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Explore mysteries of life and joys of plastics at the South Florida Museum

efore the 1950s, we hardly used plastics. How did they go from being rare to being everywhere?
efore the 1950s, we hardly used plastics. How did they go from being rare to being everywhere?
Photo by Jessica Hromas/Getty Images

As the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the South Florida Museum offers engaging exhibits as well as educational programs which interpret the scientific and cultural knowledge of Florida, the world and our universe.

The museum is currently tackling two of humanities most daunting questions: How did life on Earth begin? How did plastics go from being rare to being everywhere? These tantalizing questions forms the basis of our modern lives, and can both be answered, at least in part, at the museum's current traveling exhibitions.

Life: A Cosmic Story, the new all-digital Planetarium show at the South Florida Museum, begins in a redwood forest, with the sounds of wind and life. One redwood looms large, until we approach its branches and enter one of its leaves, adjusting our perspective to microscopic scales inside a cell. We see a simplified version of its inner workings, learning about the process of photosynthesis and the role of DNA. This scene sets the stage for the story of life. We then look backward billions of years to the origin of elements themselves. We continue our journey, diving into the formation of the Milky Way Galaxy, stars, the Earth, and the early building blocks of life. Once life took hold, it radically changed our planet. We continue leaping forward in time, viewing the movement of continents and the changing environment for life, until we reach modern Earth. All life shares a common ancestry and common chemistry, all related at the molecular level. Visit the Museum to witness this breathtaking representation of life’s shared origins.

The Museum's Executive Director, Brynne Anne Besio is thrilled with this new addition to the Museum’s programming lineup. "We are so pleased that BMO Harris Bank supported the Museum in bringing Life: A Cosmic Story to the Planetarium. This show ties so many aspects of the Museum's exhibits and programming together into this one compelling narrative about the beginnings, development and inner workings of life on Earth. "

The program is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank, produced by the California Academy of Sciences and narrated by Jodie Foster. Showing daily at 1:30 pm in the South Florida Museum's fully-upgraded Bishop Planetarium, the program artfully utilizes the Museum’s state-of-the-art technology and brand new projection system (upgraded in October 2013). The Museum’s full schedule of Planetarium programs is included in regular daily admission [$18 – Adults, $16 – Seniors (65+), $14 – Children (4-12), Children 3 & Under – Free}. Visit the museum's website or call 941-746-4131 for more information.

BMO Harris Bank Florida President, Dave Maraman, commented. "As a strong advocate of the arts, BMO Harris Bank is committed to educating and enriching local communities through our support of a variety of cultural venues and opportunities. We are proud to partner with the Planetarium at South Florida Museum to help present this unique and engaging exhibit." Ms. Besio continued her thoughts about the importance of the show to the overall mission of the Museum, “Visitors can enjoy the show on its own, or use it as a tool in connecting the stories we present throughout the Museum.”

Before the 1950s, we hardly used plastics. Plastics Unwrapped, a new exhibit at the South Florida Museum, explores how material culture was changed—rapidly and perhaps permanently—by plastics. On exhibit in the Museum’s East Gallery through May 4, 2014, the exhibition is included in Museum daily admission [Adults - $18, Seniors (65+): $16, Children (4-12): $14, Children under 3: Free). Learn what life was like before plastics, how they are made, why they’re so convenient and beneficial to use, and what happens after we throw them away.

The Museum’s Director of Exhibitions and Chief Curator Matt Woodside noted, “Over the last 75 years, the production of synthetic polymers, which we call ‘plastics,’ has developed into a multibillion dollar industry – changing the way we live, eat, travel, sleep, and maybe even think. Plastics Unwrapped explores the science,
the history of development, and the daily impact of ‘plastics.’ The exhibition also explores plastic’s applications in the health care field – helping to save lives, improve the quality of life for people who have lost a limb, and advancing our ability to survive surgeries and operations.”

Can you imagine a time when there were no waterproof raincoats? No plastic buckets? Humans existed without plastics for centuries. Now, we rely on them to meet our basic needs. Plastics help keep us safe and healthy. They make our daily lives convenient in so many ways, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a world without them. The exhibit explores how plastics have changed the world, through topics ranging from life before plastics to the effects of plastic on our health and the environment. Understand what the recycling numbers mean on plastic items, and learn about promising breakthroughs in science that are changing the role of plastic in our lives.

Plastics were once marketed as the “material of the future.” Now, that prediction has come true. They will stay in landfills and oceans for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Mr. Woodside continued, “Despite the practical application and technical innovations of the field, the amount of global plastics waste has become a problem we must face with imagination and determination. The exhibition puts forth ideas for how we can manage these issues if we are willing to make different choices and “rethink” how we use these marvelous materials that are here today and still here tomorrow.” In order to counter the impact of plastic waste, we need to rethink our relationship with plastics. Discover how, at Plastics Unwrapped.

Plastics Unwrapped is a traveling exhibit organized by the Burke Museum, University of Washington. The National tour has been generously sponsored by The Boeing Company and the University of Washington. The exhibition will be available for viewing at the South Florida Museum from February 1 - May 4, 2014. All Museum exhibitions are included in Museum daily admission.

In addition to the museum and planetarium, the Parker Manatee Aquarium is home to Snooty™, Manatee County’s official mascot and the oldest known manatee in the world. Snooty shares his Aquarium pool with young manatees from the Manatee Rehabilitation and Release Partnership. These injured or orphaned animals are taken care of by the Parker Aquarium staff until they are ready to be released into the wild. For more information about current exhibitions and special programs, membership, hours, or admission prices please call 941-746-4131 or visit the museum's website.

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