Louise Lief

Science and the Media and the American Museum of Natural History Co-Host Pilot Program on Glowing

American Museum of Natural History


©AMNH/R. Mickens

The Science and the Media project is testing a variety of innovative approaches to enable all journalists to engage the sciences in enjoyable ways while learning more about the journalism craft.

On June 18, Science and the Media and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, one of the largest natural history museums in the world, co-hosted an after-work pilot program for journalists to test a professional development model that features science content and a journalism craft component.

News organizations that participated included the New York Times, CBS News, the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, TIME, Newsday, Globo TV (Brazil), ZDF TV (Germany), PBS Weekend Newshour, Impremedia (el Diario/La Prensa), Quartz, NationSwell, faculty from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and independent journalists.

“Hidden  Light: Exploring Oceans for Creatures that Glow” explored the magical realm of marine creatures that produce living light, a world that has inspired the imagery of filmmakers like James Cameron, who is also an avid ocean explorer.

American Museum of Natural History scientist John Sparks discussed the challenges and risks of deep sea diving at depths of 200 feet or more, filming underwater at night under mostly blue light conditions, and the specialized equipment his team uses, including submersibles, the latest generation of atmospheric diving suits, and high definition cameras built to withstand great water pressure.

Journalists learned how light and colors appear differently underwater, about bioluminescent sea creatures that produce their own light, and  the special challenges involved detecting and filming biofluorescent fish, whose glow is barely visible to human eyes. Sparks’ team addressed this problem by designing and building camera filters that mimicked fish corneas. They also built intense blue lights to stimulate biofluorescence in fish, which then transform and re-emit the color as reds, purples, oranges, yellows, and greens.

Journalists took part in an obstacle course where they had to detect and film biofluorescence under simulated ocean conditions, and toured the museum’s extensive fish collection which includes giant coelacanth, fish thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

A second pilot program will be co-hosted with the Smithsonian Institution near Washington D.C. in September.

In addition to the pilot programs, Science and the Media is collaborating on a media innovation series and citizen science initiatives with the Wilson Center’s Digital Commons Lab, and is developing original science content programming for non-traditional broadcast venues.

For more information, please contact llief@mediaandscience.org


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Louise Lief is an independent consultant to philanthropy, non-profits and media, helping mission-driven organizations design, execute and communicate program strategies to achieve their objectives with maximum impact.

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