Under the Microscope at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

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Look through a microscope at a slide of cells and behold the tiny, almost innumerable micro-organisms bumping around together in a soup of life. Now imagine yourself in the midst of those cells, in that world under the microscope, shrunk down to cellular size, walking around in a seemingly infinite landscape of cellular structures. This is the experience you can have in the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History’s new exhibit, Under the Microscope.


Under the Microscope features stretch-fabric creations fabricated and installed by Transformit—a giant walk-in cell and seven human-scale cells. LED lighting from within each cell, changing colors in sync with the others, creates an ambient sense of life pulsing through the gallery. Amplifying the effect, mirrored walls of the exhibit hall multiply the visual experience into an infinite environment.


Step into a giant cell for a closer look at the importance of life's smallest building blocks! Explore the different parts of cells and their functions by examining model organelles, DNA molecules, and more. Then try your hand at interactive games and activities to learn what elements are needed for life to exist, what different types of cells all work together to make up your own body, and what criteria determine if something is alive or not. You can also build your own strand of DNA!

Under the Microscope
University of Michigan Museum of Natural History


The cells were designed by Lord Cultural Resources and developed by Transformit’s senior designer, Jonathan Crowe, in collaboration with the exhibit fabricator, Xibitz. Designed and built to be “kid proof,” the skeletal frame of each cell consists of a crisscrossing web of steel rods welded together in a faceted egg-shaped form.


Standing five to nine feet tall, two cells are suspended from the ceiling and the others, featuring educational graphic panels mounted flush, bisecting the curvature of the cell, are perched upon a multi-legged base powder coated gray that recedes from view beneath the colorful form of the cells. The exception is an 11’ tall by 13’ wide walk-through cell that stands dome-like in the center of the hall. This giant cell features a custom printed graphic outer membrane and contains within its own exhibit content:  educational panels and a video screen mounted to the cell’s skeletal structure of curved aluminum tubing powder coated white.

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is embedded among the labs at U-M's innovative new Biological Sciences Building. Designed by American architectural firms SmithGroup and ENNEAD, this building re-unites the departments of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, as well as ecology and evolutionary biology within one building, while also housing the institution’s widely popular Museum of Natural History, increasing the public’s exposure to the biological sciences and the important work occurring at the University of Michigan. The museum and its exhibits, including Under the Microscope, are open to the public and admission is free.



• Client:  University of Michigan Museum of Natural History
• Exhibit Designer:  Lord Cultural Resources
• Exhibit Fabricator:   Xibitz and Taylor Studios
• Cells Design Engineering, Fabrication, and Installation:  Transformit
• Additional Metal Fabrication:  Lake Region Design and Fabrication

Tags: Custom, Light Diffusion, Graphics, Museums, Exhibits