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Science Museum Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Researchers Explore the Magnificence of Fungi in New Exhibition

December 13, 2017
University of Oklahoma research assistant Karen Wendt with petri dishes. Photo provided by OU.

“Decomposition: Discovering the Beauty and Magnificence of Fungi" was developed in partnership with the University of Oklahoma Natural Products Discovery Group. Pictured, Karen Wendt, a research assistant in the University of Oklahoma’s Natural Products Discovery Group, with petri plates of various fungi in an OU lab. Photo provided by OU.

The fascinating kingdom of fungi will be on display in Science Museum Oklahoma’s smART Space galleries beginning this month in a new exhibition developed in partnership with the University of Oklahoma’s Natural Products Discovery Group.

“Decomposition: Discovering the Beauty and Magnificence of Fungi” will open Dec. 26 at the museum located at 2020 Remington Place in Oklahoma City. A free gallery reception is planned for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 12, also at the museum.

In development since early 2017, the exhibition explores the uses, benefits and beauty of fungi through numerous fungal samples, live decomposition displays, and a journey into the research of the OU NPDG and its Citizen Science Soil Collection Program.

“‘Decomposition’ explores a part of our world that we don’t think about too often. When we do think about fungi, they are usually regarded as gross and disgusting — but fungi can be quite fascinating and even beautiful. This is a unique chance to see how these remarkable organisms shape our planet,” said Scott Henderson, director of SMO’s smART Space galleries.

Guests will see how the world’s premier decomposition artists work to release life’s essential building blocks and create a host of unique chemicals, foods and medicines and explore the science and artistry of the fungal kingdom found in petri plates to mushrooms.

Petri dish. Photo provided by OU.
A petri dish showcases the array of colors and patterns found in fungi.
“Decomposition: Discovering the Beauty and Magnificence of Fungi”
will include 100 samples like this one. Photo provided by OU.

“This exhibit reveals the hidden but beautiful world of fungi in a way that brings us closer to appreciating human’s incredible reliance on the essential functions provided by these magnificent organisms,” said OU Regents’ Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Robert Cichewicz, principal investigator for OU’s Natural Products Discovery Group.

“Fungi are unjustly maligned for their roles in the process of decay — they are more than just the cause of rot. Fungi play a prominent role in the environment recycling organic matter, are essential for the manufacture of many foods and produce compounds that humans use in medicine,” noted Cichewicz.

“Moreover, fungi do all of this while producing an amazing array of stunning colors and patterns that are visually striking and marvelous to behold.”

The exhibition will be open through Aug. 12, 2018, and is included with general admission. In addition to the layers of fungi exploration, guests can learn about OU’s Citizen Science Soil Collection Program and how to get involved in the research taking place in the NPDG labs.

“Through our partnership with Science Museum Oklahoma, we have the unique opportunity to share the science and art of fungi in a way that is visually appealing, educational, as well as informative of the research taking place at OU’s Natural Products Discovery Group. We invite the public to experience this exhibit firsthand by engaging in the wonderful world of fungi and to participate in the research process as citizen scientists,” Cichewicz added.

Science Museum Oklahoma is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and is open on New Year’s Day. Daily general admission is $15.95 for adults (ages 13 to 64) and $12.95 for children (ages 3 to 12) and seniors (65 and older). Annual memberships begin at $95.

For more information about the OU Natural Products Discovery Group, email npdg@ou.edu or visit npdg.ou.edu.

For more information about the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program, visit www.whatsinyourbackyard.org.

For more information about Science Museum Oklahoma's smART Space, call 405-602-6664 or visit www.sciencemuseumok.org/smart-space.

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