You can’t see them, but they’re here.
They are on you. In you. And you’ve got more than a hundred thousand billion of them.
They’re with you when you eat, when you breathe, when you kiss.
They are everywhere. On your hands. And in your belly.
And they meddle in everything.
They shape your world:
what you smell, and what you taste;
whether you get sick, or get better.
They can save us, or destroy us.
Microbes: the smallest and most powerful organisms on our planet.
We know very little about them.
but can learn so much from them.
About our health, alternative energy sources, and much more.
When you look from really close,
a new world is revealed to you.
More beautiful and spectacular than you could ever have imagined.
Welcome to Micropia.
The only museum of microbes, in the centre of Amsterdam.
Micropia shows the invisible. It is the first museum in the world dedicated to microbes. It is impossible to fully understand the interconnectivity of the natural world without knowledge of the most powerful, most successful and, at the same time, smallest organisms: microbes. They are everywhere, and they shape our world. Every human being carries about one and a half kilos of microbes; without these we wouldn’t be able to survive. Fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe in is produced by microbes in the sea. And microbiology can help solve global problems concerning energy, water, food and health. There is no end to its uses. However, there is a serious knowledge gap between the science and the general public. If there is any generally held view about the invisible micro-world at all, it is a negative one. Unknown is unloved. This is dangerous, because the lack of understanding and the preconceptions about microbes lessen support among the public for the scientific work being done and this has a negative effect on innovation. ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo has 179 years of experience in interpreting complex science for the general public. Micropia puts this expertise to the service of this microscopic world waiting to be discovered. The museum opens up micro-nature which promises to give us so much in the future. The museum opened in September 2014.
Micropia is located in the historical Ledenlokalen from 1870, an A-grade listed building. The new design of de Ledenlokalen has the same grid and structure as the original building and the space feels the same as in the 19th century. The new architecture remains restrained, allowing the historical sections to be properly appreciated. Restoration plans had to deal with the effects of the attack of 27 March 1943, when the wartime resistance bombed the Municipal Register which was housed in de Ledenlokalen during the Nazi occupation. Architect Richard Sprenger saw this as an opportunity rather than a problem. The hole blasted by the explosion became part of the architectural concept through a black box on top of the building.
This is the very first time that the most ancient part of nature has been opened up to the general public. Micropia strikes a balance between information and experience and offers the visitor many different ways to look at the invisible world. The exhibition (design: Kossmann.deJong) focuses on the relationship between microbes and the visitor and makes a visit very personal. This brings microbiology startlingly close, while its smart provision of information will speak to the youngest amateur and the oldest expert. Entering Micropia, one enters a whole new world. The start of the visitor’s journey is the elevator to the second floor which brings the first encounter with microbes by zooming in on your eye and exploring the microscopic life over there. After leaving the elevator visitors are seduced into totally immersing themselves by the spatial design of a big black box they enter, with its special wall- and ceiling coverage relating to microbes. It is a kind of ‘inverted laboratory’: dark and mysterious rather than white and sterile. Due to state of the art 3D microscopes with joysticks attached, the visitor has live views of microbes eating, moving and reproducing. For most of the visitors this is a first time experience.
The laboratory which is necessary to grow all the microbes presented in Micropia, is an integral part of the museum. A range of media installations – specially developed with ART+COM Studios Berlin - allow visitors to see, explore and experience the world of micro-organisms together and in different ways, through which they themselves become part of the exhibition. A successful example is the body scan, where, using Kinnect technology, visitors navigate through their body and get to know their own micro-organisms The visitor not only works the interface in this exhibit but is also the subject of it. Unique films of microbes are produced specifically for Micropia and projected in the museum. Pictures by a prize-winning microbe photographer complement the footage, as well as the animations that have been produced. The daylight flooded ground floor and darkened upper floor are connected by a DNA inspired, spiral staircase (design: Sprenger von der Lippe Architekten), but also visually linked through a high wall of LCD screens. Visitors can release the microbe stamps they have collected throughout the museum on this large microbe wall.
Art has found its way with glass models representing some of the most dangerous beauties in the microbe world and the sandblasted windows showing skeletons of microbes. The soundscape which fills the space is an important unifying factor. Micropia is high-tech, but visitor-friendly at the same time; it strikes a balance between easy accessible information and experience. Visitors enter an unknown but intriguing world and leave the exhibition with a lasting insight in the significance of microbes in understanding the meaning of nature. After visiting Micropia, you will never see yourself, or the world in the same way again.
Micropia is a first in the world, it has taken over twelve years for the idea to become a reality and for the museum to open its doors. Main challenges were to make invisible life visible through a diversity of representational methods in order to inspire a rich array of looking, observing and learning opportunities. This could only be done by creating an unusual, almost estranging, museum environment and invite all senses to discover this unknown part of nature. This process has involved the close collaboration of many international parties. Major contributions have been made by scientists, the government and businesses, including the Dutch firm DSM. The creators take pride in the fact that
Micropia is genuine, and that lots of the organisms on display are alive. Keeping these microbes alive was a challenge; to test the best methodology, a simple laboratory was set up to develop a collection plan. As the exhibition design had to be combined with the optimal living conditions for the organisms, extensive feasibility tests were done. Experiments with microscopes resulted in the installation of 3D viewers attached to the microscopes. Navigation, a necessary part of exploring the micro-world, has now been made simple.
Micropia resulted in a surprising and interactive adventure through the world of microbes, attracting (school) children as well as adults, scientists and enthusiasts, tourists and locals. Covered thousands of times all over the world, responses of national and international media and responses of visitors are extremely positive. In 2016 Micropia was honoured with both the Kenneth Hudson Award (EMYA) as well as the Dasa Award (EMA).
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