Skip to Main Content
Idaho State University home

Life in One Cubic Foot

August 19 through November 13, 2022

IMNH Explores the Diversity of Life on Earth in Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition “Life in One Cubic Foot”

The temporary exhibition “Life in One Cubic Foot.” The exhibition follows the research of Smithsonian scientists and photographer David Liittschwager as they discover what a cubic foot of land or water—a biocube—reveals about the diversity of life on the planet. “Life in One Cubic Foot” will be on view August 19 through November 13. The exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

A biocube—the tool at the heart of the exhibition—is a 1-by-1-by-1-foot framed cube that organisms from the surrounding environment can enter and pass through. Biocubes featured in the exhibition were placed in environments across the globe to learn what forms of life, both known and unknown, could be found in the cube during a 24-hour period. In addition to exploring life through the exhibition, visitors are also invited to participate in citizen science and uncover the biodiversity in their backyard by creating and monitoring their own biocube.

“Life in One Cubic Foot” explores life from exotic environments, like the coral reefs of French Polynesia and the alien mid-water ocean off the coast of California to the more familiar locales, like New York City’s Central Park. Hundreds of different organisms ranging in size from the head of a pin to the full size of the biocube are featured in the exhibition through collages of photographs, models, interactive elements and exhibition videos.

Biocubes in the exhibition were not only used by scientists to explore what is already known about life on Earth but also to spotlight how much biodiversity remains for aspiring scientists to discover. Scientists estimate that there are more than 1 million species still unknown or unnamed by scientists. Environmental changes, like climate change and other man-made forces, are taking their toll on life around the world, both discovered and unidentified. Global efforts to understand the impact of these changes and answer questions about how to manage the complex dynamics of wildlife and natural resources will be improved as gaps in the tree of life are filled.

After seeing how scientists use the concept of one cubic foot to understand the diversity of life in the field, visitors can learn how biocubes can be used to uncover life in more familiar places. They are invited to build their own biocube and contribute to citizen science by studying and sharing discoveries from their neighborhood habitats. Visitors can explore the National Museum of Natural History’s website to watch a video about biocubes and learn how to build, deploy and study their own biocube. They may also share their findings with the greater scientific community.

            SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 65 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.  For exhibition description and tour schedules, visit sites.si.edu

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. The museum is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. For more information, visit naturalhistory.si.edu