X-ray Vision: Fish Inside Out

Click to enlarge x-ray. The Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fishes is the largest and most diverse collection of its kind, with an estimated four million individual fish specimens representing more than 70 percent of the world’s fish species. Encompassing males, females, juveniles, larvae, and even eggs, these specimens serve as a historical record of fish biodiversity and a working reference library for scientists around the world.

The care, maintenance, and loan of these collections are the responsibility of a handful of museum specialists, like Sandra Raredon, who has been at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History for 25 years. For most of that time, radiology has also been part of her job responsibilities. Her striking black-and-white radiographs, or x-rays, of fish, stingrays, eels, and seahorses—“anything with a backbone,” she notes—reveal the complex bone structure in a level of detail reminiscent of fine engraving.

At the same time, the images (99 percent of which are digital rather than film) provide a wealth of valuable information. “Radiographs allow the study of the skeleton of a fish without dissecting or in any other way altering the specimen,” says Lynne Parenti, curator of the exciting new SITES exhibition X-ray Vision: Fish Inside Out. Many of the images are also now available via the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History Flickr photostream.

Forty dramatic digital prints are paired with illustrated labels that explore the scientific, environmental, and photographic relevance of each specimen. Interpretive panels describe how the study of fish skeletons, fin spines, and teeth helps scientists differentiate one species from another and examine fish anatomy and evolutionary development. Other panels document the process of scientific digital image preparation and explore the critical role of such collection data in understanding the long-term effects of climate and planetary change on diverse species.

The exhibition is accompanied by a stunning book titled Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish (Chronicle Books, 2008), which combines more than 100 photographs with essays on scientific imagery, ichthyology and biodiversity, evolution and beauty, and the significance of the Smithsonian’s collections.

Articles, interactives, and other cool stuff :

X-RAY VISION in Scientific American magazine X-RAY VISION in The Wall Street Journal

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Exhibition specifications

Contents 40 framed digital photographs, text and object labels
Supplemental Companion book, promotional materials
Participation Fee $5,600 per 12-week booking period, plus standard shipping
Size 150-200 running feet, est.
Weight 900 pounds
Category Science
Security Moderate
Shipping Standard
SITES Contacts Michelle Torres-Carmona, 202.633.3143 (Scheduling)
Cheryl Washer, 202.633.3172 (Content)
Tour through 2015
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Tour itinerary

Opening Closing Host Institution Status
07/02/11- 01/08/12 Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT Booked
02/04/12- 08/05/12 National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC Booked
08/25/12- 11/18/12 Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, IN Booked
1/11/13- 06/16/13 Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA Booked
07/06/13- 09/29/13 Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, IN Booked
10/19/13- 01/12/14 Spartanburg County Library, Spartanburg, SC Booked
02/01/14- 04/27/14 Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center,
Virginia Beach, VA
05/17/14- 08/10/14 Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona, MN Booked
08/30/14- 11/23/14   Call for Availability
12/13/14- 03/08/15 Discovery Place,
Texarkna, TX
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Related publications

Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish (Chronicle Books, 2008).
9-1/2 x 8 in; 192 pp;
140 duotone photographs; Hardcover

Introduction by Stephanie Comer,and Deborah Klochko; Essays by Dr. Daniel Pauly,and Jean-Michel Cousteau,and Dr. Lynne R. Parenti

Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish
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Press Release

Media only: Jennifer Schommer (202) 633-3121
Media website: http://newsdesk.si.edu

Striking X-rays of Fish Dazzle in Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition

Fish are vertebrates—animals with backbones—and have bodies supported by a bony skeleton. Variations in the skeleton, such as the number of vertebrae or the position of fins, are documented with X-rays. The Smithsonian’s National Collection of these Fish X-rays represent more than 70 percent of the world’s fish specimen and is the largest and most diverse collection of its kind in the world. Although the X-rays featured in the national collection were made for research purposes, the strikingly elegant images demonstrate the natural union of science and art and are a visual retelling of the evolution of fish. “X-ray Vision: Fish Inside Out,” an exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), will showcase these dramatic prints exposing the inner workings of the fish.

"X-ray Vision” will premiere at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Conn., July 2, and will be on view until Jan. 8, 2012. The exhibition will then travel around the country on a 10-city national tour through 2015.
The exhibition features 40 black-and-white digital prints of several different specimen of fish. Arranged in evolutionary sequence, these X-rays give a tour through the long stream of fish evolution. The X-rays have allowed Smithsonian and other scientists to study the skeleton of a fish without altering the sampling making it easier for scientists to build a comprehensive picture of fish diversity.

Curators of the exhibition, Lynne Parenti and Sandra Raredon, have worked in the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History collecting thousands of X-rays of fish specimens to help ichthyologists understand and document the diversity of fishes. Rare or unique specimens make particularly interesting and informative images. X-rays may also reveal other details of natural history: undigested food or prey in the gut might reveal to an ichthyologist what a fish had for its last meal. To make comparisons easier, radiographers X-ray one fish per frame—with each one facing left—but they will prepare shots of several fish if a scientist wants to compare a group.

“X-ray Vision: Fish Inside and Out” is inspired by the book Icthyo: The Architecture of Fish: X-Rays from the Smithsonian Institution (Chronicle Books, 2008) by Daniel Pauly, Lynne Parenti and Jean-Michel Cousteau.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. in Washington, D.C., welcomed more than 6 million visitors annually. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day during the summer from March 25 through Sept. 4. Visit www.mnh.si.edu for early closure on select days throughout the summer. Admission is free. For further information, call (202) 633-1000, TTY (202) 357-1729 or visit the museum’s website at www.mnh.si.edu.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for almost 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at www.sites.si.edu.

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Exhibition Specs

Related Publications

Press Release


Tour Itinerary

X-ray Technique

Flickr Fishes

Encyclopedia of Life

X-rays on YouTube

#xrayfish in Twitter

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