‘Life on the Edge’ Exhibition Begins National Tour in Missoula

A mother and child explore hydrothermal vent communities as part of a “Life on the Edge” activity.

MISSOULA – Discover new environments on Earth and in space at a new visiting exhibition opening at spectrUM Discovery Area in the Missoula Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 22.

“Life on the Edge” uses Earth’s extremophiles – organisms that thrive in extreme conditions – as a means to explore the possibilities for life in our solar system and beyond.

The exhibition was created through a $1.25 million, five-year NASA grant led by Cornell University’s Sciencenter in partnership with the University of Montana’s spectrUM and the Harvard College Observatory. SpectrUM and its community advisory group, SciNation on the Flathead Reservation, contributed and advised on the design of the exhibition. SpectrUM is the first stop on the exhibition’s national tour.

In “Life on the Edge,” visitors will discover that life is hidden in plain sight by exploring a colorful microbial colony, learning about the importance of our missions to Mars, investigating rover tests in the Atacama Desert and using spectroscopy to detect what light reveals in faraway places.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Understand how microbes contribute to nutrient cycling by using a movable video microscope to investigate a bacterial colony in a Winogradsky column.
  • Discovering Biosignatures: Code a rover, experience what it is like to plan a route across the Atacama Desert and scan the environment for signs of life like scientists did in preparation for the Perseverance mission to Mars.
  • Light Reveals: Understand how scientists use the transit method to learn about exoplanets by setting a kinetic model of a solar system into motion and watching while a digital display shows dips of light as exoplanets pass in front of the light source.
  • Adapted for Extremes: Explore realistic models of hydrothermal vent communities and discover the diversity of creatures living in the deep sea and how they survive.

The public can visit “Life on the Edge” at spectrUM through April 20. K-12 school groups from the Missoula region and the Flathead Reservation also will have the opportunity to book field trips to the special exhibition, with need-based scholarships sponsored by First Security Bank.

For more information, call spectrUM Director Jessie Herbert-Meny at 406-207-1010 or visit http://www.spectrum.umt.edu, where educators can book field trips. SpectrUM’s main location at the new Missoula Public Library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free.

Inspiring a culture of learning and discovery for all, spectrUM Discovery Area is UM’s hands-on science center. Since 2006, spectrUM has served over 200,000 visitors annually in Missoula and across Montana. SpectrUM is part of UM’s Broader Impacts Group, which works to engage the public, including K-12 students, with UM research and scholarship.


Contact: Jessie Herbert-Meny, director, spectrUM Discovery Area, jessie.herbert@umontana.edu.