction of the figures allows for humor as well as a certain detachment when discussing sensitive issues like obesity and depression. Circular tables house more detailed content and simple interactives. The bright white of the figures and the exhibitry detailing pops against the saturated graphics and provides a sleek counterpoint to the textural walls. Throughout, the graphics function as both object and interpretation.