The Power of Poison at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

dmns media passI’m a big fan of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, as are my children. Lots of different areas and exhibits, ranging from gems and minerals to space exploration, dinosaurs to local flora and fauna, along with a constantly changing set of traveling and themed exhibits. This month it’s Mythic Creatures and The Power of Poison, both of which are super interesting and worth the price of admission. Not enough? They have a splendid IMAX theater too and show a variety of different nature and space themed films, some in 3D!

Of course, I should come clean and share that years ago my oldest, A- (now 18) went with her class to see the special exhibit Body Worlds where they had actual human cadavers sliced and on display and it kind of freaked her out. She absolutely hated the exhibit and it took me over a year to convince her to go back! To be fair, I saw the exhibit too and it was rather disturbing…

This time we saw a dead body — the mummy in the Egyptian room — and it was considerably less stressful, though my younger, K- (11yo), was pretty upset by the IMAX film we saw. More on that in a bit, however.

Our primary purpose for the visit was to visit The Power of Poison and see what they’ve done with such a potentially gruesome topic. Me, my two girls, my buddy Steve and his Dad. A dangerous combo, for sure! Fortunately DMNS comp’d our admission, which was much appreciated!

The exhibit is included with your general admission to the museum, but there’s still an entrance queue and, of course, a gift shop upon exit. In fact, I suspect museums make good coin hitting people up for purchases after each visit and special exhibit area, but if that’s what it takes, it’s absolutely fine with me. I can’t imagine a world with just “virtual” museums, actually. That’ll be a big loss if it ever does happen.

Let’s get to some photos, shall we?

Here we are in front of the über-cool entryway sign:

family portrait in front of the power of poison sign dmns

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a sign like this at the DMNS and I love ’em all. Great use of vivid lighting effects for dramatic effect!

The first area in the exhibit is themed around poison in nature, including a photo of this charming Wandering Spider:

wandering spider from power of poison

This baby spits venom at its prey to incapacitate them. How cool — and scary! — is that?

Really, really don’t want to find one of these in my garage one rainy night, that’s for sure.

Poisonous spiders, okay. But how about butterflies? Turns out that some of them are poisonous too:

poisonous longwing butterflies

Eat one of these beautiful creatures and you’ll end up with a mouthful of cyanide. And die.

Nice, eh? But soooo pretty.

Slightly further on into the exhibit is a really fascinating area exploring poisons in literature, going back thousands of years. Harry Potter? Yup. Alice in Wonderland? Yup. And Holmes, Sherlock Holmes:

sherlock holmes exhibit at power of poison

I’m quite a Holmes aficionado so this was really cool to see as part of the exhibit. It’s also a bit of foreshadowing because coming up later in the year at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a Sherlock Holmes exhibit. And yes, you can bet I’ll be heading to Denver for that one!

The exhibit also explored some popular fairy tales that revolved around poison, including Sleeping Beauty:

sleeping beauty poisoned power of poison

Okay, so maybe it was just a cautionary story, but still, do you trust apples from suspicious old crones?

Somewhat surprisingly, there was also a performer “poisoning” an audience member and then explaining about the history of cyanide detection tests. Very engaging and entertaining — perhaps surprisingly so! — and a beautifully designed set, as you can see:

did you know that people literally got away with murder? cyanide test

Prior to the modern cyanide test, people got away with murder, including infamous murders in Victorian London!

There were two really well designed interactive exhibits, including this “Sick at Sea” exhibit where a set of clues were part of the iPad-driven mystery, as also illustrated by the forced-perspective diorama:

sick at sea diorama from power of poisons

My girls (on the left) figured out the mystery and the British Navy were saved, ready to fight privateers for another day. Or something like that!

The latter part of the exhibit included signage illustrating the sources of poisons in the modern world that are finding use and value in medical treatment, including this one that my girls just found hilarious:

magical cone snail

I have to say that it’s surprising to find any animal or creature that’s name includes the word “magical” so I’m with them, it is pretty amusing. And yeah, on closer observation, it turns out that it’s just a “cone snail”, but I won’t burst their bubble and point that out!

Finally, the exhibit ends with a young chap explaining additional medicinal uses of toxins and poisons in the midst of a Yew forest:

poisons and toxins medical uses yew forest

Beautiful to look at, turns out Yew trees are crazy toxic to us humans and even gnawing on a few leaves will leave you paralyzed or dead. I didn’t ascertain whether burning yew wood is also dangerous, but just in case, it’s good to know. Find an oak or pine tree instead. 🙂

We exited through the gift shop and I resisted the urge to buy a pop-up edition of the classic Alice in Wonderland or any of the books about common poisons and who might have been killed with them. Probably not the best thing to have on the shelf if your child’s upset with you, right?

Afterwards we explored other areas of the museum, then saw the terrific BBC Earth production Prehistoric Planet: Walking the Earth in 3D. Very engaging 45min movie about dinosaurs and dinosaur migration set in Cretaceous era Alaska, and narrated by Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. Problem was, it’s also quite intense in moments and one moment of particular peril for the young dinosaur really upset my little one, casting a bit of a pall on the rest of the afternoon. My bad: I knew that could happen but while I really wanted to see the space exploration IMAX film (Hubble 3D) it was two hours later in the afternoon. Que sera, sera.

Even with the unintended IMAX experience, there’s no question that The Power of Poison is super interesting and worth a visit to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. All the other stuff? That’s just icing on the cake. And that slight almond flavor to the icing? Ohhhh…. just trust me and have another slice 🙂

Disclaimer: DMNS supplied us with media passes for the museum and IMAX theater.

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